I’ve been preparing a seminar on U2 for the European Leadership Forum in Hungary at the end of the month – so have become even more than normally obsessive about U2. Sorry about that. What it does mean though is that I’ve systematically listened to the whole of their back catalogue and been staggered yet again by some of the ingenuity and succinctness of Bono’s & The Edge’s lyrics – but also by their spiritual profundity and insight. Here then is a personal and by no means exhaustive list from the most recent 2 albums. So perhaps this just might be the first of a few posts from some of the earlier stuff… “Oh joy, oh rapture”, I hear you chorus.
From ALL BECAUSE OF YOU (How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb 2002)
All because of you (x3)
I am… I am
Now why do you think he repeats the phrase ‘I am’…? All very subtle.
Then there’s this one – more explicit of course, but telling nonetheless. The second line of the clip could almost become a motto for Quaerentia…
From WALK ON (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000)
You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen…
Home… hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one
Home… I can’t say where it is but I know I’m going home
That’s where the heart is
Leave it behind / You’ve got to leave it behind
All that you fashion / All that you make / All that you build
All that you break / All that you measure / All that you steal
All this you can leave behind
In the face of the madness and horror of a violent world, this small stanza beautifully encapsulates the ideal of life – one not cut short by ‘unnatural’ death but redeemed to a hope beyond death…
From LOVE AND PEACE OR ELSE (How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb 2002)
This is a more well-known single from their 2000 album – No 1 in a number of places including the UK. Quite apart from the way the words evoke a thrilling orbit’s view of the earth (albeit one with the darker edge of environmental abuse – eg ‘tuna fleets clearing the sea out’ etc), it clearly points us beyond what we can see – for out of the blue comes the unmistakable flight of the dove of Genesis 8:11 & 9:16. There’s no way you could of course see a single bird from the space station – but you can see the profound reality beyond the visible – that God is a covenant making God – and the day he makes a covenant to protect and rescue is more beautiful even than the day he made the world.
From BEAUTIFUL DAY (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000)
See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out
It was a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away … A beautiful day
Then finally, there’s this one, which I’ve actually preached & blogged about before. Note – it is full of the angst and doubts of the believer, not the doubter. And in that respect has many resonances with the psalms. But what gets to me is the phrase I’ve highlighted – so clever at so many different levels.
From PEACE ON EARTH (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000)
Jesus can you take the time to throw a drowning man a line
(Peace on Earth)
Tell the ones who hear no sound whose sons are living in the ground
(Peace on Earth)
Jesus and the song you wrote, the words are sticking in my throat
(Peace on Earth)
Hear it every Christmas time,
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth – this peace on Earth?
Peace on Earth / Peace on Earth
There’s plenty more where they came from. Any others?
We’ve had a week off – marvellous to get out of the big smoke and get away from the hubbub and demands. But unlike lots of mates who have been doing the sound thing this week, we’ve not gone to New Word Alive, even though that would have been a very sound thing to have done. And so when friends asked where we were going for our holiday, we correctly answered, “Sheffield”. Their responses tended to be fairly unanimous – “Oh… er… that’s nice.” And i want to say, “Yes, it is”.
You see, we lived here for 4 happy years – both children proudly bear the place of birth on their passports as Sheffield – and and we loved it – even though we had been totally ignorant southerners who had no idea about existence north of the Watford Gap (until you get to Edinburgh – they have culture, up there, you know, because they actually have a festival). Well, we’ve been having a lovely time. And i thought i would correct the mockers and doubters by giving lots of reasons why it is such a groovy place.
- It is beautiful.
- No, it is very beautiful. In case you don’t believe me, you need to check this out.
OK – this is not exactly how people imagine Sheffield. That’s because it isn’t. It is the Hope Valley in Derbyshire – but that is just 20-25 mins out of the west side of the city. (They’re trying to beautify the city centre because it is a bit of a concrete nightmare – but that’s life I suppose). Quite pleased with this picture actually – a nice panorama from about 8 different ones, taken from the exit of the Treak Cliff cavern (where they mine Blue John). Apart from the blasted cement works (in the right of the picture) this would be the closest you can get to a classic northern English rural idyll. Now you can’t get anything like as good as this within 25 minutes of London, can you?
- They’re much more friendly here. (I’ve not been able to figure out how to get this to carry on from the previous number bullet!) Even though we left 7 years ago, we went into the Co-Op yesterday and the lady behind the till recognized us but couldn’t quite place us, and so just blithely entered a conversation that had probably been left off 7 years ago. She didn’t have to do this. We didn’t oblige her to. But she did. Q.E.D. – they’re more friendly here.
- We’ve got lots of friends here – and they’re very friendly too.
- There’s actually lots to do with children around here – and what’s even better is that while London schools are on holiday this week, everyone’s gone back to school up here. So we are undisturbed – apart from the school trips that dog us at every turn.
- I overheard a schoolgirl on one such school trip yesterday – and she actually shouted to a friend, “Ey, up”, presumably to get the friend to slow down. It felt great to be home.
- Sheffield University has the highest stay-on rate of any British university – i.e. that means that more people who graduate from Sheffield stay on in the same city than for any other university in Britain. Or something. You know what I mean. That says something, surely?
So there you go – this is a GREAT place for a holiday.
His unique position as a creatively working scientist and reflective man of religion has brought to science a sense of transcendent mystery and to religion a view of the universe through the broadly open eyes of science. He has introduced a significant notion of theology of science. He has succeeded in showing that religion isolating itself from scientific insights is lame, and science failing to acknowledge other ways of understanding is blind.
So said Professor Karol Musiol, Rector of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, of his friend Professor Michael Heller (left) – a philosopher, theologian and mathematician – who has won the Templeton Prize (worth £820,000!). See the whole article in The Times (HT – Nancy Heeb). This is how Heller describes the relationship between his theism and his science:
If we ask about the cause of the universe we should ask about the cause of mathematical laws. By doing so we are back in the great blueprint of God’s thinking about the universe, the question on ultimate causality: why is there something rather than nothing? When asking this question, we are not asking about a cause like all other causes. We are asking about the root of all possible causes. Science is but a collective effort of the human mind to read the mind of God from question marks out of which we and the world around us seem to be made.
Of course, sceptics will simply point out that this prize is biased: it’s for people who already accept God. Dawkins described it as ‘a very large sum of money given […] usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion.’ Well so what?! After all, the culture wars of modern science appear to make scientific advancement very difficult for those who do accept God. But the fascinating thing about all this is simply that it gives exposure to top-level scientists who are theistic, much to the incomprehension and frustrations of the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens. They seem to be everywhere these days. In fact, if you visit the average British university Christian Union these days, you are much more likely to meet students from the ‘hard’ sciences like Physics and Chemistry or Medicine, than you are from the wishy-washy arts subjects like (Languages, Literature, History – and I speak as someone from one of those who started out in the wishy-washy world of Classics). There is a widespread acceptance (despite media gossip-mongers and New Atheist ranters) that there is no intrinsic or necessary contradiction between science and religion.
I’m no scientist or mathmo, so i don’t fully understand it all – but that is not what interests me. It is simply the fact of philosophical compatibility that gets me. This is how The Times article breaks Heller’s ideas down:
- They revolve around the search for a fundamental theory of creation. His research ranges beyond Einstein and into quantum mechanics, cosmology, physics and pure mathematics, including his own version of the Heisenberg equation, below. Although his theories do not prove the existence of God, they may provide circumstantial evidence that He exists.
- So long as the Universe had a beginning, we can suppose it had a creator, he says. But if the Universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?
- Professor Heller argues against the Newtonian concept of creation, that is, against the idea of an absolute space and an absolute time and of God creating energy and matter at certain times.
- He suggests modern theologians should go back to the traditional doctrine that the creation of the Universe was an act that occurred outside space and time.
For the amateurish novice like me, there are some great books out there that provide accessible avenues into all this. Here are one or two of my favourites:
The Bible in 50 words
Revised by Dr Howard Culbertson from the original by Dana Livesay, Wanganui, New Zealand. Source: ‘Top of the Morning’ Book of Incredibly Short Stories compiled by Brian Edwards. Auckland, New Zealand: Tandem Press, 1997. (Graphics trademarked by Cliffs Notes: http://www.cliffsnotes.com)
OK, I know I’m beginning to sound a bit obsessed with this – but i’ve just listened to the concluding remarks of the debate again (it sort of fits in with a talk I’m giving this Sunday) and was taken aback by the derision and scorn in Dawkins’ voice at the end when talking about the resurrection – having been pretty civil and neutral all the way through. For sure this is off the cuff and not necessarily carefully considered. But notice how there is little defence or argument for his position – merely a string of rhetorical dismissals and insults (which i’ve highlighted in red). I include his final paragraphs or so for the sake of completion and to give a feel for the rest of the debate.
John Lennox (after giving various arguments about God’s existence, he concludes:)
I would remind you that the world Richard Dawkins wishes to bring us to is no paradise except for the few. It denies the existence of good and evil. It even denies justice. But ladies and gentlemen, our hearts cry out for justice. And centuries ago, the apostle Paul spoke to the philosophers of Athens and pointed out that there would be a day on which God would judge the world by the man that he had appointed, Jesus Christ, and that he’d given assurance to all people by raising him from the dead. And the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a miracle, something supernatural, for me constitutes the central evidence upon which i base my faith, not only that atheism is a delusion,but that justice is real and our sense of morality does not mock us. Because if there is no resurrection, if there is nothing after death, in the end the terrorists and the fanatics have got away with it… [The moderator cut his final remarks off there because he had gone over time!]
Yes, well that concluding bit rather gives the game away, doesn’t it? All that stuff about science and physics, and the complications of physics and things, what it really comes down to is the resurrection of Jesus. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the sophisticated scientist which we hear part of the time from John Lennox – and it’s impressive and we are interested in the argument about multiverses and things, and then having produced some sort of a case for a deistic god perhaps, some god that the great physicist who adjusted the laws and constants of the universe – that’s all very grand and wonderful, and then suddenly we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty, it’s so trivial, it’s so local, it’s so earth-bound, it’s so unworthy of the universe.
In a garden (with its beautiful birds and bees etc)… of course it is natural to think there is a gardener. Any fool is likely to think there must be a gardener. The HUGE achievement of Darwin was to show that this didn’t have to be true. Of course it is difficult. Of course it had to wait until the mid 19th century before anybody thought of it. It seems so obvious that if you have got a garden there must be a gardener who created it and all that goes with that. What Darwin did was to show the staggeringly counter-intuitive fact that this not only can be explained by an undirected process (it’s not chance by the way, it is entirely wrong to say it is by chance – natural selection is the very opposite of chance)… that it has an explanation that can derive from simple beginnings by comprehensible rational means. That is possibly the greatest achievement that any human mind has ever accomplished. Not only did he show that it could be done. I believe that we can argue that the alternative is so unparsimonious (whatever that means!?), so counter to the laws of common sense, that reluctant as we might be because it might be unpleasant for us to admit it, although we can’t disprove that there is a god, it is very, very unlikely indeed.
So there you have it – at least he concedes that there is tiny, tiny possibility that there could just be a god. Which is not exactly the same as saying that there definitely isn’t, is it? Or am I perhaps missing something here?
Have now managed to listen to the debate – you can too on Richard Dawkins’ official site. I enjoyed it, especially because both were gracious to each other and it was done in a professional and good-natured manner. Here are some random thoughts:
Was it unfair? Having listened to it, i would actually say it was more frustrating than unfair – so i take back my comments from a few days ago (Oct 5th 07). The format was just a bit odd, i felt – the moderator read an extract from the God Delusion, Dawkins had a few minutes to comment, then Lennox responded. Then the moderator would go onto the next point. I felt very frustrated listening and completely understand why Dawkins felt the need to come back to a previous point in his allotted time to speak to the next point (if you see what i mean). But actually Lennox also had a few moments (though not as many) when he was constrained by the format. It would have been better to have allowed 2 minutes each response after their main remarks before moving on. Fortunately the moderator did ease up in the second half of the debate, and Dawkins was allowed to have the last word. So it wasn’t unfair – but it was very annoying for the debaters and the listeners!
What do debates achieve? Having glanced at a few of the comments on the official sites – it is clear that the two sides were cheering for their man and were not necessarily open to having their minds changed. But what i think it did do was to provide a platform to gain a degree of mutual respect and to set out the stall for those who are confused and wavering. The audience in the theatre were probably evenly balanced – but i sincerely hope that people will have realised from Lennox’s excellent performance that Christian theism is no pushover, despite the atheist rhetoric and bluster.
Failing to engage. I am biased – i am of course a Christian theist – but i did feel that Dawkins dodged most of the arguments placed before him – most tellingly the issue of morality. He ducked it by talking about the possibility of atheists who behave uprightly – which Lennox rightly conceded fully. No one disputes that good behaviour exists amongst atheists (although his suggestion that within a Darwinian framework, we all have a ‘lust for doing good’ was a striking one and probably more contentious). What was completely avoided was Lennox’s cogent argument that atheism removes the grounds for even the categories of good and evil.
Failing to prepare – again I’m biased and i was cheering for my man. But it did seen that Lennox was by far the better prepared – he had really done his homework on Dawkins’ books and his wider reading and experience was brilliantly used. Dawkins on the other hand presumably pitched up without really preparing that much (or at least it sounded like that as he was more hesitant and fumbling) – which i fear is a mark of his position – he simply doesn’t give a theistic argument any credence at all and thus assumes it is a pushover. This was especially evident with the sheer scorn and ridicule he poured on Lennox’s closing remarks about Jesus and the resurrection. Those comments particularly are a classic illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.
I did feel that in purely debating terms therefore Lennox had the upper hand. But the issue is not necessarily always to win the argument but to win the man – and that is of course a much tougher call. But I was very excited to hear that John Lennox did everything he could to do both and therefore should be very pleased that it went as well as it did.
While we’re on this theme, there is another debate in the USA this week – Alister McGrath against Christopher Hitchens. Details at the Trinity Forum page. Will post further details when i can.
Haven’t been able to listen yet – but Faith Central on the Times site has helpfully provided a transcript of a few of the exchanges – here are one or two (though of course we have no way of knowing the context to what was said just yet):
Dawkins: If it were evidence based, why would you need to call it faith? You would just call it evidence.
Lennox: I presume you’ve got faith in your wife is there any evidence for that?
Dawkins: Yes plenty.
Lennox: There you go.
On the Big Bang and the Bible
Dawkins: There are two possibilities, either the universe was here for ever, or it had a beginning, getting it right [that there was a beginning] isn’t that impressive, there were only two possibilities.
Lennox: At least it [the Bible] got the right one.
Dawkins: Toss a coin and you had 50 per cent chance of getting it right.
On ‘who created the creator?’
Lennox: Your book assumes God was created, no wonder you call it the God Delusion, created Gods are by definition a delusion. I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in. I need to know what you mean by God, none of us, Christians, Jews, Muslims, believe in created Gods. The point is not whether God is created or not, it’s about simplicity. We can’t just postulate complexity we have to go back to simplicity…We need some kind of ultimate explanation for the complex object. You can’t evade the issue by saying God was always there – you still need an explanation.
On Atheism and faith
Dawkins: This is supposed to be a debate and I feel intensely frustrated. Teaching children that faith is virtuous. It is teaching them that you don’t have to justify what you do. The convention that we have all bought into that religious faith is something to be respected, not to be questioned. In most cases that’s quite harmless, but if you take your faith really literally, then it’s the fact that you were educated as a child in a madrassah and which if you happen to be unstable or violent, leads to the sort of terrible acts in the name of religion.I would not for a moment say that all religion is bad or dangerous, only a minority of religious people are bad or do bad things.
Lennox: I agree with you on many points, and am ashamed as a Christian for many of the historical acts like the Crusades undertaken in the name of Christianity. But your attempt to airbrush out the atheistic regimes in your book concerns me that a scientist who is very concerned with historical evidence is content with a superficial analysis of the Cold War. I would like you to write another book in which you differentiate between religions.
Dawkins: I agree that Stalin, and Pol Pot did bad things, it may even be their Marxist, their Atheism that led them to do bad things. Those 19 men who flew planes into targets in the US – they weren’t psychopaths, they were well educated, rational people, who thought they were good, the same thing could be said of the Taliban. Once you grant people the premise of their faith, then the terrible things that they do follow.
Lennox Atheism is a faith as well
Dawkins: It’s not
Lennox: Don’t you believe it?
Will post more as i hear of it…
Sometimes people get crazy ideas. And then other people realise that they’re not so crazy after all. This is the case with THORNCROWN CHAPEL, built in a forest in Northern Arkansas, USA as the result of the vision of one man – Jim Reed (read the story on the chapel’s website). I came across it only the other day, even though it was completed back in 1980 – and the photos blew me away. You can see more in their photo gallery. The place has become internationally renowned and won all kinds of architectural awards – and you can see why just from the shots included here.
‘Hot prots’ (of which, i suppose, i am one) don’t tend to get too excited about church buildings as a whole. As one famous spokesman for the constituency once said, church buildings are just ‘glorified rain-shelters’. And to a large extent, I do agree (e.g. see previous post)- especially having spent time in East African churches, where a church building could literally be a decrepit shed, if that, but where you could never fault the churches that used them (more often than not for protection against the sun rather than rain) on the vitality, vibrancy and passionate reality fronts. I would say that these churches truly are beautiful. (I had some involvement with this one (pictured) in Kampala for a while.) The same cannot always be said for many of the architectural jewels in the ecclesiastical crowns of the west.
But at the same time, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well, surely – and even beautifully. We need rain-shelters (especially in England) – so why not make beautiful ones, buildings that actually say something at the same time? As long as we are always clear that the building is not the end but the means.
Thorncrown chapel seems to me to do just that. It is a stunning building in and of itself – made from local timbers, and ahead of its time in seeking to be environmentally sensitive in both its construction and setting (for an architect’s point of view, see inhabitat’s commentary). But it is more. It is an enclosed space that seems deliberately to conceal the fact. From the photos (I’ve never been there), it is as if one is sitting in an Edenic paradise. The observer’s gaze is irresistibly drawn far beyond the building walls into the forest – and then even beyond that, as the grandeur of creation demands the worship of its creator. For this is a building that glories in and immerses one in the created world. It is almost as if it is laying down the gauntlet, demanding a response from those who sit quietly, a response to a simple question: you can’t honestly believe that this is all a product of chance, can you? The effect is quite simply breathtaking. It doesn’t require images or power point presentations to do that – it simply has windows!
But even saying that doesn’t do justice to it. Because the Chapel’s name and construction point us beyond the building’s witness to the grandeur of creation; they draw us at the same time into the wonder of creation’s redeemer. THORNCROWN – that cruelly sarcastic, piercingly vindictive ‘gift’ from the redeemer’s armed guard. The criss-crossing latticework of the chapel’s roof beams, high up above, evoke that crown of thorns – reminding us that an Edenic paradise is not without its ugliness and pain – a ugliness which in the end was the very means to securing the most beautiful creation of them all – a new rescued people, rescued to worship the one who doubly deserves it: the Creator AND Redeemer; the one who provides the greatest shelter of them all – the Rock of ages, cleft for me.
As the Book of Revelation has it – and as this Chapel so beautifully evokes – the songs of heaven will rejoice in both wonders:
… You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Rev 4:11
…Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise! Rev 5:11-12