The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
The Forum - On Line Opinion's article discussion area


RSS 2.0

Main Articles General

Sign In      Register

The Forum > Article Comments > Earthquakes and the objectivity of the world > Comments

Earthquakes and the objectivity of the world : Comments

By Peter Sellick, published 5/1/2005

Peter Sellick looks at theological aspects of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

I like a great deal of what you have written, but there are three points at which, in particular, I would take issue with you, not necessarily in order of importance.

1. I agree with you that we live in an uncaring universe. The universe is indifferent to us; in this respect, we are not in any privileged position, compared to other species. There are senses in which, I think, humankind is privileged, but that is another matter. The universe may be uncaring, but God is not; and that makes a significant difference; and I think it needs to be said. However, my key point, I think you misrepresent the anthropic principle. You suggest that it means 'that the world was created to serve us.' I don't think it means that. I think it means that (in Robert Russell's words) 'the universe must be such as to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage'. This places very stringent restrictions on the constants of nature. Loosely expressed, as Freeman Dyson put it, 'the more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some must have known that we were coming.' (Ted Peters, ed, Cosmos as Creation, Abingdon, 1989, 196) This is a very different, and much more modest, claim.

2. I do not agree with your statement that 'the kingdom in the gospels is always an earthly reality and may not be transferred to the afterlife'. Of course, it depends on wat you mean by this. The kingdom of God (reign/rule of God) is not just about heaven; I agree with you on that. But the kingdom is an eschatological reality; it comes from God, and is not produced in the course of history; it is not something natural. It comes among us - as in the ministry of Jesus - and transforms earthly reality, but it is not itself simply an 'earthly reality'. It is not abstracted from the lives of people, but neither is it simply a fancy name for what people themselves manage to be and do. We may not want to say any more that it comes 'from above', though that doesn't trouble me much, but it comes from outside our world into our world. Perhaps you would agree with this, in which case we're areguing more aboutwords. Perhaps you don't agree with me, in which case we have a real disagreement, and not an unimportant one.

3. My 3rd point is more fundamental. I would not know from your article that you believed in God. For me, salvation has to be more than being saved from self-delusion etc, though this is obviously a part of it. Why is the only thing that softens the hard experience of having our eyes opened to our true creaturely selves 'the love we find in the neighbour'? Again, no problem with this, if it accompanies the love we experience from God, a love that judges as it redeems, and saves as it judges? Our lives are not just 'in the neighbour' - though clearly they are that - but also 'in God'. Is the world 'saved' only through our opening ourselves to the person next to us? I think this is to say too little. We cannot abandon the sense that living in this (indifferent) universe is also to live in a universe that has been created, is being created, and will be newly created by God, even if some experiences, microcosmic or macrocosmic, call this into question.

Peter, I could, of course, write more. But let me leave it at these three points for now. Your article is generated from tragedy and I honour that. I hope I have not fallen into the trap of reading you in the worst possible way rather than in the best way.

Posted by Chris, Monday, 10 January 2005 8:56:41 PM
Find out more about this user Recommend this comment for deletion Return to top of page Return to Forum Main Page Copy comment URL to clipboard
I am not sure I understand the difference between the anthropic principle, that the universe was created with human beings in mind and Russell’s saying that the universe: ' must be such as to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage'. It seems to me that we are speaking about the argument for God from design or not. The most prevalent argument of late is that if the constants of physics were only very slightly different than they are, then there would be no universe at all let alone a small green planet in orbit around a sun in such a way that life would emerge. This does not stand as scientific evidence for design since it argues from what already is. We have no understanding why the physical constants turned out with the values they did, that is hidden within big bang cosmology. It seems to me to draw a long bow to say that they could have been different if not for some divine intervention in the first few nanoseconds of creation. If we did have real information about design, what kind of god would this reveal to us? Could this be the kind of god who became flesh and dwelt among us?

I agree that the kingdom is “from above” and is not the work of human hands. It is, rather, an earthly reality that is brought into being by the Word through the Spirit. My pet hate in church is a new hymn that beckons us to “build the kingdom of God”. But I think you will agree that if the kingdom is not revealed to us here and now as well as not yet in the life of the church then it is a pipe dream. It is not like our idea of progress and it does not come from the dynamics of history, it comes when the Word is preached and the sacraments celebrated and in this way is heavenly. It is a gift out of our control.

I think that in your third point you come close to the difference between us. I fear that I do not believe in the same god as you and this is evident in our different position on the argument from design. I would want to say with John that “he who has seen me has seen the Father”. To inquire further than that seems to me to be fruitless and even idolatrous. It also seems that if we take our eyes off the Word made flesh and search for one we think is behind that Word we will end up with a much more agreeable god than the one we are given in the scandal of the crucified one. As Luther was fond of saying: “we have only one God, the child in the manger, the man in despair in the garden and dying on the cross” or words that that effect. It seems like unbelief to look for another.

As regards Gods ongoing activity of creation I like Robert Jenson’s statement that God did not create a thing but a history. Thus I do not see creation as referring to the material world around us but the history that is being brought forth by the Word even though this seems to fly in the face of the creeds.
Posted by Sells, Tuesday, 11 January 2005 6:56:21 PM
Find out more about this user Recommend this comment for deletion Return to top of page Return to Forum Main Page Copy comment URL to clipboard

I would think it difficult to write religious essays and then follow up in discussion, as all participants carry their religious antecedents into the exercise. Especially in the Christian domain which itself is again in turmoil within the swirl of cuspidal waters that meet as one age intertwines with the emerging new times.

I would like to comment in a general way on matters you and Chris engaged in.

I'll start with a short story. During Advent time I participated in a Mass in a southern Sydney suburb. Of course, the First Reading was from Isaiah pronouncing the new order - "in the days to come....they will hammer their swords into ploughshares , their spears into sickles"... The Reader was a young lass who read the Word without preparation or understanding and stumbled over the pronunciation of ploughshares.

I thought to myself at the time, how can we expect young people to carry hope into their future when they are not aware of the God of Promises, the God who delivers for those who trust in his ways. What waste, when the evocative poetry in Isaiah or the Psalms are read as prose, without understanding or appreciation of their sacredness and associated efficacy to promote patience and endurance in God's faithful, if not the believer.

And so when people are confronted with the manifestation of evil such as the recent tsunami we struggle with our hollow understandings of our story. There is no understanding of our beginning and our ultimate end to meet our needs as modern man. To know of Jesus as Alpha and Omega, drawing all of creation to himself. The universe uncaring? I think more so, uncompleted, and still evolving.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer who lived through, but not to its end, the Nazi horror tsunami of 70 years ago, spoke of the inadequacies of religious language from traditional theology in the face of the evil that became manifest from the early 20th century. He sought a new language, perhaps non-religious, "but liberating and redeeming - as was Jesus' language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth, proclaiming God's peace with men and the coming of his kingdom".

There is a new language happening. It needs to be made fuller and more colourful than dour environmental warnings and idealistic yearnings of Lennon's "imagineers". It waits to be appropriated by the followers of Jesus of Nazareth to speak of hope, progress, completion and ultimate end.

In closing, I am always mindful of man's capacity for evil action, but did you too hear the far distant sound of a hammer when witnessing the oneness of our human reponse to the plight of the afflicted Tsunami sufferers, especially the application of military personnel and their hardware. It was a good sight, and a hopeful sound.
Posted by MJB, Wednesday, 12 January 2005 12:30:27 AM
Find out more about this user Recommend this comment for deletion Return to top of page Return to Forum Main Page Copy comment URL to clipboard
I appreciate that this article was written in the wake of a terrible human tragedy and i'm reluctant to use the occasion to score points or to split hairs, but since you have sought to categorise atheists in a certain way, a proselytising atheist such as myself feels duty-bound to respond.

You mention 'self-proclaimed atheists', but i don't know why. Atheists are atheists, and many have arrived at this position after a great deal of thought. Presumably people with a theistic or any other position are also 'self-proclaimed',so the term just becomes meaningless. For this reason I believe you've employed it for psychological reasons, to emphasise 'self' as in selfishness. This seems borne out by your characterisation of atheism further on in the same paragraph when you write of it in terms of an 'absence of a critique of the self' which produces the 'narcissism' of the 'modern individual'. You then characterise the 'classical atheist', whatever that is, as an 'isolated self who is incapable of seeing the other'.

Boy, you must really feel threatened, mate. These are extraordinary claims to make, and they seem to be no more than mere opinion, since there's no argument or evidence to back them up. I don't think they're worth making sense of, since they are only attempts to denigrate. There's no attempt to understand or truly see things from an atheistic perspective, there's only the vague and unfortunately rather smug sense that atheists must be morally shallow, even though they are (almost inexplicably)'capable of living admirable lives and of participation in society'.

I'm sorry to have to say it, but this is truly fatuous stuff, but of course it's the sort of stuff we atheists have served up to us constantly by believers. You describe God as 'in eclipse'. Surely you must be joking? As a crusading atheist, I have often seen myself as a Don Quixote figure, battling against an ever-increasing tide of believers, girded by the rightness of my cause, but full of the wry knowledge that i must lose, because the human ego, which is at the heart of religious belief, will always win out against truth and the rules of evidence.

If i may stick with the same para i've been concentrating on (i must limit myself - there's so much i could critique), you come out with this claim - unfortunately rather badly-worded but i think i get the drift - about 'practical atheists': 'If they lack anything it is the critique of common sense and social mores that come with the gospel and hence a vulnerability to intellectual fashion and the idols of the age.' Again, this is a critique which would only satisfy a believer. The gospels are remarkable documents, no doubt, and full of thought-provoking passages, though i must say I find the dialogues of Plato even more remarkable and thought-provoking, and nothing if not crtical of common sense and social mores. Of course, if you happen to believe that the gospels were written by a divinity, then the critiques of Plato will pale into insignificance. But if you believe that, you'll believe anything.

To return to the terrible tragedy. These events are always testing times for the religious. Some have their faith broken, some have it reaffirmed. It's my view that humans invent religions and gods largely through fear of or dissatisfaction with their own mortality. They invent gods who in turn reinvent humans as demi-gods, created in God's image, capable of attaining immortality through salvation or good works or whatever. Events like this, with its horrendous toll, with the seeming arbitrariness of its destruction, have the effect of blasting away such cosy religious notions, but not for long, the human spirit is ingenious, its ability to rationalise virtually infinite. Don't worry, Christianity isn't remotely threatened by events such as this, and nor is any other religion.

Our only response a groaning that is like prayer? Poetic perhaps, but there are many practical things that can be done for the bereaved, and to prevent such tragedies from recurring, and already much good work is under way. This may sound glib to those who hear behind this tragedy the sound of God stirring, but i can't help sounding glib to a believer - i'm an atheist after all, it's an occupational hazard.
Posted by Luigi, Wednesday, 12 January 2005 3:00:15 AM
Find out more about this user Visit this user's webpage Recommend this comment for deletion Return to top of page Return to Forum Main Page Copy comment URL to clipboard
I am sorry you found my remarks about practical atheists offensive, you have a point, I regret my projection. What I was trying to say is that practical atheists include the religious as well as the irreligious. The White House postures as Christian but it is obvious that it is in the sway of some other god. Frankly, I prefer your kind of atheist to the overtly religious person who loudly professes belief in God. The point I would like to make is that a deeper probing of the Judeo/Christian tradition will reveal a God who is much more surprising than that of either traditional atheism or theism. Both miss the point and hence miss the profundity of the tradition. Our dilemma comes from post Enlightenment thinking which makes it difficult to think in other than objective terms. God is not an object in the universe, He is not "out their", neither is He "in here". He is to be discovered, or discovers us, in an historical event, the meaning of which cascades down through the ages.
Posted by Sells, Wednesday, 12 January 2005 10:59:42 AM
Find out more about this user Recommend this comment for deletion Return to top of page Return to Forum Main Page Copy comment URL to clipboard
Dec26 Tsunami – we created & formed it?

In the Larry King's interview (CNN on Jan 7 2005), a panel of six spiritual leaders offers their insightful views on the Dec 26 Tsunami disaster but none offer a plausible explanation for the causes.
Reference to the interview ( with CNN’s Larry King, spiritualist Deepak Chopra said

“... there's lots of evidence, even scientific, that the earth is a living organism. Is it possible that our consciousness and the turbulence in our consciousness have anything to do with the turbulence in nature?”

“If we quiet the turbulence in our collective minds and we heal the rift in our collective souls,” Chopra said, “that could have an effect on nature’s mind -- if nature has a mind.”

In this regard, Seth (of Jane Roberts explains (see pg 405-409, Book reference below) that those in earthquake regions are attracted to such spots because of their innate understanding of the astonishing relationship between exterior circumstances and their own private mental and emotional patterns.
Here you can find individuals of great energy; of unstable, ‘excessively’ temperamental natures.

They need a strong stimulus or impact with reality against which to pit themselves. However there is often a great impatience with social situations and unusual vitality. Such individuals operate at a high pitch, and en masse emit inordinate amounts of emotional non-physical qualities which being unstable affect the deep electromagnetic integrity of the earth's structure.

No event is predestined. Earthquakes and their resulting tsunamis are often associated with periods of great social change and unrest. The Aceh and Sri Lanka areas have been in turmoil for years. The earthquake caused a tidal wave on one side of the world, just as a stroke might affect a portion of the body far from the original damage

Here you can find individuals of great energy; of unstable, ‘excessively’ temperamental natures and with intense capacities for creativity and innovation.

If we believe that the earth is a ‘living organism’ then our planet has a body as much as we have. Our blood follows certain prescribed patterns - so does the wind. We are inside the body of the earth in those terms.

As your body is in a state of constant flux and chemical interaction, so is the atmosphere, which reflects on another level all of the psychic, chemical, and electromagnetic properties that exist within the body.

There is little difference between the currents of blood that flow through your veins, and the wind current, except that the one seems to be within you -and the other without. Both are manifestations of the same interrelationship and motion, however.

Your planet has a body as much as you have. Your blood follows certain prescribed patterns and so does the wind. You are inside the body of the earth in those terms.

As cells within your body influence it, so too does our individual body affect the larger body of the earth.

The weather faithfully reflects the feelings of individuals in any given local territory. Overall weather patterns follow deeper inner rhythms of emotion. We do not simply react to the weather, we also help to form it

In the same interview, the Muslim scholar Maher Hathout agreed that the tsunami was not a punishment thrown down by God. He said: ‘It was an accident.’

If we accept the possibility of the slightest, smallest, most insignificant accident, then indeed we must believe in a universe in which accidents are not the exceptions but the rule?

Once we accept that idea, then we must accept the idea of a random accidental universe, in which we are at the mercy of any accident in which mind or purpose have little meaning. In which we are at the mercy of all random happenings.

In such a universe, the individual has little hope for he will return to the non-existence that he came from. He has no control over his destiny and can be swept aside at any point by random fate over which he has no recourse.

The only answer to this is to realize that we form physical events - individually and en masse. We form and create the physical reality – including the Dec 26 tsunami
Posted by mwt, Thursday, 3 February 2005 1:14:24 AM
Find out more about this user Recommend this comment for deletion Return to top of page Return to Forum Main Page Copy comment URL to clipboard
  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

About Us :: Search :: Discuss :: Feedback :: Legals :: Privacy