Thursday, December 30, 2010

We7 removing ad-free days?

I have noticed that my account at We7 is showing that I have 1 ad free day available and that this is 100% of what is possible. Previously they allowed you to earn up to five advert free days by listening with ads for a certain period of time. I had noticed it being reduced to three and now its down to one, so it looks like they are moving to removing ads only if you pay the subscription.

I did try the free trial subscription for my android phone, but found that the player crashed fairly regularly. It was quite nice on other ways as it stored tracks on the SD card so that if they were requested, but had previously been listened to they ran from the card rather than using bandwidth. In the end, though, it was just too annoying so I did not continue it with a subscription.

Blogger for mobile web browsers

Wordpress has had built in mobile functionality for some time, but now Blogger has caught up. The feature can be found by logging into Blogger, switching to "Blogger in Draft" and going to "Settings" then "Email & Mobile". There you can switch on the mobile version. In the next month or so this will be moved out of "draft" and put into the main Blogger so if you are reading this in the future then it will be easier to find.

Once this is done any browser connecting to the server which is detected as being from a mobile device will be shown the mobile version (which is optimised for touch devices). You can link directly to the mobile version by adding "?m=1" to the end of the URL like this:

I backed up my template before switching it on, but it did not affect my modified template or overwrite it with the standard one. This means it should be safe to turn on, but backing up is always a good idea.

Weetabix and plastic packaging.

Having just bought a box of Organic Weetabix I have found that the internal wrappers are made of paper (and therefore recyclable) where the standard Weetabix has plastic and is marked "not currently recyclable ".
Weetabix used to have paper wrappers, but went plastic at some point in the 1990's. Why is the organic version now paper? There can't be a different packaging requirement so my guess is that in order to sell to the sort of person who buys organic products the packaging has to be 100% recyclable.
I could be wrong though. Does anyone from the manufacturer want to comment?

Update 01/01/2011
I found a thread on another blog here discussing packaging so decided to email Weetabix to ask them. Within 24 hours (and on New Year's eve) I received the following response by email:

Many thanks for your comments about the paper packaging. We conducted a short-term trial earlier this year on two of our 11 production lines to test the feasibility of returning to paper, which we used quite a while ago prior to changing to the film which has become the norm over the past 15 or so years. The trial has been concluded, so we are back to film and are assessing our findings on how it ran in the factory and, very importantly indeed, how our customers react when they find their biscuits wrapped differently.Your vote is clearly a positive one, and I have recorded it as such. You are definitely part of our market research! Ultimately, we may make the change but the jury is still out, so to speak. I can make no promises except to say the subject is very high on our current agenda. Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

So now we know.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Has Vetaid gone out of business?

I worked for the charity Vetaid in the late 90's as a fundraiser in a joint post with the Moredun Foundation. Vetaid worked with subsistence farmers, mainly in Africa, to improve food security tbrough animal health. I have always retained a good deal of affection for the organisation and kept in touch with one of my former colleagues. She was made redundant earlier in the year and according to another ex-colleague I met at a party over Christmas the whole organisation is being wound up. I have had a look around the internet for any official announcement, but can't find anything.

The Vetaid website is dead, but their Facebook page is still going (although not updated since 2008).

Its all very sad.

UPDATE 15th January 2012
A visitor to this page has alerted me to an article on the Royal Veterinary College web site indicating that VETAID's Kenyan and Tanzanian projects are continuing under the VETAID name, but as a seperate locally run charity.

Vetaid was a UK based charity established in 1986 that offered a way for the UK vet profession to support overseas development work. Vetaid ceased operations in 2010. In its place, it was agreed to allow a local NGO to continue working in East Africa using the same "Vetaid" name.
Vetaid Kenya was then established as a small Kenyan registered charity that has taken over projects originally developed by Vetaid UK. It works with a small and effective team of local vets and community animal health workers. Its size and local roots means that it is extremely flexible and able to respond to emergencies rapidly and effectively. It has acquired a strong reputation in East Africa amongst the government veterinary services, international agencies such as the FAO and donors such as GALVMED.
It seems that Nick Short is still involved. The original article can be found here:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ban carrier bags in Edinburgh - a practical idea.

Thanks to my colleague @ewanaitken for alerting me to a campaign to ban plastic bags in Edinburgh. I feel like an old hand at this because more than ten years ago I started selling hessian Fairtrade shopping bags for £1 each through Vetaid (where I was working at the time).  I got the idea from Germany where it was commonplace to use these types of bag. As well as being better for the environment they are also stronger, so no chance of bottles dropping through the bottom or cutting off the circulation to your fingers as you would  with a heavy plastic bag. I sourced the bags through Traidcraft (who provide a wholesale and sourcing service as well as running their own mail order business). They even had our logo printed on them. To be able to retail them for £1 and make 50% profit I had to buy a very large quantity. Unfortunately the delivery arrived on a day I was out of the office and required a forklift truck to unload it from the lorry. I was not popular in the office that day.

Unfortunately, like a lot of my ideas it was a bit too ahead of its time and not a great success. Fast forward five years and supermarkets were selling very similar bags for £1 each.

However, there is a practical problem with such bags, or even the ubiquitous "bag for life". Its fine if you are going out with the intention of doing shopping and you take the bags with you, but if you need to pop in to a shop unexpectedly its not much help. I try to carry a plastic carrier bag in my coat pocket, but its not an ideal solution. As I found out last week when I bought two bags worth of stuff, but only had one bag, Marks and Spencer do not appear to sell non plastic bags. Even if they did, they would join my growing pile of "bags for life", which in reality will probably last a lot longer than I do.

Anyway, this brings me to the point of this article. There has to be a point-of-sale solution to the lack of bag problem for casual shoppers and I think I have an idea. Shops should provide the hessian type bags for a £1 refundable deposit. This would give people access to a means of carrying their shopping home without it adding to their pile of carrier bags at home or ending up in landfill. Even if they did end up in the bin, hessian is biodegradable. Supermarkets can easily afford to do this, and at £1 they would still be making a profit on any non-returned bags. Smaller shops could join a scheme to purchase bags at 50p so they were on a level playing field with big retailers. Because the charge for the bag is refundable its a better deal for consumers than the "deterrent" fee of 5p being charged by M&S.

Do you think this would work? Please leave a comment.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas aint what it used to be.

As so many other people have said recently:
There is a lack of harmony in what our eyes perceive, when we wish to permeate ourselves with the Christmas mood, and wish to receive this Christmas mood from what we can see in today's environment. There is a discord in seeing the streets bedecked with Christmas trees and other decorations in preparation for the festival, and then seeing modern traffic rushing through the midst of it all. And if modern man does not feel the full extent of this discord, the reason may well be that he has disaccustomed himself to be sensitive to all the depth and intimacy which can be connected with this approaching festival. Of all that the Christmas festival can do to deepen man's inner nature, basically no more is left today, especially for the city dweller, than a last faint echo. He is hardly in a position to feel even vaguely its former greatness. His habits prevent him from perceiving this greatness any longer, a greatness to which humanity had become accustomed in the course of centuries.
How far back do we need to go to find that non-commercialised Christmas?  1960? 1940? 1920?

Except that the above quotation is from a lecture given in Berlin on 22nd December, 1910* (by Rudolf Steiner). He is clear that the golden age of Christmas had already gone by then, so maybe we look back to a golden age that never really existed? Or maybe we were rose tinted contact lenses.

[* The Christmas Festival In The Changing Course Of Time, Berlin, 22nd December, 1910.]

Monday, December 20, 2010

Support for young earth creationism declining in the USA

According to these poll results from gallup, support for young earth creationism in the USA is on the wane. Most interestingly, and what's not being picked up by most commentators, is that those losses are mainly being picked up by "theistic evolution", a belief that evolution is true, but God had a hand in it.

This may be troubling for groups like Answers in Genesis who insist that its a straight choice between creationism or atheism. What might also bother them is that since they started campaigning in the early 1990's support for a young earth position has actually declined. How much of that is due to the declining fiortunes of churches which support this type of theology remains to be seen.

Sadly, the situation in the UK is advancing in the opposite direction with the number of churches supporting a creationist position increasing. I notice that there is now one church in Scotland which requires belief in young earth creationism in order to be a member.  I had predicted the likelihood of this happening in a previous posting to this blog.

Two of the over-riding factors in the expansion of creationism in UK evangelical churches is the increase in support from the USA (both financially and through visiting influential preachers) and the distillation of the declining church to a narrower group of people with an increasingly complex system of belief.

I believe this is a temporary blip in the development of the church in the UK and that it will reach a peak and then decline as it has done in the USA.

Here are the gallup figures (click on the image for a larger view):

Thursday, December 16, 2010

John Wesley's cure for raging madness

Apparently Wesley was something of a physician as well as a preacher. One of my colleagues has a copy of his book "Primitive physic: or, an easy and natural method of curing most diseases". Never having seen this before I have found it a fascinating insight into medical treatments in the late 18th century.

Here is his cure for raging madness:

You can read the full book in Google Books by clicking here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How my ancestors named part of Kirkcaldy

Earlier this week I was reminded about the area of Kirkcaldy known as St Clair and wondered if there was a connection with my Sinclair (St Clair) ancestors. I have been doing a bit of digging and it seems that there is and that St Clair is named after them.

According to the Gazetteer of Scotland by Robert & William Chambers, Edinburgh, 1844 p268 (the entry for Dysart):

The most remarkable object of antiquity near the town is the castle of Ravenscraig, situated on a rock, projecting into the sea, at the east end of Kirkcaldy. It, with the lands adjoining, was given by James III. to William St. Clair, Earl of Orkney, when he resigned the title of Orkney. It has ever since been possessed by the family of St. Clair. It was inhabited in Oliver Cromwell's time, and was fired upon by a party of his troops. It has, for many years, been uninhabited and in a ruinous state.
You can read the history of Ravenscraig Castle here.

William Sinclair (1410-1484), 3rd Earl of Orkney was my 12th Great Grandfather (i.e. great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather). He was the Sinclair who built Rosslyn Chapel. Sadly, my branch of the family is descended from one of his many children from his three marriages and was disinherited in 1606 after a family dispute. Following this they were banished to Shetland where future generations lived quite poor lives. So there is not much change of me getting my castle back.

The area of St Clair in Kirkcaldy is also known as Sinclairtown or Sinclairton and includes street names like Rosslyn Street, Caithness Place and Sutherland Place which all relate to places important to the Sinclair family of that time. Click here for a map.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Similarity between fairy and UFO folklore

Following on from my article about the fairy boy of Leith I thought I would set out some of my theory of similarities between modern UFO phenomenon, alien abduction and traditional stories about fairies, elves and goblins. In doing this I have used the same source as my previous article for examples (Sir Walter Scott in his Poetical Works Vol 2) although similar stories are commonplace.

Fairies are usually described as smaller than people and having an appearance which brings fear or awe.

The features attributed by Scott  to "the modern fairy" (as opposed to elves of earlier times) are:

Their attributes, amongst which we recognise the features of the modern fairy, were, supernatural wisdom and prescience, and skill in the mechanical arts, especially in the fabrication of arms. They are farther described, as capricious, vindictive, and easily irritated.

If we replace fabrication of arms (the high technology of its day) with expertise in technology then all of these attributes are ones also ascribed to aliens.

Fairies were considered to live underground or underwater, both of which are features of "UFO base" stories.

Fairies can interbreed with humans which fits with the alien/human hybrid hypothesis.

Fairies come at night and carry people off. As Scott explains:

Gervase of Tilbury, in the Olia Imperialia, mentions certain hags, or Lamice, who entered into houses in the night-time, to oppress the inhabitants while asleep, injure their persons and property, and carry off their children.

Fairies are also associated with circles in the ground. Reminiscent to the modern mind of crop circles, but more likely "fairy rings":

The Fairies of Scotland are represented as a diminutive race of beings, of a mixed, or rather dubious nature, capricious in their dispositions, and mischievous in their resentment. They inhabit the interior of green hills, chiefly those of a conical form, in Gaelic termed Sighan, on which they lead their dances by moonlight ; impressing upon the surface the marks of circles, which sometimes appear yellow and blasted, sometimes of a deep green hue ; and within which it is dangerous to sleep, or to be found after sunset. The removal of those large portions of turf, which thunderbolts sometimes scoop out of the ground with singular regularity, is also ascribed to their agency.  (Scott p308)

People who encounter fairies are often taken on journeys to far of places (like the fairy boy of Leith). Scott quotes the story of a Laird Duffus from a 1695 publication:

A tradition existed, during the seventeenth century, concerning an ancestor of the noble family of Duffus, who, " walking abroad in the fields, near to his own house, was suddenly carried away, and found the next day at Paris in the French king's cellar, with a silver cup in his hand. Being brought into the king's presence, and questioned by him who he was, and how he came thither, he told his name, his country, and the place of his residence ; and that, on such a day of the month, which proved to be the day immediately preceding, being in the fields, he heard the noise of a whirlwind, and of voices, crying, ' Horse and Hattock !' (this is the word which the Fairies are said to use when they remove from any place,) whereupon he cried ' Horse and Hattock' also, and was immediately caught up and transported through the air, by the Fairies, to that place, where, after he had drunk heartily, he fell asleep, and before he woke, the rest of the company were gone, and had left him in the posture wherein he was found. It is said the King gave him the cup which was found in his hand, and dismissed him." The narrator affirms, " that the cup was still preserved, and known by the name of the Fairy cup." He adds, that Mr Steward, tutor to the then Lord Duffus, had informed him, that, " when a boy at the school of Forres, he and his school-fellows were upon a time whipping their tops in the churchyard, before the door of the church, when, though the day was calm, they heard a noise of a wind, and at some distance saw the small dust begin to rise and turn round, which motion continued advancing till it came to the place where they were, whereupon they began to bless themselves ; but one of their number being, it seems, a little more bold and confident than his companions, said ' Horse and Hattock with my top,' and immediately they all saw the top lifted up from the ground, but could not see which way it was carried, by reason of a cloud of dust which was raised at the same time. They sought for the top all about the~place where it was taken up, but in vain ; and it was found afterwards in the churchyard, on the other side of the church."—This puerile legend is contained in a letter from a learned gentleman in Scotland, to Mr Aubrey, dated 15th March, 1695, published in Aubrey's Miscellanies, p. 158.

People coming across fairies tend to do so in the woods, on hills or near where they have some form of transportation (usually horses).

It does seem that whatever people are experiencing with UFO's and aliens is very similar or identical to the experiences of people with fairies in earlier times. I present this as my theory. You may wish to comment if you agree or disagree. I am sure I will have more stories to add as time goes on.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A summary of Rudolf Steiner's theology

Rudolf Steiner

Following on from my article about Steiner influence in Edinburgh I thought I would give a brief summary of the theological and philosophical ideas contained in Rudolf Steiner's writings. Its a very brief resume and it may not be 100% accurate and it is simply my understanding of what he was writing about. However, I think it gives a number of important clues to why so many social care and educational organisations have originated within Anthroposophy. I have underlined these where I think they exist.

Philosopher or theologian?
Steiner has two sides to his work. Firstly as a philosopher (especially his early writings) and secondly as a theologian following his involvement with Theosophy. His theology is most pronounced in his Christology which, although wildly different from orthodox Christianity, jumps through hoops to try and deal with some inconsistencies in the biblical account of Jesus' origins.

These sections are in no particular order.

Nature of the person
We tend to consider human beings as animals or mechanical beings. Steiner views man as body, soul and spirit

  • Spirit - Eternal
  • Soul - evolving (our psychological make up)
  • Body - temporal

He also has a  four fold articulation of the person which applies to anthroposophic medicine or steiner (aka Waldorf) education:

  • Physical - physical/material structure of the body (the minerals that make up our body)
  • Etheric - source of life and growth (metabolic processes of the body, plants also have this)
  • Astral - consciousness (desire to experience pleasure and pain, dreaming consciousness, all animals have this)
  • Ego or “I” - self awareness (waking consciousness, specific to humans)

Steiner uses the word Ego differently from Jung. Steiner's ego is self consciousness. This is the bit that undergoes reincarnation. He divides it into lower and higher ego. The ego has to be in control of the three lower functions. Christ has conferred on us the principal of individuality. God describes himself as “I am”. This is given to us when Christ is incarnated, died and risen (which Steiner refers to as a single event he calls "the mystery of Golgotha"). We are all individuals but at the same time we are one.

We have the ability to transform our abstract ideas into concrete ideals by recognising ourselves as body, soul and spirit and using higher faculties to transform the world.

In Hinduism and Buddhism karma is about cause and effect. People suffer consequences for actions in a previous life. Steiner uses the word karma more flexibly to mean something like destiny. Steiner did not believe that personal blame was always attached to someones actions because something could happen as the result of someone elses actions or by accident or chance. Steiner believes that we are destined to be with the people we need to be with in order to improve our spiritual being during this life and that these associations are organised by divine beings (angels). He calls these karmic relationships.

Reincarnation and development
We can take our intention to heal and transform the earth into the next life and build on it.  Humanity as a whole is developing as time moves forward. Each step is appropriate for its time. We need to live free in the moment to accept what comes, being awake to the possibility that we may be connected to other people in ways we do not expect. We need to set aside physical or personality issues that may repel us and accept human beings as they are.

Steiner describes evil has a twofold nature which he gives these names.
  • Luciferic - removing someone from the earth, entirely spiritual, away from tasks of life (interest in spirituality, not entering into earthly life, abandoning the earth to its own fate)
  • Ahrimanic - fetters us to the earth, materialistic, binding us to the earth so that we can never experience divine intelligence or the spiritual world. (technlogy, power, control, fear of loss of control, reductionist).
These are qualities of our own being, not physical entities although they could be incarnated as such and he prophesies an incarnation of Ahriman in the third millenium after Christ.

On the one hand Scientists and religious fundamentalists tend towards the ahrimanic, mechanistic view of life and become bogged down. On the other hand the religious ecstatic is unable to function in the world as he is too spiritual. What is “good” is the balance between these two extremes. Christ acts as the mediator of these two extremes.

The lie
The lie is the diminishing of the individual by mass manipulation and the mass media whether in politics, advertising or celebrity culture. Technology is isolating people from one another and we are living in an artificial, imaginary, world. It is also deadening our spiritual senses. We need to counter the power of the lie to maintain reality. To counter the lie we need to come to a knowledge of the truth of man as Body Soul and Spirit and the inherent dignity which this signifies.

When Steiner talks about freedom he is not talking about a libertarian or anarchistic view of freedom but an state of "freedomhood" which is innate but which we can diminish. In his view we need to take account of others and not do anything which would affect their freedom. We cannot control the world, but we need to be active in it, not passive, and responding to what we experience physically and spiritually. Personal freedom of thought is essential.

To Steiner thinking is a sense which we can develop and use to understand and experience the spiritual realm. We do not wait for revelation. We can reach towards spiritual knowledge through thought. Thought is a sense. Thinking is a spiritual activity which we can develop until we are able to see the hidden divinity (the Christ) in every human being. Our ultimate aim should be to get to the point of being unable to sleep while another human being suffers.

Cosmic Christ
In summary, Steiner believes that Christ is a seperate being from Jesus. He is an avatar who came into Jesus at his baptism. At the crucifixion his blood saturated the earth and transformed in a type of transubstantiation.
Steiner views Jesus as the cosmic Christ of John's gosepl, beyond traditional religion and waiting to be discovered. He is active in the earth in the spiritual (etheric) realm. He can only be experienced with a higher faculty or consciousness. We are called on to develop these so we can experience Christ. Christ provides the impulses and ideas for developing ourselves and helping others.

Steiner believes there were two seperate Jesus children (one descended from Nathan one from Solomon). Since Steiners day we have discovered that the Essenes expected two Messiahs so a belief in two is not unique to Steiner. Matthew and Luke’s gospels have different genealogies of Jesus. Zoroaster’s ego reincarnated into the Solomon Jesus which is why the Magi came looking for him. The Solomon Jesus is very knowledgable and is the one described as a boy in the temple with the teachers of the law. The Nathan Jesus is very loving and compassionate but his physical body was weak. Today we might  consider him to have a learning disability. However, his astral body was inherited from the Buddah.  Buddah’s mission is to develop a sense of compassion and love eventually perfecting himself through many reincarnation cycles. At the age of 12 the ego of Zoroaster transmigrated from the Solomon Jesus into the ego of the Nathan Jesus so we have a fusion of the two. Knowledge and compassion are now combined. The Solomon Jesus dies and Mary goes to live with the family who have the Nathan Jesus plus his brothers and sisters. There is then a gap from the age of 12 to 30. Steiner advances the idea that Jesus spent this time with the Essenes. This was before the discovery of the dead sea scrolls, so Steiner is quite early in promoting this. Jesus rejects the way of the Essenes and wanders in the desert eventually meeting John the baptist who had also rejected the Essene teachings. John is a reincarnation of Elijah. John becomes Jesus’ teacher. John baptises Jesus at the age of 30 and at that moment the Christ being descends from the sun and takes up residence in Jesus. Christ is important to Steiner because he is composed of these various spiritual beings and perfected souls. None of these can incarnate again because they are perfect. This is why Steiner rejects a second coming of Christ as a physical being.

Christ lives for three years and is then dissolved into the etheric body of the earth through his blood in a form of transubstantiation of the earth. He then descends into hell (the afterlife) and illuminates it. Changing it from the dark place the Greek’s understood it to be into something more like the Egyptian understanding of the afterlife.

The Christ event is pivotal to Steiner because brings true individuality.  People are no longer part of a tribal group, they are individuals. This is typified by his use of the “I am” statements in John’s gospel and God (the Christ being)  revealing himself as “I am” to Moses in the burning bush. Christ teaches people how to be true individuals which opens up new possibilities of spiritual contact for those who take up the Christ impulse. This is part of a new phase of evolution where people can perfect their etheric bodies thorugh renewed contact with the spiritual world.

The spiritual beings (angels) are interested in us, but this is intended to be a relationship. There are barriers between us and the angels, generally the Ahrimanic influence.  We can come to know these beings by developing our spiritual faculties which allow us to overcome the Ahrimanic influence.

Steiner’s idea of the fall is that at some point in history human beings stopping having contact with spiritual beings and reduced their etheric bodies to occupy the same space as their physical bodies so they could not sense or experience the spiritual. The coming of Christ makes it possible to reverse this. The latest stage of human development has been from about 1400 AD when people started using their individuality to have mastery over the physical world using machines. Steiner sees this as an incorrect use of individuality and the cause of a lot of society’s problems. He believes that in 1879 he believes there was a war between the archangel Michael and ahrimanic beings who had been expelled from the astral plane (heaven) and were wandering the earth looking for the souls of men. As a result of this war (which resulted in great political unrest and the first world war) Michael became part of the etheric body of the world along with Christ. This begins a new spiritual age where the intellectual mind will be put to spiritual use through “spiritual science” which Steiner called Anthroposophy.

Creation myth
Steiner’s creation myth is very complex involving the different types of spiritual beings existing before the current solar system. These are the angels of today and are the agents of creation. Creation takes place on the spiritual plane which means that his creation myth is not intended as a description of physical events. Steiner gets this information by clairvoyant means from the Akashic record which is described as a recording or memory of knowledge of past events within the physical substance of the earth.

Steiner invites us to enter on a spiritual path, but does not seek to control us or lay down a categorical method. We are to develop our thinking faculty until we can recognise interconnectedness.

Anthroposophy is a world view embracing every aspect of the world because the world is a living whole with everything being interconnected.  The human being is at the centre of that because we are a  microcosm of this interrelatedness as body, soul and spirit.

Behe, Intelligent design and Christian integrity

Michael Behe is touring the UK giving talks promoting “Intelligent Design” (ID). His main evidence is an argument that some natural structures are “irreducibly complex”, a phrase which he seems to have coined. His favourite argument is the mousetrap which can only function with all of its parts intact and in exactly the right place. This video shows that his argument is false:

One of the structures creationists put forward as evidence against evolution is the human eye. However, the eye is strong evidence for evolution because all of its stages of development can be seen in currently living creatures. Also, half an eye actually does serve a purpose as is explained in this video:

Of course, the main problem with Intelligent Design is that the people promoting it claim not to be doing it from religious motives when many of them are fundamentalist Christians who have previously promoted religious creationism. The reason for this is that they want ID taught as part of the UK school curriculum and they can’t do that if they tell the truth and say its a religious doctrine. So much for their claim that God is a God of truth. For me this is the real problem with ID. If people want to promote creationism then let them do it honestly. Dishonesty like this just brings Christianity further into disrepute. You can read more about this in my article "why creationism is bad for Christianity".

Incidentally, Behe’s own university now has a disclaimer on its web site stating its support for evolutionary biology.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Finding Rudolph Steiner

Following on from my recent article about Rudolf Steiner and Edinburgh, readers might be interested in this documentary film by David Antonelli called Finding Rudolph Steiner currently being shown online at Culture Unplugged.

The film is 88 minutes long and begins with scenes from a video game.

The Fairy Boy of Leith - Edinburgh, Fairies and the Calton Hill

Having had my memory jogged this morning I thought I would post this, the original and shorter version of a story from Edinburgh concerning the Fairy Boy of Leith. This version is quoted by Sir Walter Scott in his Poetical Works Vol 2 which explains the roots of some Scottish ballad traditions. The story is quoted in full from its original source and is less embellished than later versions.

Calton Hill from Edinburgh Castle

Scott begins:

The worthy Captain George Burton communicated to Richard Bovet, gent., author of the interesting work, entitled "Pandaemonium, or the Devil's Cloister Opened," the following singular account of a lad called the Fairy Boy of Leith, who, it seems, acted as a drummer to the elves, who weekly held rendezvous in the Calton Hill, near Edinburgh.
And then continues with what is claimed to be a verbatim quote from Pandeemonium, or the Devils Cloister Opened. By Richard Bovet, London 1684, p. 172. This, itself is presented as a testimony written by George Burton.
About fifteen years since, having business that detained me for some time at Leith, which is near Edinburgh, in the kingdom of Scotland, I often met some of my acquaintance at a certain house there, where we used to drink a glass of wine for our refection; the woman which kept the house was of honest reputation among the neighbours, which made me give the more attention to what she told me one day about a fairy boy, (as they called him,) who lived about that town. She had given me so strange an account of him, that I desired her I might see him the first opportunity, which she promised; and not long after, passing that way, she told me there was the fairy boy, but a little before I came by ; and, casting her eye into the street, said, Look you, sir, yonder he is at play with those other boys; and designing him to me, I went, and, by smooth words, and a piece of money, got him to come into the house with me; where, in the presence of divers people, I demanded of him several astrological questions, which he answered with great subtilty ; and, through all his discourse, carried it with a cunning much above his years, which seemed not to exceed ten or eleven.
He seemed to make a motion like drumming upon the table with his fingers, upon which I asked him, Whether he could beat a drum ? To which he replied, Yes, sir, as well as any man in Scotland; for every Thursday night I beat all points to a sort of people that used to meet under yonder hill, (pointing to the great hill between Edenborough and Leith.) How, boy ? quoth I, What company have you there ? There are, sir, (said he,) a great company both of men and women, and they are entertained with many sorts of musick, besides my drum ; they have, besides, plenty of variety of meats and wine, and many times we are carried into France or Holland in a night, and return again, and whilst we are there, we enjoy all the pleasures the country doth afford. I demanded of him how they got under that hill ? To which he replied, that there was a great pair of gates that opened to them, though they were invisible to others ; and that within there were brave large rooms, as well accommodated as most in Scotland.—I then asked him, how I should know what he said to be true ? Upon which he told me he would read my fortune, saying, I should have two wives, and that he saw the forms of them sitting on my shoulders ; that both would be very handsome women. As he was thus speaking, a woman of the neighbourhood coming into the room, demanded of him, What her fortune should be ? He told her that she had two bastards before she was married, which put her in such a rage, that she desired not to hear the rest.
The woman of the house told me that all the people in Scotland could not keep him from the rendezvous on Thursday night; upon which, by promising him some more money, I got a promise of him to meet me at the same place, in the afternoon, the Thursday following, and so dismist him at that time. The boy came again, at the place and time appointed, and I had prevailed with some friends to continue with me (if possible) to prevent his moving that night. He was placed between us, and answered many questions, until, about eleven of the clock, he was got away unperceived by the company; but I, suddenly missing him, hasted to the door, and took hold of him, and so returned him into the same room ; we all watched him, and, of a sudden, he was again got out of doors ; I followed him close, and he made a noise in the street, as if he had been set upon ; but from that time I could never see him. George Burton.

Further information on the story can be found in this article.

Those interested in the Scottish fairy tradition can read the section from Scott's book here on Google Books.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophical influence in Edinburgh

On my travels around Edinburgh I keep seeing references to Rudolf Steiner. I did wonder if this was just the result of studying Steiner at university making me more adept at spotting Anthroposophical references, but after a bit of investigation there does seem to be a thriving interest in Steiner in south central Edinburgh.

My own awareness of Steiner began when my dad started working as a volunteer physiotherapist at Camphill Blair Drummond. This led to me helping out with some musical activities their including a memorable performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with a choir, and part of the orchestra, formed from people with learning difficulties who were part of the community there. This gave me a bit of an insight into some of the values behind Steiner education especially that each individual has a perfectly formed spirit regardless of external disabilities which is the reverse of the protestant Christian idea of original sin. I have always been impressed by the kindness and love of the Camphill people and the way in which they accepted me into their community as a visitor as if I was simply meant to be there at that time. Its a very special place.

I went on to study some aspects of Steiner as part of my Divinity degree. Not sure how I managed to squeeze that in, but I can remember trawling through the stack rooms at New College for dusty copies of original journals edited or written by Steiner.

Here are a list of organisations, web sites and establishments associated with Steiner education or Anthroposophy in the Edinburgh area. The Steiner influence is quite widespread. I thought I would publish it here in case anyone else goes looking for the same information.
Another list of Steiner related organisations in this area can be found here.

Note: This is my 200th article in this blog.

Update 20th August 2013
The Edinburgh group of the Anthroposophical Society has changed its name to "Anthroposophy in Edinburgh".

The Anthroposophical Library has moved from the Columcille Centre to the Christian Community.

Compatibility of Android tablet PC's with Google Docs

Potential issue for early adopters of Android tablets. Google Docs has recently become editable, rather than read only, from mobile devices. My old G1 phone can only run Android version 1.6 so the editing functions are not available. The error message takes you to a Google help page which says that you need version 2.2 (Froyo) or above to use these features. There is a cryptic mention of some functions possibly working on earlier versions.

At the same time I have been looking at Android tablets, but they all seem to be running 2.1 with no information on upgrading. So has anyone successfully used the new Google Docs from an Android device running 2.1?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The environmental impact of gathered churches

Yesterday I was thinking about people who travel long distances to church on a Sunday rather than attending one local to them and the impact that this must have on the environment. I have looked at two hypothetical churches and tried to calculate the carbon impact of their members travelling to church. Its not a scientific study, but it makes fairly shocking reading. Maybe I have got my sums wrong. Would anybody like to comment?

Church 1
An inner city church with 300 attendees at one service per Sunday.
The attendees live, on average, 2 miles from the church building (a 4 mile round trip).
Half of them walk to church or use public transport.
The other 150 members drive in using their Ford Focus 1.6i (petrol) cars with an average of three people in each car.
Each member attends 50 services per year.

Annual impact:

  • Number of cars used: 50
  • Total number of miles travelled per car: 200
  • Total number of miles for all cars: 10,000
  • Total cost of fuel (@£1.17 per litre £5.32 per gallon): £1,260
  • Total carbon (Co2) emissions: 2.52 Tons

Church 2
A large city “mega” church with 1000 attendees at one service per Sunday.
400 of these are students living in the city who use public transport or walk to church.
The remaining 600 attendees live an average of 5 miles from the church, 150 of them use public transport, the remaining 450 drive in using their Ford Focus 1.6i (petrol) cars with an average of three people in each car.
Each member attends 50 services per year.

Annual impact:

  • Number of cars used: 150
  • Total number of miles travelled per car, per year: 1000
  • Total number of miles for all cars: 75,000
  • Total cost of fuel (@£1.17 per litre £5.32 per gallon): £9,454
  • Total carbon (Co2) emissions: 18.9 Tons

It should be noted that these are conservative estimates. Many gathered churches have more than one service on a Sunday and members may also attend mid week meetings. It excludes the carbon footprint of the public transport used to get the other members to church and the energy used to manufacture replacement parts for the cars (tyres for example).

What this amount of carbon looks like

This is what a metric ton of CO2 looks like

There are considerable doubts about the practicalities of carbon offsetting by tree planting  but setting this aside we can still use trees as a rough guide to picture the physical effects of all those emissions. A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 21 kg/year [1] therefore Church 1 would need to plant 120 trees, allow them to reach maturity and keep them alive in order to neutralise the emission effects of their members driving to church. Church 2 would need to plant 900 trees to do the same. 

Gathered churches have a considerable environmental impact compared to local churches, but people are still willing to spend large amounts of money travelling to church. This is a consumer choice and its difficult to see how people can be persuaded to think more locally.


Ford Focus technical specification:
Ford Focus 1.6i Duratec petrol – Manual transmission
CO2 emissions: 157g/km (252g/m)
Fuel efficiency (combined cycle): 42.2 mpg

[1]McAliney, Mike. Arguments for Land Conservation: Documentation and Information Sources for Land Resources Protection, Trust for Public Land, Sacramento, CA, December, 1993

Friday, November 19, 2010

Some personal news - my new job

I have been appointed as manager of Eco-Congregation Scotland, an ecumenical charity which offers a programme to help congregations understand environmental issues and make appropriate practical and spiritual responses. The organisation has existed for ten years, but has only become a charity this year. My role will be to develop the organisation over the next sixteen months (initially) and insures it meets its financial and climate change targets.

This will draw on my experience of management in the voluntary sector (which goes back as far as my first appointment with the RNIB way back 1989) and as a senior manager in the private sector. It will also make some use of my theological training. Its actually the second environmental charity I have worked for although the last one was more involved in conservation and wildlife habitat management.

I will be based at the Church of Scotland headquarters in Edinburgh so I will finally have to buy a  monthly bus ticket. There will also be quite a lot of travelling involved.

Do fundamentalist Christians believe that man is mechanistic by nature?

You can read the full article here:

Christian Fundamentalism’s Atheistic View of Man « Blog on the Way

I am struck by these words, which I recognise from my own time in fundamentalist churches where people tend to be treated mechanistically, the opposite of what the church claims to believe:

The following ideas are commonly found in Christian Fundamentalism:

That a person is saved by repeating a prayer to Jesus Christ to be saved.
That a Christian advances in spiritual maturity and holiness by making decisions: to be baptized, to give his or her life to the Lord, to “surrender” this and that to God.
That by following certain definite formulas, such as daily Bible reading and prayer (devotions) a person will live a more spiritual and more holy life than one who does not follow this formula.
That wearing certain apparel evokes certain (wicked) behaviors from the person wearing the apparel.
That people fall into reciprocal roles, and correct behaviors performed in your role will evoke correct behavior in the other person in his or her role. For example, if a wife is submissive and sweet enough, she will cause her husband to love her.

The only way to reduce man to a complex mechanism is to deform him.
All of these premises rely on a belief that man is mechanistic by nature. This view of man has its roots in atheism, a belief that man is no more than a sophisticated animal, prompted and guided by drives. According to this point of view, man is programmable, trainable as an animal, for man will follow cues that give him what he wants: rewards.

There is a lot of resonance here with my own writing. See my previous post "why did the disciples follow Jesus?" which points out that there was no obvious reward, salvation or otherwise, in store for the disciples when they committed to following Jesus. Indeed following indicates the idea of a journey. This is another of the themes of my writing: faith is not a destination, but a journey.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guest Post: Jeff on "What is Faith?"

A reader called Jeff has sent in a lengthy response to my article entitled What is Faith? which was too long to fit in the comment form. With his permission I am publishing it here and linking back to it from the original article.

This is Jeff's response:

I could title this comment “in defense of faith,” but in reality it is defense of my Faith.  What is worse is that I’ve mostly written it to or for myself,  as the spectrum of how people came to believe (in any religion) is too diverse to assume that my own experience will speak to anyone else…but since I can’t rule it out I’ll subject you to it anyway :-).  In my experience, I feel that many people have the type 2 Faith you described, and then rely on type 1 to help them "prop" it up.  Unfortunately, I think this is why creationism and some other silly things (e.g. search for Noah's ark) have been such big hits for some people.  I think we have an innate desire to believe in something greater than ourselves(whatever it is), and at some point we better come up with some reasons to support it.  Come to think of it, my own faith was largely in your second category and basically stayed there until I began college.  During those years I confronted the fact that at least some of my faith was built on piles of rubble (creationism, et. al.), and it all came crashing down.  There's the rub, when one dispossesses a part of one's worldview, then one has to figure out what others parts are up for plunder.

That is when I switched to your first definition.  I didn't require proof, but if I was to maintain a (Christian) Faith, it at least had to be reasonable (at least to me), and what I had before certainly wasn’t that.  It took some time to sort things out, and for awhile I wasn’t sure which way it would go.  Honestly, to really sort out the various debates one has to be better versed in theology, etc., than I am.  From what I can tell, these arguments ultimately reach a point of minutiae, e.g., was the Greek word really intended to be this or that because one letter may have been transcribed improperly from one version to the next, etc., where one wonders what one was debating in the first place (and why).  It’s not that these aren’t important, but they can sometimes take on a whole other entity which loses relevance from the place in which the question started.  Obviously, I’m biased as to where it all ends up.  I presume you’ve already dealt with a lot of this, but nonetheless I’ll refer to the following in case you haven’t seen it, which I’ve found helpful from time to time:

see Wittgenstein's net:

As I’ve said, even though I am by and large a skeptic, I’m biased as to where the argument ends.  I’ve already acknowledged that I’m not an expert with such matters, so keeping that in mind I generally have three problems with the “anti-Christian” movement.  First, as far as I can tell, it is a bit too common to start with a presupposition of naturalism.  It is presumed that the supernatural has not occurred, so that which has the guise of the supernatural must be explained, a priori, as something else.  We may as well get to the crux of the matter, I’m generally speaking of the historical death and Resurrection of Jesus, for if either is explained away then Christianity is a lie, which, as you know, the Apostle Paul acknowledged.  However, this presupposition is a dead end, for if one cannot allow for the possibility of the supernatural, then there isn’t really anything to debate.  One can still argue that Jesus never actually died, or that a pack of wolves made off with His body, but one must also allow for a supernatural explanation as also being a possible cause for the events as described in the Gospels.  Then, once those initial debates are hashed and rehashed (with both sides thinking they’ve won), one moves on to the veracity of the documents themselves (where the real minutiae debates begin).  At the end of the debate, it seems possible for rationale, intelligent, experts in the field to maintain or disdain belief, both are possible.

My second problem is actually related to a problem I have with creationism.  When a creation “expert” talks about creation for too long, one starts hearing about how there was water in the heavens and in the earth that came spilling out, blah blah blah, and a whole list of other things in an attempt to harmonize the story with the real world in which we live, and by the time it is finished I find myself thinking, “whoa, did I just wake up from some strange dream?”  When it comes to the historical Jesus, I see a similar development occurring in the camp that is arguing against its historicity as presented in the Bible.  A whole list of circumstances and happenings that could have happened to ensure that Jesus either did not die in the first place, or did not rise from death, etc..  Some are clever, no doubt, but ultimately, giving a list of possible circumstances that change the face of the story to harmonize it with their desired version of the events doesn’t hold a lot of water for me, and is a little too close to what creationists have to do for their story.  In the end, we’re still left with a very unflattering portrayal of 11 men who after the reported resurrection of Jesus started an incredible transformation that spread around the world.  It hasn’t always been neat and pretty, but it happened and it started with them.  To enlist a whole series of extra biblical events which explain the events described in the Gospel while asserting that the way it is described is the wrong version (which still led to their transformation) of those events seems a bit incredulous, at least in my opinion.

Lastly, having read and listened to enough of these debates, I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this group of Christian “debunkers” as a happy lot (which, granted, doesn’t necessarily make their arguments false).  In general, it appears to me that they have a chip on their shoulder.  They really want to prove that Christianity is a false religion, and the tone of contempt is fairly apparent (I do understand the tone, some times I take it on myself with regards to my response to creationism--I'd like to think it is righteous anger, but I doubt it).  It is hard to say how that plays out in the rest of their lives, but it seems to me that trying to remove the source of Hope for millions of people carries a high price.  I can see being angry at Christians for a few things (I am, and I am one), but this is a very deep resentment that causes me to question their ultimate objectivity on the matter, and I say that knowing they would accuse me of the same thing but for the opposite reason.  So be it.

One can go back and forth with the debates ad nauseam, I believe, so for now let’s forget that and just call it a draw whether it is or not.  Let’s say that both sides of the debate knock their heads together and both sides fall back with only minor concussions.  The death and Resurrection can neither be proven or disproven as being historically accurate as a supernatural event, and the words of the Gospels and New Testament, although all bearing witness to the same thing, cannot be proven or disproven as factually accurate or inaccurate (collectively speaking).  

Before I go on, if you have time please take a moment to read this blog by Chris Tweitmann (a fantastic Lutheran Pastor of a Church in Huntington Beach, CA—as an aside, I do not attend this Church (as it is a couple of states away)).  I believe you may find it insightful:

So now what?  It is true that there are many excellent scholars out there who know the material who would  not identify themselves as Christian.  On the same note, there are also brilliant scholars who are experts in the Biblical material and history who are strong believers.  I studied (for one quarter) under a professor who was one of the translators for the NIV Bible (portions of the New Testament); possessed a vocabulary that, if his aim was to confuse the student, could deliver the entire lecture in multi-syllable words that most of us had never heard (and not just Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic); was fully aware of the “historical problems” of the New Testament, etc.; however, he was still confident in the message of the Gospel to the point that he would street evangelize.  Wrongly or rightly, I have not had a lot of respect for most of the street evangelism that I’ve encountered.  However, I would have sat on a wet and slimy sidewalk to hear him.  This is just one small example, but it serves to illustrate that my own faith is also built on the faith and experiences of others who have gone before me or are with me now.  There are too many people I know and respect who have had experiences that have humbled and inspired them (and myself) to follow Jesus, and I would be in error if I were to discount them all as a strange psychological (and in some cases unexplainable) phenomena and reject them as having no merit (note, I would be wrong to do so for believers in other religions who have had similar revelations).  Quite frankly, I have had some of my own experiences.  In fact, I basically challenged God to reveal himself to me.  Different words, but same idea, at least it was a humble prayer, and in retrospect it was a stupid one, but nonetheless God confirmed He was listening because within 10 seconds there was a very clear response.  It was with regards to a normal natural phenomena, and entirely explainable as such, but the timing was impeccable.  Moreover, it wasn’t enough.  I still nearly rejected it all even after my own experiences had previously “confirmed” that there was a loving God, and this has helped me understand how the disciples could appear so dense in their seeming unwillingness to accept Jesus for who He was and is.  However, the sum of the community of Faith in which I live has been critical to my own.  Below is a link to another example of how others have experienced come to this case it is a bit disturbing.  It is a true story from our current interim Senior pastor about how his father came to Faith, and it is worth hearing (it’s a Presbyterian Church, but you’ll be relieved to know that he was never a lawyer--though he was a 2nd grade school teacher at one point, for whatever that is worth).  I've learned that Pastor Robert Bayley is wise beyond his years (which says a lot considering he's in his 60's-70's).  As an aside, I had to ask for help locating this file as I didn't remember the title, and Robert, knowing only a few details, asked that the person on the "receiving end" know that they can email him at any time regarding this story--you can find his email through the website below, or I can send it to you if you want.
look for: 06-20-10 (Rev. Robert Bayley) When Water is Stronger Than Stone

Lastly, through it all, this brings me to a third definition of faith that I’ve learned defines my own better.  In fact, though I say this with caution since I may be wrong, it may be that though your other two definitions are valid, they are incomplete and perhaps find their completion only when integrated with this 3rd definition.  This faith is of the sort that occurs in relationships, perhaps most closely related to the sort that occurs between spouses.  In my own case, my wife and I have made a commitment to be faithful to each other.  Often it isn’t easy, sometimes I don’t even want to bother with it (and more often she probably feels the same, for very good reason, I might add), and yet, in the end, the sum of our marriage is that we are faithful to each other.  Our mutual trust is our foundation that makes our marriage strong.  I have come to learn that this, more than the other two definitions, is the best definition of faith as it relates between God and myself.  What has surprised me, though it shouldn’t, is that in this relationship I am a (figurative) prostitute of the worst kind, I consistently violate my covenant to God not out of forced desperation, but for worldly desire.   And yet, for reasons I've read but still don't fully comprehend, He has remained Faithful to me.  For all the limits of my faith, His has no end.

I would suggest to you that God may not show his existence to you, at least not in the way you are hoping for.  If you’re as foolish as I am, then even if he does you will still find reason to turn question it.  I just don’t think it is supposed to be that easy.  If it were easy, our free will would take a thrashing, which God seems to have taken great ends to preserve, if one believe in God.  I would suggest that this 3rd type, that God is already there Faithfully waiting, may be more accurate.  I do not know if you will find it, and if you look I don’t even know if it will be easy to find.  You have had faith once, and so I don’t know what challenges stand in the way of finding it again, maybe you don’t want to find it?  I could go on and on…in fact, I already have (sorry).  In all honesty, I really want to say that if God wants you badly enough, he’ll find you.  However, I can’t say that.  I do believe He wants you badly enough, He must everybody or there is no God, but the reality is you might not find faith again.  In a world as complex as ours, I dare not boil faith down to a neat little package that you ought to fit into, because I would be wrong.

This is what I know, and I hope that it will not be completely blasphemous.  Let’s say there is a God, but pretend he hadn’t revealed himself yet and I had a chance to imagine what God would be like before His arrival.  Then pretend he showed up as the Jesus described in the Gospels, each book a little different (or even a lot different), but each a portrait of Jesus written for a specific audience and each ultimately consistent in proclaiming the same thing, which is what we have today.  Does this portrait look like what I would have predicted God to be?  My answer is an emphatic “no.”  However, there is one thing I need to take into account.  If I didn’t know anything about God, then the only other example I have regarding what to expect about God comes from nature. Sure, I have an imagination, but I’m specifically bound by human evolution and the various laws of nature that I have been subject to, so my creative initiative may have some limits when trying to contemplate an all powerful God.  Therefore, if God is God, what better way to reveal Himself then making His identity different from that which we already know all too well, in particular, it is that which is infused into almost every part of our being, pride (which, I think, can be seen as a natural outcome of “survival of the fittest”—worthy of more discussion, but I’ll leave it at that).  Humility, sacrifice forgiveness, redemption, unconditional love, etc., are hinted at starting from the early writings of humanity (I presume), and it’s not like these were all completely novel ideas until Jesus showed up, but there is nobody defined by “all of the above” who claimed to be God  (that I’m aware of) outside of Jesus.  We are told that He was born in the humblest of circumstances, dodged an attempt to be made king, was willingly and ruthlessly murdered for no legitimate crime of his own, and before it was over He forgave everybody for it.  After a complete and thorough rejection, He then validated His purpose and Kingdom through the Resurrection, which still has no good explanation today except for being what it is (in my opinion).  I’m bound by the evolution of my humanity, so only in retrospect do I even begin to understand that Jesus is counter to everything that evolution would have predicted that God might look like.  The attributes God uses to define ultimate power (humility, sacrifice, etc.) are not the attributes I would have chosen for God—certainly not what the Israelites were looking for.   Only looking beyond this world do I understand that “to pick up my cross and follow” and “to lose my life to find it” are completely logical statements when attributed to a God (wanting to be in relationship with us) who is trying to capture our attention by setting Himself apart from the normal understanding of how we think life is supposed to work.  Who knew that God would end up being the Suffering Servant (and that He would call us to be the same)?  If there is a God, is there a better way for “Him” to make Himself known to humanity then to show us that He is not bound by the same nature that we are (and that ultimately we are not or will not be bound by it either); that He exists outside of our own physical reality, but yet He can reach into it and give us a quick glimpse of who He is and for what we are intended while preserving the physical universe and our free will?

I don’t think I would use this argument to convert anybody to Christianity—the argument for theism from evolution…yeah, right.  I’m sure it is not sound enough to stand muster against even an amateur philosophical whipping.  Nonetheless, at least for me, it helps explain why the Gospel is the Good news.  I am enthralled by the world in which we live, but at the end of the day I’m not so thrilled by being bound to one of the most exquisite if not brutal laws of nature, natural selection, whose primary mechanism is defined by death.  I’m not too excited with humanity and how we, as a species, seem hell bent on self extermination and taking the rest of the world with us (I also wouldn’t have predicted that evolution would cause the most advanced species to make the most stupid blunders).  And I’m not exactly thrilled with myself, either.  I possess a constant desire for things that ultimately take away from what I would view as a purposeful life for myself (and therefore I risk them becoming my purpose).  I sit silent and stand still while countless millions around the world suffer needlessly at the hands of nature or the hands of each other.  I am sickened by the catastophic human condition, and yet I’ve done the equivalent of a finger twitch to try and stop it.  My awareness and apparent concern betray my culpability, so I am the worst of the lot.  Yet, in spite of this, I have been given a glimpse of the way to overcome the natural law and also the only real way that I can see which will lead to peace, mutual respect, understanding, unconditional love and forgiveness between peoples and nations.  Obviously, many of us who follow Jesus aren’t very good at following His lead, because as far as I can tell this world has a long way to go.  However, I know I don’t walk alone, I know I am forgiven, and tomorrow I can wake up and try again and keep doing so until the day I go Home, and in that I have faith.

How I ended up with an LTh degree

My degree has a tendency to come back and haunt me from time to time. On the one hand some employers in the voluntary sector make the assumption that I must be very religious and can be put off short listing me for jobs. On the other hand Christian organisations note my lack of religion and a degree from Edinburgh University and the alarm bells start ringing.

As far as I know the Edinburgh LTh no longer exists and has been replaced by the BTh. When I started at New College in 1990 I got onto the BD course using my previous HND as the entry qualification with the intention of completing a four year BD. I had one years funding which I managed to extend to two and for the third year I paid my own way before realising it was going to be impossible to complete the fourth.

As I did not have an existing undergraduate degree I could not graduate with a BD after three years so I converted all my course grades to allow me to leave with the LTh. The difference was that LTh was weighted slightly more in favour of course work than exams and required slightly fewer courses to be completed. I think LTh was originally designed for late entrants to ministry in the Church of Scotland who came from non academic backgrounds. Hence the weighting towards course work. This is a moot point though as my marks were generally over the limit required to gain exemption from exams on the BD course anyway, and I had completed all the required divinity courses for a four year BD by the time I got to the end of third year (partly by cramming Greek by taking private lessons over one of the summers with one of the translators of the New English Bible). My fourth year at Edinburgh would have been spent in other faculties, probably music which would have been great fun, but would not have added to my theological training.

Sometimes I find it annoying that I don't have a BD, but its quite a rare qualification and quaint in its own special way.

Solution to the “Download of application unsuccessful” error message on Google G1 Android Phone

I have had a fault on my Google G1 Android phone for the past month where app updates and attempts to install new applications give the error message “Download of application unsuccessful”.

My initial thoughts were that the internal memory must be full, but this turned out to not be the case. On further investigation it appears that the problem relates to the Android Market application itself. The most recent update appears to not work on Android 1.6 on the G1.

To solve this problem I reverted to a previous version of the Android Market app. To do this follow these instructions:

  1. Click on menu button
  2. Click on settings.
  3. Scroll down to Applications and click on it.
  4. Select Manage Applications
  5. You will see a long list of installed apps. 
  6. Scroll down to Market and click on it
  7. Click on Uninstall Updates
  8. The Market app updates will be uninstalled
  9. Exit back to the home page
  10. Go to Android Market and it will appear like a fresh install and you will be asked to agree to the Market terms and conditions.

You should now be able to install new apps. It can take a while for the phone to synchronise all the apps to their update trees so you might find you get a lot of update notifications over the next few hours as the system detects them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What is faith?

Over the past year I have been on a journey of discovery to try and determine what faith (if any) I had lost. At the very beginning of this journey I realised that the first step was defining what faith actually is. There seems to be two possible definitions of faith:

  1. Belief or trust in something without proof (i.e. assenting to agree with something and go along with it).
  2. Knowing spiritually that something is absolutely true in the way that we know that grass is green and the sky blue.

My faith was mainly of type 2. Extremely sure and based on an apparent inward knowledge of truth. Many Christians have a faith of type 1 based on accepting a forensic (legal) argument which seeks to prove that the bible and the gospel message are true. This is one reason why so many Presbyterian ministers had law degrees as first degrees. Protestantism was based on forensic argument and the minister wore legal dress in the pulpit.

My current position is one of honesty. I decided to maintain a position of non-belief until sufficient evidence for the existence of God is revealed. This means that I have been looking for a type 2 faith, when most people do not have this. Interesting.

As an aside to this I have asked a number of people how they would define faith. Most recently via Twitter with Peter Anderson who is the Pastor of Destiny Church in Edinburgh (a charismatic church, descended sideways from the restoration churches founded by Bryn Jones). His Twitter reply:
I c belief as knowing truth "...the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen" (Heb.11:1)
So very much in line with type 1. The difficulty with a type 1 faith is that although it may give you a feeling of assurance about the existential things of life like death, meaning and purpose its uncertainty means that it does not help with everyday situations in the way that it is suggested to by some of the people promoting it. Even the promotion of faith is a bit of an oxymoron. Is it possible to promote something which requires at its centre a lack of evidence? Because faith with evidence stops being faith and becomes knowledge. Thanks to Peter for replying. Communication is always a good thing. I may have to repeat the question to others on twitter.

So where does this leave my journey? Well, I am always open to suggestions, but I am very wary of anything which seeks to supplant reason; makes promises of extreme improvements in quality of life or health or sells itself by saying that life is meaningless without God. I suspect that means I am never going to be pew fodder for an evangelical church.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interesting video about the Mormon scriptures

Its an hour long, but worth a watch. This video is about the Book of Abraham which is one of the texts used by Mormons as scripture alongside the Book of Mormon. Here is the link to it on Google Video:

The Lost Book of Abraham

I have a passing interest having a Mormon ancestor (from the Isle of Man who emigrated to the USA and fought in the Mormon war) and living down the road from the Scottish headquarters of the LDS church.

Some changes to my blog

I have decided to make some improvements to the comment system used by this blog. The previous commenting restrictions were put in place after a spate of automated comments aimed at "link spamming". Now that Blogger (Google) have put in place a comment spam filter I have been able to free things up slightly whilst not having to change to an external comment service (and lose all the existing comments).

Here are a summary of the changes:
  • You no longer need a Google account to leave a comment, but there is a message encouraging you to leave a name/URL so people can tell your comments from other people's. Sadly there is no way to force this in the blogger comments system currently.
  • I have removed moderation. All new comments will be instantly posted to the blog.
  • I have removed the captcha barrier for posting comments (but may reintroduce it if spam becomes a problem).
  • I have modified the "x comments" link that appears on each post so it encourages people to leave a comment.

Lets see how it goes. My guess is that I will need to re-enable captcha at some point, but Blogger's anti spam system may be good enough to not require that.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Midlothian Council to cut instrumental music teaching

According to this article from the Edinburgh Evening News,  Midlothian Council are considering further cuts to their music services:
The proposals come against a backdrop of cuts in council's Instrumental Music Services – a bank of full and part-time music tutors – across the Lothians, which will in many cases mean the end of one-to-one lessons.
Part of the problem is that they know that brass bands and other community groups, to some extent, will pick up the slack including putting kids through exams. What they don't recognise is the benefit of music to discipline; self expression during the difficult teenage years and civic responsibility (taking part in civic events like remembrance Sunday).

I am old enough to remember Mrs Thatcher asking why the government was paying to train buskers for London Underground. Mrs Thatch could not see the connection between music tuition in schools and all the operas and concert she enjoyed going to. Just as your average council tax payer does not recognise the connection between the music they listen to on the radio and instrumental instruction.

We are running a serious risk of the joy of being able to play an instrument being restricted to the better off. Coincidentally Ian Rankin (near neighbour of mine and music fan) posted this to his twitter feed yesterday:

"October 1990, less than 1% of UK acts in top 40 were privately educated. October 2010 the figure was around 60%. (The Word)"

To add insult to injury I met a sheet music dealer this morning who said that their business is booming with trade from Edinburgh's private schools. I certainly see lots of kids carrying instruments on the bus wearing the uniforms of the merchants Company schools or the Edinburgh Academy. Rarely brass instruments though and never a euphonium or a tenor horn. That, of course, is an Edinburgh thing and why there has been no band in Edinburgh for nearly 30 years (excluding the recent University band).

So where does this leave us? Fragmentary group tuition, often run by volunteers, with music performance being marginalised in society. At the same time as singing is apparently getting very popular (x-factor etc being part of the reason).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Churches with creationism in their statement of faith or constitution.

With the increasing emphasis on young earth creationism being central to sound, biblical Christianity I am surprised that I have not seen it adopted into the statement of faith of any of the local churches which promote it.

Having had a quick scout round the internet I suspect it will not be long before this happens as there are already a number of churches and Christian organisations in the USA which do have creationism written into their statements of faith. Presumably these organisations only accept people into membership who also hold those beliefs.

Here are some examples and the precise wording they are using: (possibly UK based)

“We teach that man was directly and immediately created by God in His image and likeness.”

“We affirm our belief that man was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred not only physical death but also that spiritual death which is separation from God, and that all human beings are born with a sinful nature and that those who reach moral responsibility become sinners in thought, word, and deed.  (By this statement we affirm that man was created by a direct act of God in His image, not from previously existing creatures, and that all of mankind sinned in Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race.)”

Other variations include:
“Man was directly and immediately created by God on the sixth day of creation, with appearance of age, in His image and likeness. “

Do a quick google search to see for yourself what might be coming to a church near you.:

This is further evidence of a narrowing of evangelical Christianity.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Bradbury Foundation

The Bradbury Foundation is Hong Kong’s largest charitable trust.

The Foundation, based in Hong Kong, is a grant making trust that was established by Mr Bertram Walter Bradbury known as “Bertie” (and in Chinese as Bai Puli). Born in 1888 in Shropshire he was a Master Butcher who emigrated to live in Hong Kong. Originally working for the Hong Kong Milk Company he founded his own business, initially in the printing industry and then in the property and stock markets. He was a well liked person, owned the first television in Hong Kong, skinned the last tiger in the colony and had a close affinity with the Salvation Army. During the Japanese invasion of China (1942-45) Mr Bradbury was interred in Stanley Camp, Hong Kong.

In the early 1960s he set up a trust fund to help British charities that assist the elderly and disadvantaged in Hong Kong and the UK. On his death in 1970 his considerable fortune was committed to the work of the Bradbury Foundation. Many institutions and Schools in Hong Kong are named “Bradbury” as a result of funding from the foundation. The foundation banks with HSBC.

The trustees meet once per year in November and consider applications put forward by their country representatives. The UK representative was, for a long time, Dennis Minns. Their current UK representative is Hugh Inman.

At date of writing the trustees are following a five year plan. The foundation's four main themes during this period are believed to be: The Salvation Army, The Red Cross, the elderly and the blind. They are not funding anything which falls outside of these themes. In addition, due to the current financial crisis, the Bradbury Foundation no longer funds multi-purpose community centres. Previously this was one of their main areas of support. Funding for UK based organisations is now restricted to England and Wales. They have stopped funding projects in Scotland.

This article has been put here to provide further background on this rather mysterious, but often talked about,  trust.

I am not in a position to provide any further contact details so please don't ask!

This article (c) 2010 Gordon Hudson MinstF

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why creationism is bad for Christianity - an open letter to creationists in Edinburgh.

I was originally going to write this piece as a response to a talk given by Paul James-Griffiths (a member of the Edinburgh Creation Group) at Carrubbers Christian Centre last week, but its not really about him. There is a wider issue here about changes in the way Christianity is being presented by evangelical groups in the city. Whilst I don’t mind people believing whatever they like, when they try to represent young earth creationism as central to Christianity I think this is both incorrect and damaging to Christianity.

I write this as a former creationist myself who ended up no longer believing in God. Incidentally I attended Carrubbers and was involved in promoting one of the first tours of the UK by Ken Ham. So I speak as someone who had that level of investment in the whole house of cards at one time.

My own faith was shipwrecked by this issue because I had been told time and again that belief in a young earth and creation of the species as they currently are without evolution was essential to being a proper, soundly converted, bible believing Christian. When I started to doubt creationism I also began to question all the other things I had been told about God. I felt lied to, and ultimately I found I no longer believed in God. In hindsight if I had been in an environment where it was possible to believe in the Gospel message without having to accept creationism I would probably still be a Christian, or at least have some level of faith in God. Although its unlikely that this level of faith would have made me acceptable to evangelicals as a “real Christian”.

As time has gone on it has occurred to me that the communication challenges facing the church today are being made greater by the emphasis they are putting on creationism.

If you are a creationist in Edinburgh here are some reasons why I think your activities are bad for Christianity.

You are making the relevance of the bible conditional on the literal truth of a part of it which stands at odds with observable facts. 
You may claim that there is no contradiction between the two and that Genesis is science, but the majority of thinking people do not agree with that position and there is considerable scientific and everyday evidence to support their skepticism. By making young earth creationism central to the Christian message you are narrowing down the number of people to whom that message will appeal.  This is part of a wider movement in Christianity which seeks to add more and more levels of unreasonable belief in order to be accepted by the group as a “true believer” (whether it be pentecostal doctrines, dispensationalist, creationist or any other add on doctrine).

You are unwittingly providing fuel for militant atheists.
You see, if your argument is “Genesis can be proved to be literally true, therefore the rest of the bible is true, therefore God exists” it does not take much to turn this argument on its head and say “science proves that Genesis is not literally true, therefore the rest of the bible is untrue, therefore there is no god”. Even though there is no logical connection between the literal truth of Genesis and the truth of any other part of the bible or with the issue of the existence of God.

You are misusing creation as a proof for the existence of God.
Creationists use of a young earth and dismissal of evolution as a proof for the existence of God is a false dawn. Even if evolution was proved to be untrue it would not necessarily mean that God did it (there are other competing theories) and even then it would not logically fall that it was the Christian God as there are various other deities who lay claim to having created the world.

You are encouraging people to base their faith on a total denial of reason.
One consequence of creationism is that it tends towards putting a limit on how far people can go in investigating the world we live in. Some questions are simply off limit whilst others have a stop put on how far they can go. This means that Christians are more and more standing against education and this includes theological education just as much as scientific education. There is a general feeling amongst evangelicals that education erodes faith and is to be avoided. Hence the increased trend towards home schooling and Christian Schools in the Edinburgh area. By demonstrating outside the University and accusing it of being an atheist stronghold you are representing Christianity as Luddite in relation to education.

You are in danger of promoting lies.
Whilst I will defend your right to hold your beliefs about human origins there does come a point where it parts company with the facts and you have to accept that it is really just a faith position and accept it as such. When you try to promote it as hard fact then many people will view you as liars.

Some creationist beliefs previously promoted as true have later been found to be untrue.  This can not be said for any other area of Christian doctrine or the gospel message, which tends towards the metaphysical and therefore can never be found to be factually false. The alleged discovery of Noah’s Ark earlier this year which was then proved to be false was later defended by those involved as a way of bringing people to faith in God even although it was known to be false.
Intelligent design is worse than creationism because it starts with a definite lie. By claiming “this is nothing to do with religion” intelligent design organisations, staffed by evangelical Christians with religious objectives, start  from an immoral position which is at odds with the purported  character of God (who is supposed to be true and righteous).

In conclusion
It will be interesting to see what sort of response, if any, this article receives. My gut feeling is that there will be lots of comments trying to prove the creationist scientific claims whilst avoiding the actual point of the article which is about the way creationism has damaged the integrity of the way that Christianity is being presented in Edinburgh.