Tuesday, 29 July 2014

oh Dick

I was going to post something about Richard Dawkins' absurd assertions on Twitter but to be honest they are now so frequent that it's hardly worth comment (and I'm two glasses into a post Holiday Club delicious Pinot Noir). And so I simply share with you the wise advice of Dean Burnett:

For a typically succinct explanation of Dawkins' behaviour on Twitter I recommend The Very Hungry Dawkins.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Deafening silence

I've been doing a spot of Googling in the rare free moments during our church Holiday Club week to catch up on responses to the murderous onslaught being endured by Christians in Mosul, Iraq. I particularly wanted to read what our leading politicians have had to say. So here's what I've found:
Now it may be that Google has been asked to remove links to our leaders' comments under the new and rather bizarre 'forgotten' policy in operation at the behest of an EU court but I doubt it. Frankly, it looks like our leading politicians would rather pretend it just isn't happening.

I don't often agree with Damian Thompson, however, this is an important and timely piece. In Iraq, ancient Christianity lies in ruins. But who cares?

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Loving the alien

Sorry folks, this isn't a post about Susan Sarandon's revelation that she had an affair with David Bowie during the filming of The Hunger. Yesterday I was reading a report on Lord Sacks' comments about social media when I caught sight of an article informing me that Aliens can't be saved according to creationist Ken Ham.

Ham's argument is as follows:
"You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam's sin affected the whole universe,"    
"This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam's sin, but because they are not Adam's descendants, they can't have salvation." 
"Jesus did not become the 'God Klingon' or the 'God Martian'!" he wrote.  "Only descendents of Adam can be saved.  God's Son remains the 'Godman' as our Savior.  In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we see the Father through the Son (and we see the Son through His Word). To suggest that aliens could respond to the Gospel is just totally wrong." 
It strikes me that Ham has a very limited soteriology. He argues that Adam's sin affects the whole universe but Christ's salvation only affects humanity. In other words Ham is suggesting that Adam's work is much greater than Christ's. Well I'm with St Paul on this one when he declares:
'In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth'.      Ephesians 1:7-10 
As Tom Wright comments:
'God's plan is for the whole cosmos, the entire universe; his choosing and calling of us, and his shaping and directing of us in the Messiah, are somehow connected with that larger intention... the point is that we aren't chosen for our own sake, but for the sake of what God wants to accomplish through us.' Paul for Everyone - The Prison Letters p.9
This is what I understand to be a universal Gospel; Good News for the whole creation. So if I happen to come across these characters on the underground it will be my duty and my joy to share with them the love of God made known in his son the Lord Jesus Christ.


Friday, 25 July 2014

Lord Sacks may have a point.

During a debate on religious freedom in the House of Lords, the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks suggested that social media may play a part in inflaming conflict. His comments were made against the background of rising anti-semitism in Europe and the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. A particular comment was highlighted in reporting by Christian Today:
"In all this we recognise the power of the internet and social media to turn any local conflict into a global one. We see how the wilful confusion of religion and politics allows soluble political problems to be turned into insoluble religious ones. We witness the ignorance that allows people to mistake one strand within a faith for the whole of that faith, and we pay a high price for our fascination with extremists. It is the worst, not the best, who know how to capture the attention of a troubled and confused world."
In response to Lord Sacks' comments Vicky Beeching, a proponent of social media, made the point that social media is a neutral tool:
"It's crucial we remember social media is a tool, and like any tool it can be used for good or for harm. The tool itself must not be blamed; that points the finger in the wrong direction. We must take responsibility for what we do with that tool."
On the surface this seems a legitimate point, however, I'm not so sure. The same 'it's only a tool' argument is used by the proponents of fire arms. 'Don't blame the gun, blame the people who misuse the gun'. There are of course legitimate uses for a gun, for example in the control of vermin. Yet, as a society we recognise that there is something inherently dangerous about a gun which leads us to impose tight restrictions on its use. We also recognise different types of gun carry different risks; the air rifle popping off manually loaded pellets is different from a rapid fire machine gun capable of delivering 60 rounds per minute and one causes much more damage than the other.

Is the same not true with the means of communication? There is a difference between a comment piece written after considered reflection and published several hours later after review by an editor and a comment fired off in instant response to a news story in 140 characters via Twitter. Consider the growing list of reporters who have discovered this to be true having published a gut reaction comment on social media which they have then had to retract almost as quickly as their bosses have transferred them to another story. I am not suggesting that comment pieces published in the more traditional media cannot be ill informed, inflammatory or even dangerous; the Daily Mail remains a constant testimony that they can. What I am suggesting is that certain forms of communication by their nature may lend themselves to this problem.

Bex Lewis in the same article recognises the distinction between different media while still defending social media when she observed:
"Social media can be considered like a brick – you can build houses with it, or you can throw it through people's windows. People are doing both with it, as people have always done with every communications medium. Yes, social media allows messages to move faster globally, and those who speak loudest will often be listened to. Social media, however, gives the opportunity to speak back, particularly if people gather together."
I am a supporter and user of social media. I blog, tweet and use Facebook and yet I have a slightly ambivalent attitude towards each of these forms because of the misuse I observe and some of the damage that can be done. The most recent case has been over the 'debates' about the situation in Gaza on social media. I have become increasingly uneasy about the way Twitter interaction seems to polarise opinions and suggest you must be either for or against a particular side in the conflict. My timeline has been full of 140 character or less statements, sometimes with links, about a situation which is far more complex than can be communicated in a sentence. The ability to nuance an opinion is lost and it has been easy to read some tweets as being anti-semitic or uncritically supporting of Israel. Isn't this part of what Lord Sacks was seeking to highlight?

Update: If you want an example of a more nuanced approach on social media then check out Sometimes it's hard to write anything funny.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Error of judgement.

The news has been full of horrific images from around the world over the last couple of weeks and thanks to modern communications we are able to watch much of the reporting from these scenes in real time. One particular piece of journalism has attracted a large amount of attention and criticism. Sky News reporter Colin Brazier was reporting from the MH17 plane crash site and he began to rummage through a passenger's suitcase while speaking to camera. Part way through the reporter suddenly says 'we shouldn't be doing this... this is a mistake' and stops. However, the video went viral, in some versions without the final comment from Brazier, and the full force of social media instant rage came crashing down upon Brazier's head. Today in The Guardian Brazier explains how he came to make the error of judgement in his broadcast and in so doing gives us an insight into what many journalists are confronted with when reporting from these scenes of devastation.

The incident raises several issues for me. The first is that I am not sure why we need to have so many reports from these situations in order to understand what has happened or is happening. Did we really need reporters standing in the middle of the wreckage to convey the horror of what had occurred? Whenever a disaster, tragedy or atrocity takes place the default seems to be to send one of our well known news presenters to stand at the scene, breathlessly telling us what we already know. Are they really better placed to inform us from the field rather than from the studio? Often they are simply anchoring the programme and introducing other reports. Is this about creating a sense of tension and immediacy rather than helping us to gain insight into the events?

In Brazier's case the situation was different. He and other journalists had been allowed access into the heart of the site, where normally they would be excluded to the perimeter, as Brazier observes in his piece. We also had an insight into the shambles around the site as investigators and journalists where herded around by the Ukrainian rebels and we were able to observe the failure to secure the situation, protect the evidence and enable a proper investigation to take place. There are times when the on the ground reporting does bring a perspective that would otherwise be missing.

What is also revealed in Brazier's piece is the toll that this type of 'in the field' reporting has on the journalists. I guess we have become so familiar with seeing these reporters speaking to camera against a backdrop of mayhem, that we can forget they are human beings, struggling with their own emotions as they engage with the devastation around them. Brazier speaks of the sudden connection between what he was seeing and his own family as the context of his error of judgement:
And so during that lunchtime broadcast I stood above a pile of belongings, pointing to items strewn across the ground. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a pink drinking flask. It looked familiar. My six-year-old daughter, Kitty, has one just like it. I bent down and, what my Twitter critics cannot hear - because of the sound quality of internet replays of the broadcast - is that I had lost it. It is a cardinal sin of broadcasting, in my book anyway, to start blubbing on-air. I fought for some self-control, not thinking all that clearly as I did so.
There are of course situations where the journalists cannot gain access. At the moment reports are coming out of Iraq that Christians in Mosul are being driven out of their homes or murdered for their faith. The story is gaining some coverage but is largely being drowned out by the situation in Gaza and the Ukraine. What is noticeable is the lack of on the ground reporting from Mosul, presumably because it is too dangerous for journalists to go anywhere near the place, and so there is little visual imagery to convey the atrocity on our televisions. Perhaps if we could see something of the tragedy that is unfolding in Mosul more attention might be given to it by news agencies, the public and our politicians, who seem to be almost silent when it comes to anything to do with Christian persecution in the Middle East.

I confess I was appalled when I saw Brazier's Sky News video clip. Looking back at my Twitter timeline I see I didn't make a comment at the time or RT anyone else's comments. though I easily could have - it only takes a click. I'm grateful to Brazier for his openness and honesty about what happened and for the reminder that those reporting the news are affected by what they encounter and can make mistakes, just like the rest of us.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Captain Hook

Well the vultures are circling as England engineer another batting collapse to hand India a victory at Lords. The pundits have been lining up to call for England captain Cook to be dismissed and it looks like he could be on his way out after this dismal display. Given the way three of the batsman ludicrously holed out after lunch today, I would suggest Captain Cook be replaced by Captain Hook for this really was a pantomime performance.

Friday, 18 July 2014

A simple question

A simple question today as the Assisted Dying Bill is discussed in the House of Lords. It is not do you want the right to choose the time and means of your death in the face of terminal illness? It is are you prepared to be the elderly vulnerable terminally ill person who is pressurised into requesting death because you are made to feel a burden on family and society?