Sunday 30 September 2012

A World in Your Ear (1)

Internet radio; gotta love it!

I'm of the generation that fiddled with the shortwave dial in its callow youth, tuning in to faraway stations that faded in and out and changed frequencies frequently.  Despite the whining background noise, there was a feeling of connectivity, the wonder of listening in to something beyond the mundane offerings of local AM radio.

Well, that's well and truly history now.  Internet radio has been around for years, but the magic is somehow watered down when its pumped through a tinny laptop speaker, a pair of ear-buds on a tablet, or even a couple of plug-in speakers.

So I finally relented, well crumbled is more like it, at the sight of a reasonably priced combination Internet, DAB and FM radio.  It looks like a radio, and it sounds like a radio, sitting proudly on the bench-top, ushering in each new day with music, news and drama from whichever point on the planet currently takes my fancy.

And the truly weird thing is that even some local stations sound better via the Internet.  A lot of Auckland stations, for example, offer poor reception South of the Pukekohe hill, but now... no problem.

But the romance is still in those offshore stations.  On my favourites list:
  • BBC Radio 4 Extra.  The genres on offer here are comedy, drama and factual.  Here The Goon Show still plays, Dad's Army continues to defend the coasts of Britain and James Bond's Casino Royale features in a 21-part serialisation.  It doesn't get much better.
To be continued.

Friday 28 September 2012

The Revenge of Good King George

In the 1770s the American colonies revolted, thereby defying God, King and Country, changing the timeline of history forever and opening up a trajectory that would ultimately lead to hamburger franchises, conservative talk radio and reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies.  True patriots of the time, loyal to the Crown, were subsequently forced to flee across the border to His Majesty's Dominion of Canada, where they reestablished themselves in villages like Pugwash, Nova Scotia.

Since then the story has been a dismal one, particularly from the perspective of the Queen's English.  Spelling terrorist Noah Webster willfully attempted to turn the language upside down with devilish perversities and infelicities which were then exported back to bastardise the Mother Tongue.  Even the Australians, ever a nation of star spangled suck-ups, were carried away with the dastardly plot, and dropped the anointed letter 'u' from colour and labour, as even a cursory check of the Macquarie Dictionary clearly demonstrates.

But now there's a reverse trend underway, according to a reserved but cautiously gleeful report from the BBC.  It seems Americans are warming - and not before time - to "Britishisms."  Metrosexuals and gingers are meeting on weekends in trendy gastropubs for a bit of a chat up and even perhaps indulge in an occasional spot of snoggingSpot on!

Resistance would be gormless.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Jesus' Trouble & Strife

Honey, I'm home!
Jesus was, according to some with vivid imaginations, joined at the hip to Mary Magdalene.  I believe something like has long been taught (unofficially?) in the Mormon church (though presumably Mary-Maggie was only one of the fortunate floozies in his polygamist harem), and then more recently there's been Dan Brown's thoroughly fictional and hugely over-hyped pot boiler The Da Vinci Code.

Traditionally Jesus has been considered too drenched in the Holy Spirit, what with being interpenetrated by the other members of the Holy Trinity, to have had any bother whatsoever with rising testosterone.  Not exactly the bachelor-messiah, according to the church of my early adulthood...  No he was already spoken for: he married the Church.  Holy mangled metaphor!

Now along comes Karen King with an unprovenanced swatch of Coptic text to stir it all up again.  The biblioblogs have been full of it, but two stand out for me.  Leading the charge among those who find all this deeply unconvincing is the inimitable Jim West.  And it certainly seems the vein of sceptisism (as we spell skepticism in Her Majesty's dominions) dominates among those in-the-know.

But just to keep us all on our toes, James McGrath throws a pitcher of slightly chilled water over all those jerking knees with a thoughtful post of his own.

What fun.

Friday 21 September 2012

Battling Mythicism BB (Before Bart)

There isn't much that's new under the sun, to echo Ecclesiastes, and the mythicist debate is no exception.

1949 was, as they say, "a powerful long time back."  In that year Harry Emerson Fosdick published his The Man From Nazareth.  It appears that the peril of Jesus mythicism was weighing on his mind at the time, and the very first chapter, A Real Man, not a Myth, takes up the cudgels.

I doubt Bart Ehrman bothered to consult this classic text before producing his own book earlier this year; it gets no mention in his bibliography.  Yet Fosdick's goal was remarkably similar to his own, to present a lucid, comprehensive case against mythicism aimed at the general reader.  This he accomplished in this single, passionately written chapter.  Granted, in 1949 scholarship lacked many of the insights it has today in addressing issues like these, but Ehrman could have done a lot worse than simply updating that text.  As it was he did do a lot worse.

So if you want to read a decent argument against mythicism, Fosdick is in the public domain and free to download (the Kobo store is one source).  Cut him some slack for having written over sixty years ago - there are weaknesses as a result, but in large part the case made then is much the same today.

Monday 17 September 2012

Judging Judges

Tim Bulkeley was called "a politically correct idiot" after making a few germane points about the book of Judges in his excellent podcast.  (I suspect the accuser was one of those demented Calvinofascist types, but I'm only guessing.)  Anyway, Tim introduces the podcast thusly:
Judges is definitely not suitable for Sunday School reading, the bits that are told are firmly censored, and few of us go back to notice what we are missing. But, if we do, what we find is a book chock full of horrid twisted tales, brutal, brutish and sadly not short. Why? Can such a nasty collection of stories be justified, or should it simply be banned?
 "Nasty, horrid tales.  Grubby," says Tim who, believe it or not, teaches Old Testament (why not "Hebrew Bible"?) at Carey Baptist College in Auckland.  But after "all those tawdry tales" comes the last verse, which possibly provides some sort of moral for the tale... I think.  Maybe.  In fact, we're going to have to wait, for Tim promises more in the next instalment.  Cynic that I am, I get the feeling that he's going to apply the baptismal waters to the grubbiness, working up a sudsy lather with the exegete's version of something that washes "whiter than white," and then we'll all be able to breathe again.  This catalogue of travesties provides (again, I'm guessing here at Tim's approach) an example to avoid, thus justifying its existence in the canon.  If that's the line (which it might not be), I for one don't buy it.

My first question, if I were one of Tim's students (I can hear Tim intoning "God forbid!"), would be about the harmful influence Judges has had down through history.  It's influence on colonial powers, for example, and genocidal freaks.  Can any amount of gentle scrubbing remove the splattered blood stains of countless indigenous people - men, women and children - in South and Central America, for example, victims of the mindset which this book - in substantial part - either created or encouraged.

Just asking.

In any case, I'll be awaiting part 2 with great interest.  Do give part one a listen and see what you think.

Ain't THAT the truth!

The above graphic appeared on Jim West's blog.  His title: those who can't teach, write policy for those who can.  Boy, ain't that the truth!

Saturday 15 September 2012

I've been reading...

Three brief overviews of  books that've been on my reading list over the past couple of weeks.

Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ.
Boyarin is a Jewish scholar, and if there's one thing I've learned over the years it's that Jewish scholars of the New Testament - Alan Segal, Amy-Jill Levine, Mark Nanos, Pamela Eisenbaum - to name just four - tend to have a clearer view on their subject, and often a whole lot more savvy, than their compromised Christian colleagues. 

Here Boyarin tackles the old 'Son of Man' chestnut.  What does the title (assuming it is a title) mean when applied to Jesus.  There are those, like the translators of the Common English Bible, who believe it just means a human, any human, or perhaps one - like Jesus - who is supremely human.  Boyarin is having none of this.  Nor does he seem to have much time for the fence-sitters who see it both referring to Jesus' humanity and, in other contexts, to the mysterious Son of Man figure in Daniel's late apocalyptic pot-boiler.  It's the Danielic feed that Boyarin subscribes to, and he traces it back to the Two Powers theology that predated Judaism as we now know it. 

And you can certainly start to join the dots.  Not just Segal (Two Powers in Heaven), but Gabriele Boccaccini (Beyond the Essene Hypothesis), and Margaret Barker (The Great Angel).  Boyarin maintains that it is here, not in Greek philosophical speculation, that the roots lie of what later became binitarianism and trinitarianism. 

John Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age. (Second edition)
If you ever needed convincing that the orthodox Chalcedonian understanding of Jesus as both God and man is incoherent, this is the place to begin.  For Hick it's long past time to dump the old, literal, dog-collared dogmas and view them through the lens of metaphor.  Hick doesn't tackle full-blown trinitarianism head-on, but launches out into the peculiar Christology that has Jesus neither fish nor fowl from the moment 'baby Jesus' drew breath.  But, of course, it's not enough to just stand up on a soap box and shout your conclusions, as some of us are wont to do.  Hick is meticulous in his approach, engaging with the 'thinkers' who still want to maintain the old views, relentlessly deconstructing as he goes.

And of course he's no doubt right.

Harry Emerson Fosdick. Christianity and Progress.
Based on a series of lectures Fosdick gave in 1922, addressing an audience very different from today's, this is still a book well worth reading.  And Fosdick himself, a wise man in the best sense of that term, is well worth rediscovering.  He was an articulate advocate of human progress, a concept beyond the grasp of human beings before the Enlightenment when everything harked back to a past golden age, foresaw a cataclysmic end to history, or relegated change to the endless loop of cycles which we are doomed to repeat.

But Fosdick was no starry-eyed liberal, seeing a steady progression toward human perfection.  The Great War was still too fresh in memory for that.
[H]uman history is not a smooth and well-rolled lawn of soft ascents; ... it is mountainous, precipitous... a country where all progress must be won by dint of intelligence and toil, and where it is as easy to lose the gains of civilization as it is to fall over a cliff or to surrender a wheat field to the weeds.
Fosdick is essentially a thinking person's pastor, and something of a sage in the first half of the twentieth century.  I'm not sure we have yet seen his like a hundred years on.  Liberal he might have been, but he also saw a burning need for people in the brave new world of science and progress to be deeply grounded in religion.  What did he mean by that?
Religion is the human spirit, by the grace of God, seeking and finding an interpretation of experience that puts sense and worth, dignity, elevation, joy, and hope into life.
To which one can only say amen.

If you have the Kobo software on your computer, tablet or smart phone (or, less likely, an actual Kobo reader), then you can download the Gutenberg edition of this book for free.  Frankly, you could do a lot worse and pay good money in the process. 

Amazon links:
The Jewish Gospels
The Metaphor of God Incarnate

Saturday 8 September 2012

Obama and BS (Biblical Scholar) Bob

Just in time for the presidential election, that "award-winning researcher, biblical scholar and one of the world's foremost authorities on end time prophecies," Dr. Bob Thiel, has launched a new book entitled Barack Obama, Prophecy, and the Destruction of the United States.
This book explains about how, by virtue of his background and policies, Barack Obama is fulfilling, and will continue to help fulfill, various prophecies that will lead to the destruction of the United States. 
Yes, I know most readers have no idea who Bob is, despite being an award-winning researcher, biblical scholar and a foremost authority - obviously you've all been out of the scholarly loop.  Bob is superbly qualified to write about this kinda stuff, what with being a published naturopath, and holding a mail-order ThD from Kochi, India.  He is best known for his apologetics on behalf of the Roderick C. Meredith sect, the Living Church of God, which produces the Tomorrow's World TV program and magazine. 
[T]hough not ordained as a deacon or elder, hands have twice been properly laid upon me for the Holy Spirit (once upon baptism & on 12/15/11 for a "double-portion" of the Holy Spirit) and I try to do what it seems God wants (1 Timothy 4:14-16). On 12/16/2011, evangelist Richard Ames publicly prayed that I would continue to do the work of God as I had been doing (internet, writing and advising LCG leadership, radio, etc.), which also received "Amen" concurrence from evangelists Roderick C. Meredith and Douglas Winnail. Richard Ames later on 12/16/11 called my writings, including my upcoming church history and prophecy book, an "additional witness." 
What greater recommendation couldst thou want!?  Eat your heart out Bart Ehrman!  But wait, there's more!  This essential tome is currently available free on Kindle, but only if you act now.  After today (Saturday, US time) you'll have to shell out a few bucks.

To be honest, I thought I could ignore Bob once I ditched the old Ambassador Watch blog, but this is just too bizarre to overlook.

(Thanks to Douglas Becker, who pointed out the availability of Dr. Bob's newest dopus opus.)

Friday 7 September 2012

Rotten Apple

"A judge approved on Thursday a Justice Department settlement with three publishers accused of conspiring with Apple Inc and other publishers to push up the prices of electronic books."  (Full story here).

It figures!  Apple's shiny, Yuppie PR long ago lost its gloss.  The sooner Google, Samsung and (can't believe I'm saying this) the new Windows 8 blast Apple into puree, the better!  

Saturday 1 September 2012

Craziness Unlimited

One of the few benefits of belonging to a hierarchic church - the sort that tells you what you can and should believe - is that it imposes a cap on craziness.  Crazy stuff is limited by the capacity of the leaders to withhold or provide some kind of imprimatur.

What this effectively means is that, while your church may indeed teach some pretty weird stuff, it imposes its own discipline on those who wander too far off into total loopiness.  The leadership has limits too.  Not limits from below, based on egalitarianism or participatory governance.  Oh, heavens to Betsy no!  Their limits are what they can get away with without ending up in the tabloid press.

Not exactly ideal, but better than nothing.

Over the years I've observed in some detail the collapse of just such a fringe hierarchic church.  That thing, in its heyday, was wound as tight as a watch spring.  Urban legend has it that particularly compliant members would seek counsel from their minister before buying a car - just to check that the colour choice was appropriate!

Then came the great implosion.  The scattering to the winds of good, sincere, submissive Bible-believing Christians, cut loose from the authority structure that once both dominated and validated their lives.

Not a few immediately opted for the protection offered by splinter sects, aping the security package offered by the original brand.  Others, God bless 'em, reentered the real world, abandoning the sectarian mindset completely.

And then there were, and are, the incurable crazies, absolutely convinced that they, and they alone, have come through the trauma intact and tuned in to the pure gospel truth.  Confronted with a plethora of similar-minded options available to them, they focus on the minutiae that define their differences, and declare those minutiae essentials.

Many years ago I encountered an elderly ex-member of this group who I'll simply refer to as Ben.  Ben was a gentle chap, never married, who lived on a modest bit of isolated rural acreage in New Zealand's central North Island.  Since leaving the church (he'd had the tenacity to show the minister the door, no small thing in that church's culture) he'd spent a lot of time mulling over and writing up his ideas, becoming (unsurprisingly) more and more convinced by himself in the process.  The trouble was that Ben's knowledge was limited by his reading in the King James Bible, old church publications, and such monstrosities as Hislop's Two Babylons.  He became, in effect, a one-man sect, capable of launching into an angry 'prophetic' tirade if any of his ideas were challenged.  The man was probably better off before his liberation.  At least he had the moderating influence of a community then, even if a far from ideal one.

The wilderness years continue for many of those who remember the former things.  The 'crash and burn' of one's once beloved belief system, anchored firmly in a hierarchic body that has since crumbled to dust, is a huge strain on anyone.  As the years pass, more of these lonely figures seem to be emerging, utterly convinced that they are the Lord's favoured one, soliciting tithes, finding "new truth", and railing against their near-brethren.

Pity their longsuffering spouses and families!

For some folk, regretfully, life inside the the walls of the asylum is probably preferable to the weight of freedom outside it.