Richard Dawkins Part 1: The Worth of a Human Life

Aug 22

It is nearly 48 hours since the latest furore surrounding Richard Dawkins. There are two things I have noticed over the last couple of days [I started to write this as one posts but it's got a bit long, I'll do a second post*]:

The world has divided into three camps:
1) Those who are ardently opposed to Richard Dawkins
and looking for any excuse to blindly oppose him.
2) Those who are ardent supporters of Richard Dawkins and will blindly follow him wherever he goes.
3) Those who were largely ambivalent to Richard Dawkins but find this particular excursion into the philosophy of human morality repugnant.

In the third group there are many who are parents of children with Down’s Syndrome who are keen to stress that their daughter or son’s worth can’t be measured by their contribution to society. There are people with Down’s Syndrome who read his comments and find that they themselves are being viewed as worth-less to society.

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We have as a society moved in the name of progress to view people as commodity. A person’s worth is increasingly seen by those who govern as the “contribution that they make to the economy”. By someone such as Professor Dawkins a person’s worth is measured by how much can be contributed to the things he personally values, i.e. Evolutionary Biology. This is why he values those with Aspergers as being worthy of life.

This whole ‘scandal’ has been an opportunity for personal reflection. I come from a family in which Down’s Syndrome and Asperger’s are quite prevalent along with other kinds of “special needs”. I have been looking around my family and imagining this “lens of worth” with which to view the world. Which of my relatives are worthy of life and which ones are not? My uncle recently passed away as a happy and fulfilled pensioner [and the sentence shouldn't need to continue with the words 'with Down's Syndrome.' That should be enough!] The grief in our family was and is tangible. The life, the shared experiences, the jokes that were shared together in thick Scots accents left a huge impact upon us all.

As a foetus, I was screened. I was weighed and found not wanting. This is actually untrue. My mum says that she went along with the screening because she was told that she had to because of the risk but that there is no way she would have terminated the pregnancy. The decision was already made. My life would have worth whether an academic, a prince or a pauper, whether Asperger’s, Down’s or – whatever it is that I am despite my lack of labels.

[*edit - I started writing about the press and the way they report some individuals as individuals and some as representative of their group but it was too depressing. Not sure I'll bother with part 2.]

The Invisible People

Aug 12

There is a fashion at the moment for videoing yourself doing unusual things and uploading it to youtube. They are everywhere but Upworthy share these types of video at an almost hourly rate. Often they highlight issues within our society that should cause us great shame like the plight of the poor or homeless.

Here we have a video that I keep seeing again and again appear on Facebook and twitter. A homeless man is begging on the street and some students come and play music with his bucket.

I can’t help feeling uneasy about the whole scenario. This homeless man is someone we never hear from or about in the whole clip. He is still homeless and still has no voice at the end of the video. He becomes part of a freak show that no doubt generates lots of traffic to someone’s YouTube account.  I’m haunted by the bewildered look on his face as they leave arm in arm having changed… their YouTube hit count.

As we wander through life we are increasingly oblivious to “the other”.  We wear our headphones and stare at our smart phones as we hustle and bustle from one place to another.  There are marginalised people who are invisible in our society.  We speak about them but we rarely hear from them.  The homeless woman sitting on a sleeping bag at the corner of the road by the market is someone we either walk past or throw some loose change at.  As a society we are paternalistic in the way we engage with “the other”.  We talk about those “invisible people”, the poor or the homeless and we are in danger of dehumanising people we see as “problems to fix” as we turn people into objects.

What Do I Do Now?

Jul 16

Many in the church define their identity by their opponents.  There are lots of organisations and societies who are defined by the things they oppose.  What happens when the battle is over and they are no longer opponents to be struggled against?  How is identity defined once the campaign is over or the “enemy” is no more?

Facebook Makes Stuff Up

Jul 6

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I spent a few weeks wondering why some of my friends were showing up as liking “Facebook for business”. Then today Facebook started telling my friends I like “Facebook for business”. So now I know: Facebook is making it up to promote itself. It’s telling people we’ve liked it when we haven’t because I know I haven’t ‘liked’ “Facebook for business”. They just assume I’ll never know what they’re saying about me.

Thanks Facebook. Thanks a lot.

This Guy Was Looking for Information. See What Happened Next

Jun 29

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In the last year or so there has been a changing in the way information (or misinformation) is presented on the internet. The internet used to be so slow that we used Usenet because it was text based and therefore “fast” ie “still really slow”. Then mp3 allowed us to compress audio and pass it around. A couple of years ago we lived in the age of the infographic, the massive image containing all of the Earth’s information in a visual form. Now, HD video streams so fast you can pretty much share anything. This has changed the way in which people present information.

You’ve probably all seen it on Facebook and twitter. Sites like Upworthy are turning it into a cliche.

Catchy title that ends with no information but has been designed to evoke intrigue.

It is purely designed to increase the flow of traffic to the site, raise statistics and drive rankings. You click the link and what do you find? Still no information but a linked youtube clip containing the information you seek. Great, we can all stream it on fibre optic or 4G to our heart’s content. Only we can’t…

I spend most of my social media time in public places whilst I’m waiting. Waiting on a bus. Waiting in a waiting room. Waiting in a cafe. Waiting in the church. Waiting in someone’s office whilst they are on the telephone. Waiting for someone to make a cup of tea. Sometimes I’m in bed, waiting to fall asleep. In 90% of the situations I’m surfing through content, I’m not in a situation where I’m able to watch a video. That means that 90% of the time, sites like Upworthy are wasting my time. Unfortunately you have to click the link to find that out.

Video is good. Video gets information out there at high speed. I use video a lot to develop my skills as a guitarist and I generate a lot of video content for The Rock Mass. But that’s not my complaint. It is the manipulative titling and lack of multimedia. Sites like Big Bible usually put “VIDEO: Check out This Cool Whatever” so you know what to expect.

Gethsemane

Jun 24

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One of the things we are struck by in Schwarzwald it the sheer volume of public religious art. Whilst there is a crucifix every few of miles along most roads, there are some much more extravagant pieces as well. This is a larger than life depiction of Gethsemane, complete with snoozing disciples.

To give you a sense of place, this is the church it is next to.

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Time to commission a massive piece by a famous artist for the park at Holy Nativity.

Corpus Christi – Everything is Shut

Jun 19

I awoke this morning to the twittersphere talking about Corpus Christi. We wandered down the river for an hour to Freiburg with the intention of seeing the sights and then spending the next three days touring the Schwarzwald on the bike. When we arrived in the town everything was notably shut.

Perhaps I should have been alerted by the ferns placed at the end of people’s driveways (I don’t know what this means). It seems that I am unable to go on holiday without arriving in the middle of a major Christian festival. Last year it was Rhodes during Orthodox Holy Week (awesomeness).

In the town itself there are roadside shrines in the windows of shops.

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There is also a flower petal mural in the middle of the street.

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We intended to visit the Münster – it is one of the reasons we are staying here rather than somewhere else. The ancient church was still open – as you would expect.

Thousands of candles are lit as people have made their way to the Cathedral to pray. We joined in and also lit candles as we prayed for those we love in our community and beyond who are most in need.

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Then we snuck off to the secluded sanctuary where the sacrament is kept. Away from the hubbub of the nave there is a small quiet space in which to pray and meditate.

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The world has many things I covet, but this ancient aumbry covered in icons is right up there!

It is well documented that in my own ministry I’m generally more at home in modern surroundings. In my book, Holy Nativity is perfect. Celebrating the Eucharist in the old fish and chip shop next to our charity shop is a truly special community to be part of. To occasionally see the ancient roots of our faith throughout the architecture of a living and breathing worship space is breathtaking however. In this place, 1000 years of Christian community is revealed in the changing architecture and furniture.

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And if you’re going to have a rood, this is the rood to have. It looks to be ancient (pre reformation) but sadly I don’t know as the tour wasn’t available because… Everything is shut. It could be from 1973 =D

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Germany did not strike me as a particularly religious destination but less than 24 hours in its borders and we’re slowing down for Corpus Christi and joining in with the prayers of thousands.

I wonder if we’ll see any more shrines as we head out to watch the football.

[sorry about the quality of the pictures. Motorbike holidays don't really allow for more than a phone camera]