A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hellish dilemmas

I went to sell my textbooks today. Most of them were out of date but I got lots for "Principles of Molecular Virology" and "Preparing Scientific Illustrations" meaning I'm now a teensy bit less skint.

It's nearly the end of term. I have to get out of the house. Haven't even started packing. I'm sort of tempted to go for the "bonfire" approach of disposing of my notes (But hey, in these times of global warming, a little recycling would be a better bet).

It's pretty much the end of term. I'm skiving off the summer ball, basically due to aforementioned skintness, and of course most of my friends aren't going. Thankfully they're mostly staying in York this summer meaning that I won't have to say too many goodbyes anytime soon. Good stuff. Thanks to, again, skintness, my staying-in-York plan isn't as happy as it might be, but I'll live. I've applied for a couple of jobs. Due to my status as "graduand" (hurrah!) they seem appealing as stop-gap measures and not painfully likely to constitute my long-term career plans.

We had our end-of-term service today. I suddenly realised just how many Christian pies I seem to have a finger in. Revelation were singing and I ended up joining in. The homily was given by the Catholic chaplain, who I know through Night prayer, the intercession by Christis (I'm a member and occasional writer) and the readings by Christian Focus (again, member). Honestly, I'm such a nerd ;)

I had an interesting discussion with someone at a Christian Union evangelistic meeting about Hell and my feelings on its implausibility. I figured I wouldn't persuade him (to prevent oneself getting depressed, at the beginning of a debate it's best not to even entertain the notion of "winning"), but the evangelistic meetings are the only meetings run by the CU when I feel free to express my doubts on certain doctrinal issues, because in all other contexts such questions are glossed over (or there is a certain shock that you might even possess that opinion!). One of the many nice things about CF is that you can come straight out and confess your particular opinion/doubt/foible/heresy and though people will probably happily debate it for a while, they generally accept that that's what you think, and you won't be met with shock and horror.

The speaker at the meeting was talking about how if we really want happiness we have to look for it in God and not elsewhere, and how Christians will find true joy in heaven. Hell was mentioned. I started out from an "old classic" - ie. the kind of question you learn how to answer in evangelistic training meetings - "How can we be happy in Heaven knowing that our non-Christian friends and family etc. are in Hell?"
His main points were:
- They chose to go to Hell
- Hell is just
- We will delight in everything God does, including, in his justice, allowing people to endure eternal torment
The first one is not really arguable with many Christians because God and Jesus seem so patently obvious to them (or they can't ever imagine questioning, anyway) that they can't see why anyone wouldn't be a Christian. I admit I envy them their faith right now (will have to read through the Sermon on the Mount, that usually helps ;) ) but it often seems to me that there are a lot of reasons why someone wouldn't be a Christian, especially other Christians! :) I would argue that while a lot of people choose to reject God and reject goodness, no one chooses to be punished eternally... There's also the whole "other religions" and "what happens to babies who die" argument... The other argument is that people didn't choose to be born, and surely they'd choose death rather than Hell - and hey, if they still have free will in Hell, why is there no chance of repentance?

The second point I've never quite understood. I admit that given the choice I'd probably send Hitler to Hell for about a billion years - enough to suffer all the pain that he inflicted on all his victims and the families and friends of his victims - but even for a wicked dictator it gets a bit excessive to do it for all eternity. There are lots of things in the Bible about being repaid according to ones acts (will find verses on request) and I simply cannot see how a lifetime's finite sin could result in an eternity of punishment, even if it is against an infinite God. Of course God can do as he likes, but though I can fear a God who punishes in this way, the idea of loving such a God is very hard indeed. I also do not understand how given his mercy "endures forever", he would be in any way happy with the arrangement whereby his beloved creations suffer eternally after shunning him. I can have sympathy with annihilationism (that is, the theory that the rejectors of Christ will cease to exist) but not with eternal Hell - it's a horrible idea and I challenge anyone to meditate on their closest friends and family, and even people they've never met, suffering it eternally and still be happy with the idea.

The idea that we'll be happy that people are suffering Hell is an interesting idea. I was handed an argument I found difficult to refute and yet just as difficult to agree with. One of the guys at the meeting contended that in Heaven we'll be so caught up with worshipping God that we'll barely register the person standing next to us, let alone have time to worry about those who aren't there.

It's difficult to refute because I'd seem to be saying that we just won't love God that much, and how can you argue against someone who says that worshipping God will be all that matters? But then basically what he seemed to be saying is that the most important commandment "Love the Lord your God..." will be all-consuming, leaving even the second most important commandment "Love your neighbour as yourself" obselete. Really, in Heaven will we stop loving each other to make room for loving God more? It seems to me that right now loving God more causes us to love each other more ("A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35). So why should this change in Heaven? Why will we stop loving those we love now - why will God stop loving them?
Why is this so "Heavenly"?

Jonathan Edwards put it like this:

It is now our duty to love all men, though they are wicked; but it will not be a duty to love wicked men hereafter. Christ, by many precepts in his word, has made it our duty to love all men. We are commanded to love wicked men, and our enemies and persecutors. But this command does not extend to the saints in glory, with respect to the damned in hell...

But this is not the case in the next world. The saints in glory will know, concerning the damned in hell, that God never loved them, but that he hates them, and will be forever hated by God. This hatred of God will be fully declared to them; they will see it, and will see the fruits of it in their misery. Therefore, when God has thus declared his hatred of the damned, and the saints see it, it will be no way becoming in the saints to love them, nor to mourn over them. It becomes the saints fully and perfectly to consent to what God does, without any reluctance or opposition of spirit; yes, it becomes them to rejoice in every thing that God sees fit to be done.


But really, I can't see it at all. Why should we love people God doesn't love? It sounds as if God is asking us to love more people than he does!

Any thoughts?

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Friday, June 23, 2006

In the class of 2006...

I have a degree.

I needed two shots of Bailey's to get over the shock.

Hurrah.

The fate of my degree and Desperate Housewives

My results are due tomorrow.

Argh.

Oh, and I've just realised, as I eventually do with all non-science fiction/comedy serials that I watch, that Desperate Housewives is never going to get happier. OK, I know I said I wasn't going to become a regular viewer of Desperate Housewives. Blame Kate. At least I got her into Doctor Who. Just revenge, I feel.

But yes, season finale. Instead of Susan and Mike getting married, Bree being happily reunited with her two prodigal children, Tom getting his act together and finally giving Lynette her due, Gabrielle ceasing to be a bitch and Zach finding out who his real father is... we have more murder, angst, intrigue, and manipulation. Cliffhangers galore.

Please tell me there'll be a happy ending eventually. I went through this emotional rollercoaster in the whole week when I was addicted to Eastenders. Granted, it doesn't have to be like Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, in which there's so much marriage and happiness that it's barely worth watching anymore, but at least they could tie up things nicely at the end of the next season. It's got to the stage when Kate and I were watching scenes of relative happiness and saying, "Oh no, this means that something awful's about to happen."

Argh.

Oh yes, and I'm in a show tomorrow too. My dancing is better than it was.

And I applied for a job at Wetherspoon's. Managed to get an interview without even filling out an application form. Nice one. I handed in a CV in order to look nice and efficient, though.

Anyway, I'd better go. See you soon.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Loving monsters and thoughts on Doctor Who's Russell T. Davies

I really liked "Love and Monsters", the most recent episode of Doctor Who.

OK, it was a bit weird. And it had the Doctor and Rose in it for only a few minutes (apparently a Patrick Troughton episode back in the day had Jamie have his face change by accident just so that the actor who normally played Jamie could go on holiday). It was odd and probably could have done with a couple of explanations. Unlike the Doctor Who stories of back in the day, it was less about a time traveller and his friends killing evil aliens and more about the idea of the Doctor, the kind of people who get left behind after he's killed the evil aliens, the random passer-by who happened to see something.

I like that kind of thing. It adds depth. I think one of the reasons Harry Potter did so much better than The Worst Witch was that while both are boarding school stories about doing magic, you can find out who Harry's parents are, where he lives, how he found out he was a wizard, what people do when they're not at school, what wizards think of unmagical people, and the headmaster's favourite sweet. Mildred Hubble might as well have dropped out of the sky into Cackle's because she never seems to write home - or even think about it, and I think once she referred to "normal people" having to use the gate instead of a broomstick.

It might not particularly matter what some guy who met the Doctor once and got together with Moaning Myrtle thinks about anything. Who really cares, for example, if he happens to be a fan of the Electric Light Orchestra? I admit, "In this episode, we discover the favourite band of some guy who met the Doctor once in a story not shown" doesn't sound thrilling. It's just nice to know. It's nice to wonder what would happen if Rose met Sarah-Jane Smith, or think about what a companion's mother does with her time. It's interesting to wonder if there are lunatics who'd set up a website of collected photos of Christopher Ecclestone at notable events of history.

Something that annoys me a bit about more geeky Doctor Who fans, the kind that actually know who wrote each episode and know both answers to "Who created the Daleks?"*, and can, for example, refer to the 5th Doctor without mentally counting "William Hartnell, one, Patrick Troughton, two, Jon Pertwee, three..." is that they all seem to dislike Russell T. Davies. Never mind that RTD resurrected Doctor Who (or should that be, regenerated?), brushed the dust off, and made it into respectable British science fiction again. Gave us Daleks chanting "Half-human! Blasphemy, Blasphemy!" like some hardcore Whovians watching the TV movie with Paul McGann for the first time. Brought back K9. Gave us Doctor Who on Christmas Day! Employed the extremely delectable David Tennant.

No, he got to take care of our baby, so damn him for not doing it properly. "Parting of the Ways" was hardly Terry Nation, was it? Where's all the 25 minute episodes in 6-part stories with cliffhangers galore? How dare he think of doing an episode that features a companion's boyfriend, mother, deceased father... In fact it amuses me that we tune in every week and get all excited about Daleks, Sarah Jane, and what Bad Wolf might mean and then it seems we all go on to complain about the awfulness of Russell T Davies.

Give me a break. We don't hate Russell T. Davies. We practically love Russell T. Davies. If we really didn't like him, we'd turn off on Saturday nights and invest in some more Tom Baker type goodness.

"Love and Monsters". How could you not love an episode called "Love and Monsters"?

*Terry Nation and Davros, in real life and Doctor Who canon respectively.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

A smorgasbord of blog

I promised a while ago that I would post links to some blogs that I like. Well, I read an entry today (OK, yesterday technically) that I just had to share with you... Alice has had her baby!

She had her first son, Arthur, about a year and a half ago. Agonisingly to her readers, she posted that she was in labour and then vanished for four days. Thankfully she posted her wonderfully exciting birth story soon enough which left me wondering why anyone would have a second child after all that pain! But Arthur being so lovely I'm sure she forgot all about the 'pain' angle. She gave birth to Matthew on Wednesday, and amazingly somehow had the energy to post her birth story. It sounds like Arthur has the makings of a wonderful big brother.

Arthur took 2 sucks on the side that Matthew wasn't using, then popped off, craned his whole body and neck so that his face was inches from Matthew's, said, "Ahh-yo!" and kissed Matthew soooo carefully right on the tip of his little nose while he was feeding! Then he climbed down and ran off somewhere else!

There are pictures too!

This post by Brandon of badchristian.com made me laugh. He takes a look at the Da Vinci Code.

Their idol of progress has blinded them to the call for Christians everywhere to be offended by the attacks on the very celibacy of Christ present in the DaVinci Code. Further, their claims that Christ wasn’t a white middle class Republican is nothing less than repugnant. As if you needed more evidence of this heresy, sheesh.

Uh, I just found this next post just now, but it's interesting. Modern Day Heretic takes a look at perceptions of Jesus and how neat and tidy and generally acceptable he wasn't. Though I prefer to think of Jesus as having his afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off*, I like his thoughts.

One of the big problems facing the church is the Jesus Box. Whenever we think of Jesus, we think of a brown-hair, blue-eyed, strangely James Caviezel guy bleeding and in the throes of death. Or, in our less somber moments, the stern, wise, calm lecturer on good table manners and sex without touching.

Oh, and you have to love Dave Walker's Cartoon blog. This cartoon has been making me giggle for days, and solved much of my world cup ennui. In fact I was excited for a whole minute when I discovered we won the match Thursday.

I enjoy xianchick's "Church Search" blog. There are lots of interesting and honest thoughts about God - I particularly liked her entry about her "roommate" because she's taken the Bible literally in a way that most people don't ;)

I also adore Cute Overload. A cornucopia of kittens, puppies, bunnies, and other animals for maximum "aaaw" effect.

Andrew Rilstone wrote a brilliant entry lately on ten things he learned reading the Daily Express. Genius.

On August 31st 1997, the car in which Diana, Princess of Wales was a passenger crashed into a concrete pillar at 110 mph. The Princess was not wearing a seatbelt. The driver was drunk. So what could possibly have caused her death? For nine years, the Daily Express has been trying to solve this mystery. A few months ago, it proposed the theory that she was poisoned.

And finally... Sitting on a Park bench holding God's hand from A New life Emerging is wonderful.

Brought to you with the help of Bloglines.

*What? Some years ago, watching a movie based on Acts, I objected that Jesus had an American accent. "You think he had an English accent?" someone responded. Of course he did. He was English, he spent his childhood going to primary school and playing Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Brothers, he probably watched Fawlty Towers and the Vicar of Dibley and he voted for Gareth Gates in Pop Idol. On reflection I think the advantage of having Passion of the Christ in Aramaic was that no one could complain he had the wrong accent.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Trouble with Atheism

One of the things that always amuses me about atheists is when they claim to have the moral high ground. Certainly they'd be right in asserting that followers of many religions can be morons (I heard on the radio this morning that Buddhist monks have been forbidden getting too excited over the World Cup, because apparently cheering is inappropriate behaviour. It seems even peace-loving vegetarians have a mean streak!). Christians spend much of their time bemoaning the stupidity of even their dear brothers and sisters in Christ. (See Stupid Church People, or maybe take an anti-depressant and read Slice of Laodicea.) Richard Dawkins said something rather profound - "To make good people do evil things takes religion". I actually agree, but think it's hilarious that he's saying so, especially since he apparently then endorsed "Do as you would be done by" as a moral code, which is a variant on one of Jesus's most well-known and practical teachings - see Luke 6:31.

If you're an atheist, what is evil? There can be no absolute standard. If one is an atheist, in the sense of believing that we are merely a product of evolution filling a human-shaped niche, with things only surviving because they're really good at surviving... then how can it be asserted that morality is anything other than a human construct that continues to exist either because it's useful or because getting rid of it would be too troublesome? A "meme", as Dawkins might call it - an idea that is passed along and reproduced. Answers in Genesis (a creationist website) quote the following of Charles Darwin (from The Descent of Man):

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered in the manner previously indicated more tender and more widely diffused. Nor can we check our sympathy, even without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature … We must, therefore, bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind.

The curious thing is, even here Darwin, though asserting that our commonly held notions of morality are a sort of evolutionary accident, he himself describes a sort of morality, making sympathy "bad" and survival of the fittest "good". The weak should die, the strong should live, that's the way it is.

I suppose there are really two basic theories as to why anything exists - either something has always existed, or something came out of nothing. The trouble is that both theories seem utterly ridiculous to human thinking. It stands to reason, we think, that nothing is completely permanent. Even things that seem utterly fixed, like the rocks or the stars, are eventually destroyed, and moreover can be proven to have been created - we understand through geology and astronomy possible mechanisms by which both are created. Can the universe itself really be considered a permanent fixture? But it stands to reason, we think, that something cannot come from nothing. Matter is conserved, energy is conserved. Something cannot be spontaneously created.

The first position is held by Christians - that God, who is permanent, created our temporary universe. He was, and is, and will be, forever. Atheists, on the other hand, tend to believe that only things like matter and energy are conserved, or perhaps that everything did simply come from "nothing". The evolution of the universe was merely a process of physical interactions with no meaning or purpose, and the only "order" that exists within the chaos is coincidental - after billions of years, enough "coincidences" have occurred in order for some highly ordered entities to exist within the chaos. In a sense the universe is just an extremely complex chain reaction and the only true "closed system" for the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

In a sense, according to the atheist, everything exists "by accident", and the fact that there are creatures called humans who discuss "meaning" and "purpose" is also "by accident" - reproducing memes that are too useful to die or perhaps merely too troublesome to get rid of. Humans exist because they keep having babies, because they're good at fighting disease and animals, because they haven't all killed themselves yet, and because they're very good at staying alive. The universe doesn't have to have meaning and purpose because humans invented meaning and purpose and the universe was here before they were. The universe doesn't have to satisfy human scruples because it was here before they were. The explanation as to "why" the universe is here does not have to satisfy human morality because, again, humans invented morality and the universe is bigger than they are. It can't be appealed to, questioned, or reasoned with - those are all human concepts. The universe can go on doing immoral things and allowing immoral things to happen and it can't be called unfair because, again, humans invented fairness.



It's a bittersweet symphony, that's life
Try and make ends meet, try to make some money
Then you die
- The Verve

Depressing, isn't it? Moral scruples an evolutionary fluke. Religion's a meme. And everything really boils down to coincidences. While, I confess, I find it a less troubling idea than the thought that my dearest friends and family might end up in torment without hope of salvation for all eternity (I think I succeeded in believing this for a few days. I lost my appetite and spent much of my time crying. Really I can't see how anyone could get by without either ignoring it or rejecting it altogether), I must say I find atheism a horrible thought. I suppose there's always the Pascal's wager type advantage that if you don't want to believe in Dawkins' reality, even if it actually is reality, then you don't have to believe it.

I knew someone who was the victim of an anti-miracle. He was 17 and had leukemia. His fraternal twin brother was tested to see whether he was a suitable bone-marrow donor. It turned out that his brother also had leukemia. Unfortunately I'm not well read on the genetic relationship with leukemia, but I understand that the odds against were fairly steep. It sometimes seems to me that Christians often make excuses for God, saying the reason that he seems cruel or even absent is generally due to some more complex motive, that it's goodness in disguise, that natural disasters are really our fault, or just that "he moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform." It seems that horrible coincidences are just horrible coincidences but that good coincidences are the hand of God.

And now I'll get to the point: it just sometimes seems to me that in reality life is as chaotic and accidental as one might expect if we were, not being watched over by a great and mighty God who created us all for his pleasure, but trying to find purpose and meaning in a universe where there is no purpose and meaning - and that we just find God because we want to, when in reality we're just talking to ourselves. The brain can do powerful things.

I don't want to depress anyone, but I thought I'd post this rather sad display of doubt and existential angst because I really hope that there is a point to life, and I was hoping that anyone who's made it to the end of the post might have some helpful insights. Please pray for me, I really want to know God but I'm beginning to wonder if he's actually there, and not just a product of my imagination. It feels like I'm all questions right now. Ironic when many Christians claim to have all the answers!

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

06-06-06

Happy Date-of-the-Beast. If you're in the area, apparently there's a party in Hell! Thanks to Bruce of YBMT for the link.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

What I've been up to recently


Been paddling.

Gone to the best Chinese Restaurant in the world. No, not for the food. Then again, I'm easily pleased, it's all-you-can-eat so just give me sweet and sour chicken, and cheesecake for dessert. It's the best because of the CHEESY DISCO! I went with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, who are great because if you request, say "Reach for the Stars" or "Summer of 69" or "Saturday Night" (Whigfield) or "Wuthering Heights", they will rush to the dance floor. I have to say, the Wuthering Heights dance has to be seen to be believed.

Wandered around town and watched random street performers. This guy was pretty funny. Apparently street performing is his only job, or so he says to encourage you to give generously. If only I was foolhardy enough to learn to juggle fire. Perhaps I've missed my true calling. If you happen to see this bloke around York, do stop to watch then give him a quid or two. I didn't, but then I didn't actually have a quid on me.

Saw Martyn Joseph perform (pictured here with his support act, Rachel Taylor-Beales, who is also very awesome). He was great. The venue, Fibbers, is quite pub-like, making it like a cross between a gig and a folky sing-around, except that we'd all paid over £10 to get in. We all sang along too. It seemed very friendly and warm - my picture of it sadly didn't come out but on his encore, he come out and stood on a chair in the audience to sing "Stuck in a moment" by U2. During which his G string snapped.* There was also a wonderful moment when we all sang the chorus of Dic Penderyn... I think it was that sort of thing that caused my friend Sophie to say, "It's like Church. Well, not like church, but like church ought to be!" To my delight, alongside the more serious stuff, he also did Liberal Backslider, commenting about how it has become an anthem for "spiritual refugees"... After the line "I'm gonna take me a TV evangelist and punch him in the face" he paused, and remarked "I love that line. It's a crap song, but I love that line." After we all sang the last chorus with great gusto, he made us all laugh by saying that our love of that song is probably why there are a couple of prisons in York.

Afterwards Sophie and I queued up to get autographs and we also got hugged! He thanked us warmly for coming and kissed us both on the cheek. I spent the following day squeeing whenever I thought of it. Aw. So go see Martyn Joseph. He's lovely, and his music's awesome too.

I've got a friend, he's a pure-bred killing machine...



...and I've now got that song in my head. Anyway, I watched Genesis of the Daleks. It's about six episodes so 2-3hrs long, and lots of fun. There are moral dilemmas, and Davros, and some rather subtle commentary on the nature of war (subtle, Russell T. Davies, remember that? :)). I actually wasn't too enamoured with Tom Baker as the Doctor when I saw The Talons of Weng Chiang (or "That Victorian one with the Chinese man with flashy eyes and the huge rat" to non-fans) but possibly that was because I didn't really like that story (pur-lease, humungous rats living in sewers? What do you think this is?**), because I really liked him in Genesis of the Daleks. I wish a little that the stories in the more recent series of Doctor Who were a bit longer. It's funny seeing how the series has changed. I get the impression that companions like Harry and Sarah-Jane took an "assistant" role, whereas Rose has settled in primarily as the Doctor's friend - there seem to be lots of episodes where they're having fun or joking about past adventures, whereas in the past it just seemed that they just leapt straight in and fought the bad guys. Then again I've not seen any other episodes with Sarah-Jane in, so I'm not really sure how they compare as companions. (I do love Ace, though. Why can't they bring back Ace?)

I've converted my housemate Kate to Doctor Who. OK, it wasn't exactly hard, I just turned it on and she discovered she fancied David Tennant. She insists on making picky comments throughout every episode, and yelling things like "Come on people, haven't you watched any sci-fi? Run now!" at the screen, but I feel a vague sense of accomplishment over this anyway. I'm not going to bother making her watch older episodes because I know she'd laugh at the Green Death (the one with the maggots) harder than I did.

I must thank Andrew Rilstone for the observation that only true Doctor Who geeks actually call stories things like "The Green Death" when everyone else just says "the one with the maggots".

I have run out of pictures for pictorial observation. But never mind. Other things I have done recently include attempting to dance (I can do cheesy disco dancing. That's it. Salsa goes with nachos, doesn't it?), not looking for a job (will start tomorrow, promise), and going to a friend's surprise birthday picnic. I ordered everyone to sing happy birthday when she arrived. Later when she blew out her candles and we sang happy birthday, she said "Oh no, not again." Given a least half her friends are in musical societies, you'd think we could have done better than that... Even if she didn't have to say, "Oh goody, an encore!"

* On his guitar!
** Some low-budget episode of Doctor Who? Oh, right, yeah, that's exactly what it was...