Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Adopting a worldview

So, it appears there will be "no exemption" from the upcoming SORs for Roman Catholic adoption agencies who want to go on providing the same service they have been for decades in line with the teaching of their church.

*Deep breath*

As a Christian (though not a RC), I believe that sex - a good gift from God - is for marriage, and that marriage means one man + one woman for life. Any stepping outside of (transgressing) these conditions is therefore sinful. I'm not married, so for me to have sex with anyone would be a sin. Likewise, homosexual intercourse is always sinful. However, this emphatically does not mean that I "hate gays". It is the action of which I disapprove, not the person. The fallaciousness of any comparison with racism should therefore be obvious. Nevertheless, I was sceptical about the protests from Christians against the SORs earlier this month. Does, I wondered, the hypothetical Christian hotelier check to make sure all his heterosexual guests in double rooms are married couples? Would the hypothetical Christian printer refuse to print leaflets for a Muslim organisation?

This issue, however, is different. In a letter to The Times, Ben Summerskill of Stonewall argues thusly:

No-one is denying people of faith the freedom to practise their religion.
However, such rights should not extend to refusing delivery of publicly funded
social services.
Excuse me, Ben, but these are children's lives we're talking about here, not a council house or access to the CAB. I imagine that, if you could, you would want to sue nature for not allowing same-sex couples to have their own children in the way that hetereosexual couples can. There are those of us who object to the government's trying to forcibly redefine the family; we have some bleak predictions about what the results of this will be and will not delight in being proved right. You do not have the "right" to have a child. No-one does. It's a privilege, not your entitlement as a citizen.

It would be stating the obvious to say that this represents a movement in society at large not only to "do these very things [and] approve of those who practise them" (Romans 1:32), but also to eliminate any disapproval of said behaviour. This has been witnessed by the CUs across the country having immense trouble putting on "Pure" courses at the moment, most notably Edinburgh, and anyone who read The Times' leading article on the adoption row which expressed an opinion on "the best way to change the attitudes of those few who remain convinced that the practice of homosexuality is a sin". Well, what if their attitudes aren't for changing, because of pesky things like the Bible's teaching and all that? When the Church of England chimed in support of the RCC with this letter a day after opposition was declard (better late than never), Archbishops Williams and Sentamu expressed their grave concern that a climate was being created
in which, for example, some feel free to argue that members of the government
are not fit to hold public office on the grounds of their faith affiliation,
evidence of which is already being seen both here and across the Atlantic where, for example, Daniel Dennett feels entitled to ask politicians to "sell their stock" in faith. "Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?" (Psalm 2:1).

I want to finish with two questions for anyone offended, or just unconvinced, by this post. Let's imagine that in, say, 20-25 years time, when the results of this social experiment are becoming clear, statistics reveal that boys brought up by two dads are much more likely than average to be gay themselves.
  1. Would that surprise you?
  2. Would it bother you?

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Underground advertising

On my way down an escalator on the Tube earlier I spotted an advert for a dating/marriage arrangement service posing the question: "Are you a professional Indian looking for your ideal partner?" The question surprised me greatly. Are there really professional Indians out there? I mean, I know there are Indian professionals, so much is obvious, but I had no idea it was anyone's profession to be Indian. There really are people who are paid to be Indian?

Irony aside (and I make no apology for being a pedant about syntax), one has to wonder whether such a service will at some point fall foul of the CRE. Would anyone like to open a spread as to when having an Indian-only -- or, for that matter, any other racial/national group-only -- dating service will be deemed discriminatory? I realise there are loads of them out there at the moment...

(I don't actually feel at all discriminated-against or even bothered. I'm just not sure that's the point with these bodies).

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Derren Brown and determinism

My faith in libertarian free will has taken something of a bashing recently, not least because of Derren Brown's latest live act, entitled "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and shown on Channel 4 on December 29. The show I found overall very impressive, much more so for the feats of mindreading / psychological manipulation than for those of physical self-abuse (such as hammering a nine-inch nail all the way up his nostril and walking barefoot across a mound of broken glass). The pinnacle of the show came at its conclusion, where he got one audience member to pick a random (at least, so it seemed) page from a random newspaper, and to tear it into quarters, before asking a different audience member to pick from what was left a random word, which turned out to be a word - "influential" - which he had preselected. If you haven't seen the show, I must point out that the whole thing was actually an awful lot more impressive than I've just made it sound.

And then, unlike lesser "magicians" who refuse to give away the secret of their act, he did exactly that: explain exactly how, point by point, "it was inevitable" that everything should turn out as it did. To prove it, he proceeded to show short video clips of instances during the performance when he had managed to smuggle in rather out-of-place references to "Daily Mail", "page 14" and "tear around 'influential'". Thus, he said, he had managed to put these suggestions into the audience members' psyches so that they could not but have acted as he wished.

And so, if it really was inevitable that those audience members - and I am entirely convinced that they were picked at random - should make the choices they did, in what meaningful sense can their choices have been free? Did either of them at any point have the categorical ability not to choose the word "influential" from the top left hand corner of page 14 of the Dail Mail?

Of course, one could argue that even if, in this case, they did not, then libertarian free will still lives to fight another day. Perhaps the prime mover in this instance was Mr. Brown himself. But still that situation leaves a bad taste: if, in certain situations, the appearance of absolutely free choice is illusory, then why not in all situations?

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Als das Kind Kind war, war es die Zeit der folgenden Fragen:

Warum bin ich ich, und warum nicht du?
Warum bin ich hier, und warum nicht dort?
Wann begann die Zeit, und wo endet der Raum?
Ist das Leben unter der Sonne nicht bloß ein Traum?
Ist was ich sehe und höre und rieche
nicht bloß der Schein einer Welt vor der Welt?
Gibt es tatsächlich das Böse und Leute,
die wirklich die Bösen sind?
Wie kann es sein, daß ich, der ich bin,
bevor ich wurde, nicht war,
und daß einmal ich, der ich bin,
nicht mehr der ich bin, sein werde?
(Peter Handke, "Lied vom Kindsein", verse 4)

When the child was a child, it was the time of the following quesitons:
Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end? Is life under the sun not merely a dream? Is that which I see and hear and smell not merely the appearance of a world before the world? Is there actually evil, and people who really are the evil ones? How can it be that I, who am I, before I came to be, was not, and that in time I, who am I, will no longer be I who I am?"
Having singularly failed to appreciate Die Stunde, da wir nichts voneinander wußten, my respect for Peter Handke has just massively improved on learning this poem is his. These are the words spoken by Damiel at the beginning of Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) - a great opening to a great film.

What is a real shame is that in so many cases these really are questions one associates with childhood, as if past a certain age people give up asking them. I regard such lack of interest in maximally important issues as insane; C.S. Lewis apparently thought it the result of satanic conspiracy:
By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it ‘real life’ and don’t let him ask what he means by ‘real’.
(C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, I)
I think that sometimes an important part of evangelism is simply getting people to ask themselves these kinds of questions. After all, didn't Jesus himself command us to "change and become like little children" (Matthew 2:3)?