Thursday, December 15, 2005

on the name of this blog

In case anyone is wondering about the name of this blog, it comes from my love of electronic music, in particular my love of early/mid ninties Warp Records and many of the albums and artists who came out of that era (i.e. Autechre, Aphex Twin/Polygon Window, Black Dog/Plaid, B12, Richard H. Kirk, etc. A lot of it is very blippy and bleepy stuff.) When those records were first coming out I was just discovering electronic music, and so there is a particular sense of nostalgia about it for me. I'm into some later Warp stuff like The Boards of Canada, too. I also like a lot of ambient-techno stuff (like Global Communication, The Orb, Orbital, Spacetime Continuum, and Future Sound of London), and a lot of deep ambient (like Eno, Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Vidna Obmana, Vir Unis, and Jeff Greinke).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Three Novels I've read recently

Here are three novels I've read in the last couple of months. They are pretty much the only thing I've read completely as I've been busy with work and haven't had a lot of time or energy for other reading.

1.) Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke--This is a huge novel, clocking in at around 700 pages, but truly wonderful. Imagine if Jane Austen had written a novel about magic and magicians, and that provides a crude idea of where to begin thinking of this novel. It takes place in a 19th century Britain that is populated by magicians and that has a long history of magic. It is wonderfully written, witty, funny, filled with all sorts of interesting side stories to the main story, and utterly captivating. It is also a story about the power of reputation, tradition, and history, and the way that different people respond to these things. It has a strong moral element too, in that most of the characters meet fates which are well suited to their character traits. Highly recommended.

2.) The Taking by Dean Koontz--About 13 years ago I got really into Koontz after reading a copy of "Watchers" that my then roommate had laying around the room. I read more of his books than I can remember, enjoying most of them, but getting bored with him around the time "Winter Moon" came out. I don't recall reading anything by him since then until seeing this at Borders and getting interested in it after reading some reviewer's comments that said it was somewhat biblical in scope and content. It is essentially Koontz's take on the apocalypse/judgment day and doesn't stray too far from overall typical Koontz territory in terms of plotting, characters, situations, etc. The California Literary Review calls this book a masterpiece on par with "Fahrenheit 451" and "1984." I wouldn't go that far, but the more I read, the more I had to admit that Koontz is a pretty good writer who seems to have an almost boundless ability to ingest all sorts of literary influences and use them to dream up utterly strange and creepy scenarios and creatures. This is also a strongly moral novel, where the characters all meet fates which are dictated by the sorts of people they've been in life. I don't buy the theological/eschatological theory behind it, though it does make an interesting piece of speculative sci-fi.

3.) Night Relics by James P. Blaylock--Blaylock is a great writer who has the ability to bring out the odd and otherwordly in the everyday, and who uses the fantastic to evoke a sense of time, place, nostalgia, and memory. This novel focuses more on the second of these two things, using a ghost story to examine human character and relationships, and to look at the way in which the past influences the present. Blaylock is adept at drawing complex, believable, genuinely human, flawed characters and then letting them follow their own course, reaping the fruits of their choices and actions. He also knows how to extend grace to his characters, which opens up the possibility of redemption and averts the despair of absolute moral predestination. This book does both of these things excellently. It is also worth noting that Blaylock, though not a professing Christian, is influenced by the biblical tradition and considers it an important part of the Western cultural legacy. This comes through in the strong moral themes in a lot of his work, the sympathetic portrayal of religious figures in a number of his stories, and in his understanding of the possibility for redemption of flawed human beings. Highly recommended.

I'm currently reading "All The Bells on Earth," another James Blaylock novel. I'll post on that one when I'm done with it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Speaking Violence

I've been thinking the past several days about the issue of violence in language. My Pastor, Dave Fitch, preached a sermon on this issue a couple of months ago which really made an impression on my thinking. He argued that we can hold to our truth claims in a spirit of violence, which attempts to get power over others and force them to see things our way. This involves the use of language and logic to shut down conversation and to demean those with whom one disagrees. I feel like ever since hearing that sermon I've noticed this verbal violence being practiced all the time, by people from across the spectrum of opinions and beliefs. I've noticed three specific ways in which this can take place:

1.) The speaker/author adopts a nasty, demeaning tone, or engages in name calling. This is the most obvious and unsubtle type of linguistic violence. For example, I was just recently given some writings by a liberal Catholic theologian who declares that anyone who claims to be pro-life but who supports the war in Iraq is a liar and a hypocrite. At one point, he also flippantly refers to the Christian doctrine of the attonement as "a lousy piece of theology." Many conservatives are just as bad. I know one conservative individual, for example, who regularly refers to liberals as stupid and morally deficient. To my mind, this kind of language is violence, pure and simple. It demeans and dehumanizes people. It declares from the outset that those with whom one disagrees are unworthy of even basic respect and human dignity.

2.) The speaker/author attributes bad motives to those he disagrees with. This is a little more subtle than the first category but has the same result. It completely shuts down the possibility of good faith discussion by declaring that anyone who doesn't share our point of view must be motivated by some hidden agenda. Therefore, they are unworthy of respect. Fine examples of this sort of linguistic violence can be found in the debate over creation and evolution. People on both sides of the debate regularly attribute bad motives to those on the other side. Many evolutionists regularly claim that anyone who questions the veracity of the theory of evolution as it is currently taught in public schools must harbor a secret agenda to establish a theocracy in America and persecute everyone who doesn't share their point of view. On the other side, many creationists act as if anyone who even considers the possibility of Darwinism being true must be either out to destroy the Christian faith or, if they profess to be a Christian, must be intentionally compromizing their Christian convictions out of cowardice. Of course, it is possible that any of these charges of bad motives is true. To assume such from the outset, however, results in viewing the other person as someone to be silenced rather than someone with a possibly valid perspective to be listened to and understood as much as possible.

3.) The speaker/author engages in the use of "guerilla logic." This term, "guerilla logic," comes from David Fitch. It refers to the use of logic as a means of simply winning arguments. It looks for weaknesses in the other persons position without really trying to understand what the other person is saying. It shuts down the possibility of conversation by declaring that the other person has engaged in faulty reasoning without really trying to hear what they are saying in all of it's nuances.

In each case these three types of linguistic violence do similar things. First, they attempt to assert our own views over those of another by either "winning" an argument, or by silencing the other person. Second, they often involve a refusal to understand or hear what the other person is saying. Those of us who profess to be Christians should take care to avoid these types of linguistic violence. We should be especially careful about the way we express our opinions, the way we share or defend our faith, and the way we interact with the opinions and beliefs of others. 1 Pet 3:15 admonishes us to share our faith with others in a spirit of gentleness and respect. If we speak and act in ways that contradict the spirit of the gospel, we falsify the very message we are trying to get across to people.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

On realizing our captivity to a tradition

In my last post, "A Little Knowledge," I talked about the tendency people have (including myself sometimes) to make overly confident claims for the intellectual certainty of their beliefs, based on the use of reason, logic, scientific evidence, or even their own reading of scripture. In this post, I'd like to explore further a subject I touched on in that post but did not explore very far. This is the issue of how it is necessary to enter into a tradition and submit ourselves to it before we can truly and fully understand or accept its truth claims. My particular interest is with the Christian tradition and the way in which some people seem to think they can dismiss certain doctrines or parts of the Christian tradition based on some knowledge base which is itself external to that tradition. This is most obviously the case among Christians of a more theologically liberal persuasion, who often wish to reshape Christianity according to more recent trends in cultural thought and practice. (I am thinking here of people like John Shelby Spong, who is admittedly an extreme example, but who serves as a good general representative of the school of thought that wishes to change traditional Christianity based on something external to the Christian tradition.)

We often hear claims to the effect that great advances in human learning, moral progress, etc. have shown us that such and such a Christian doctrine or traditionally held moral belief can no longer be taken seriously. These claims nearly always seem presuppose that the source of the critique against the Christian tradition is an objective source which is untainted by any possible influence from a "point of view" of some kind. But is this really possible? My thought is that these claims themselves represent an allegiance to some other tradition of thought which is itself historically rooted and shaped by the unfolding inner logic of its own presuppositions. Those who make critiques of the Christian tradition based on the claims of some other tradition have simply submitted themselves to the presuppositions and truth claims of that other tradition, whether they realize this or not. Often it seems to me they don't realize it and they then mistakenly assume that this other tradition somehow represents objectivity in a way that the Christian tradition doesn't. This is especially the case in the modern world, where the Enlightenment notion of the autonomous rational individual, unbeholden to any tradition and making objective judgments based on logic and an objective assessment of available evidence holds great sway. It is worth pointing out that many conservative Christians also seem to accept something like this view when they feel the need to offer proofs for the truth of their faith, or to appeal to evidence from science and reason as affirming the truth of Christian faith. This seems to suggest that the Christian tradition itself is not a living, dynamic thing to be entered into, but rather an object to be held out at a distance and subjected to rational scrutiny.

In my last post, I mentioned St. Paul's telling the Corinthians (1Cor. 2) that he did not come to them with "persuasive words of human wisdom," but rather in the power of the Holy Spirit, determining to know only Christ and Him crucified. I observed that one can't argue with Christ and him crucified, but that one either accepts it and enters into the life it offers or one doesn't. If one does accept it, then one enters into the flow of a tradition that has been going on for two-thousand years and will continue to go on until Christ returns. The longer one actively inhabits this tradition, the more one comes to understand the doctrines and beliefs that are part of it, to see their unfolding logic, and to see how they make sense of the world. On the other hand, one may continue to demand evidence for the truth of the Christian tradition or make judgements about what parts of it are valid or not, but any assessment of the evidence or judgement that is made will be based on the assumptions of some tradition, whether one is aware of it or not.

My point here is not that logic, reason, argumentation, and evidence do not have their place. Nor is it that the Christian tradition can never be critiqued or changed in any way. It is rather that any critique based on logic, evidence, etc. must always be carried out in a way that recognizes both their dependence on the assumptions of some tradition for effectiveness, and that grants the established Christian tradition equal respect in the discussion. Otherwise, we end up judging the Christian tradition based on the accepted truths of some other tradition. We end up falsely believing that we are standing outside of any tradition and are somehow being purely objective.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

a little knowledge

Looking at the web the last couple of days has reminded me of the saying "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." There are websites beyond number where people confidently assert the truth or falsity of this or that set of beliefs based on what they seem to think are irrefutable arguments or proofs. What strikes me is the way in which so many of these people sound so triumphalistic, not only confident in their beliefs but absolutely certain that they can demonstrate, without a doubt, the absolute truth of their position and the falsity of all others. Usually the author offers some appeal to "scientific" proof, or irrefutable logic, or what they are certain scripture says. What is immediately striking about all of this to me is the fragility of most, if not all, of these arguments. Everytime we confidently assert the irrefutable certainty of some particular point of view, it seems to me that we automatically set ourselves up for a fall. Someone who is smarter, or better read, or who just sees things from a different point of view inevitably comes along, completely deconstructs our arguments, and offers counter arguments for their own position. I have seen the debate go back and forth on topics like intelligent design or the existence of God, with either side critiquing what they see as the gross errors of the other side's views while asserting the surety of their own.

As an evangelical Christian, I am particularly interested in the way that many Christians will argue in this fashion, asserting the certainty of their Christian beliefs based on some logical argument, or an appeal to scientific or historical evidence. While I definitely believe there is a place for logical argumentation and looking at scientific and historical evidence, there is something about assertions of certainty that are based on these "proofs," that leaves me feeling uneasy. This is what I mean when I refer to the saying about "a little knowledge . . ." Too many times, I think, when we Christians, especially we evangelicals, discover the intellectual life and the possibility of the use of logic and evidence to back up our Christian faith, we then rush forward making grand assertions about the irrefutable truth of Christianity based on some particular argument, only to have our argument seriously critiqued or demolished by someone who is smarter, or more learned, or who just sees the evidence from a different point of view than we do. In the past, I have often found myself feeling confident about the surety of my faith based on some argument or assertion made by some Christian thinker that I have read only to find that, latter on, someone who disagrees comes along and offers a critique of that argument that shows it is wanting in some way and destroys my confidence.

My point here is not that we should therefore abandon the intellectual life or making arguments of any kind about the credibility of Christian faith, but rather that when we enter into the world of the intellect and argumentation, we should be aware of the vastness of our ignorance and remember the Socratic wisdom that says that true wisdom is in realizing how little one knows. My feeling is that the more we learn, the more we realize how much we don't know, and how it is possible for perfectly intelligent people to credibly hold to views other than our own. We should remember that Christian faith is not primarily a matter of intellectual truth (though it certainly has an important intellectual component), but of being invited into a way of life in Christian community. It is only when we first enter into this way of life that the truth of what we have chosen becomes real to us and makes real sense. I think this is exactly what Saint Paul is getting at in his letter to the Corinthian church when he says that he determined not to come to them with "persuasive words of human wisdom" (1 Cor 2: 1-5) but only to know Christ and Him crucified. One can't argue with Christ and Him crucified. It is what it is. You either accept it and enter into the life it offers, or you don't.

I think every Christian is responsible before God for developing his or her intellect to the extent that their abilities and circumstances permit, but, having gained a little knowledge, we should resist the temptation to think that we have arrived intellectually and to make grand, triumphalistic claims about the certainty of our position. A little knowledge really can be a dangerous thing.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Just a few minutes ago I couldn't get into this blog because the address supposedly couldn't be found. Now I'm here. Computers. Go figure.