Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Year's Resolution

It’s that time of year again.  The time to throw out the old and bring in the new.  To mix hope and alcohol, to produce firm resolve.  The time we allow ourselves to look honestly in the mirror and admit our faults because tomorrow will be different - the start of something new.  On New Year’s Eve we reflect on the past twelve months we feel the twinge of regret that we could do things better. 

New Years’ Resolutions point to the fact we believe we can change the course of our lives.  Be it lose weight, get a new job, be a better husband, wife, son, daughter, father, mother, brother, sister.  We believe we have the capacity to change things in other lives.  If we are merely aimlessly drifting through life, it makes no sense to try to change our course.  In other words, the course of our life is not determined beyond our ability to change things. 

We implicitly believe our lives have meaning and purpose.  Therefore, it is important to take time to make sure we are making the best possible use of our time, of our lives.  So before midnight on New Year’s Eve we decide to do better so we can be in a better position to fulfill our purpose.

Either we are blessed or cursed with the quest for meaning.  If there is a purpose to be strived for, lives spent chasing this quest are noble.  If there is no ultimate purpose or reason to the life we find ourselves living, the search for meaning is at best quixotic.

This New Year’s Eve I want to wish you all a happy new year and one in which you can reflect on this quest for meaning.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Word Is My Bond

The basis of all human transactions is trust.  Trust that others will keep their word and do what they said they will do.  Let me rephrase: in a well-functioning society the basis of human transaction is trust that other people will keep their word.

In a society where some use power or force to get what they want, or others deceit, there will be considerable costs to us as individuals, and to society as a whole. 

You pay the plumber to fix the sink trusting the leak will be fixed; you take a job trusting you will be paid; you sign a business contract trusting your partners will hold up their sides of the bargain; you get married trusting your spouse will be faithful.

There are ways to mitigate the costs of the inability to trust others.  If we are working for someone else we can ask to be paid up front (although others may be reluctant to pay up front afraid there will be no incentive to finish the project).  We can bring those who fail to live up to their promises to an independent body for dispute resolution.  Couples can enter into pre-nuptial agreements. But, of course, these mitigations cost time and money.

It is extremely difficult to enter into any relationship where parties do not feel bound by their word.  This is true whether we are talking about romantic or business relationships.  At first, everyone makes wonderful promises and aspires to great things.  But if everyone decides to do what best suits him or herself when things don’t go as planned, the venture will not be long for this world.

For example, if two parties think they have come to a business agreement only to arrive at the next meeting to find that the terms they thought were set in stone are being renegotiated, the deal will not get done.  The same is true for romantic relationships.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Room - A Christmas Reflection

There was no room
Four beds - the modern need for privacy
Young mother birthing for all to see
Sprinklers tend perfect lawn
Cow waste on the ground
Two-car garage, two and a half baths
Nowhere to lay the baby down
Finished basement - wet bar

We expand and shrink all scope for the greater
The bigger we build - the more empty space.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Twenty Years Ago Today

As I think back on twenty years
I feel the absence of a measure
To weigh me up, to balance me out
So I probably got away with some things

There came a time I needed to shave
I bought a cheap razor that I didn't know how to use
There was an electric shaver in his left-behind debris
So that's the way I went

His passing was not terrible because of missed opportunities
The tragedy was that someone who had done so much could do no more
But there is the measure
Time flows like a river, he never let it pass him by.

P.J. McAndrew June 2, 1947 - November 14, 1991.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bankers Into Plowshares?

Listening to the radio the other day I was struck as a reporter described a sign held by an activist at an Occupy Frankfurt rally. Translated from German the sign read “[turn] bankers into plowshares”. The activist was referencing the phrase “swords into plowshares”, the image of swords, as weapons of war, being turned into plowshares, agricultural instruments. This phrase looks forward to a time when we will have no conceivable use for weapons of war. When there is permanent disarmament, and we till the earth in peace.

The activist was trying, I think, to get across the idea that without bankers society would be better – fairer and more just and peaceful. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide their personal position on bankers and the world financial crisis, that’s not what interests me here. What caught my ear was the use of language.

This phrase comes from the Biblical prophet Isaiah, describing the world after God’s kingdom is established on earth and all things are made right. Here is the phrase in context:
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (1)
I previously wrote a piece on man’s constant urge for a better world for peace and justice, and the inability to achieve it, which you can read here. I don’t want to repeat myself, but the current wave of protests against the financial systems of the world and reference to the swords into plowshares intrigued me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween and the Fascination With Fear

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say – “Halloween is my favorite holiday”, I would perhaps not be rich, but my student loan balances would be significantly lower. It seems to me, and this is in no way scientific, that for many people Halloween is their favorite time of year; even though most people don’t get a day off work as they do at Christmas.

True, there is candy or sweets to be collected, and children love to dress up, but most of the people I hear express their love for Halloween are adults not children. It is about more than just dressing up and eating too much bad food. Why do people like to dress up in as ghosts, goblins, and zombies?

The fascination with fear drives this celebration.  But Halloween is not about normal, everyday fears. We are not reveling in the fear of car accidents, cancer, or terrorism. It is a different kind of fear. The writer C.S. Lewis explained that this type of fear is more of a kind of dread or awe of something unknown:

“Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room”, and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost might do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread.” (1)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Modern Pharisee

It is an insult to the conservative that he or she cannot fix themselves and an insult to the liberal that he or she cannot fix humanity. This is why many conservatives reject Jesus in every sphere except religious ceremony and why liberals reject an interventionalist God in all spheres. 

The conservative – I pulled myself up by my bootstraps model- believes he or she is responsible for his or her ultimate destiny and achievements.  I did it my way, so why can’t everyone else?  This can be used to justify a reluctance to help others, as that is not my responsibility but theirs. This ignores the fact that factors such as the family (or lack thereof) we are born into, the place in which we are born, and (even though it is not politically correct to say so these days) the varying levels of skill or talent with which each of us are born, can greatly influence our “progress” in the world.  

Conversely, the liberal worldview presents itself as altruistic and concerned with fairness and the well being of others.  The liberal fondly cherishes the notion that as a group we can redeem humanity from the various ills and squalors in which it is embroiled.  It aims to create equality through redistributing resources.  Those better off should contribute to those less fortunate.  It’s hard to argue against this proposition.  However, in my experience, most people think there are others more fortunate than them who should foot the bill.  I’ve never met anyone who likes to pay taxes – liberal or conservative.   So, the idea is not for me to sacrifice my resources to help those at the bottom, but to take the resources of others to do so.  Again, I am not responsible for the plight of those less fortunate.  It can make you feel good without paying a personal cost.

Monday, October 3, 2011


The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.  – Ecclesiastes 9:11.


We are told as children that everyone should be treated equally.  Stories of those who fought to make things equal are celebrated.  It is apparent to even the youngest school child that we don’t live in an equal world – otherwise why would Rev. Martin Luther King have struggled.  So it is not the idea that equality is the status quo but that it could be the future default mode.

We are taught that because the world is equal hard work and talent will always rise to the top.  Work hard in school, turn up on time, do your best.  So an equal world does not mean that everyone will be the same – after all there can only be one President of the United States – but that everyone has a chance of success.  It also should mean that those that do succeed deserve their status because of inherent talent and diligence. 

Therefore, according to this theory, while we may not agree with those in influential positions, we cannot say they don’t deserve to be there.  However, many of us have experienced people in power over us to be somewhat less than brilliant.  I’m not talking about jealousy, but about the smart and talented being bossed by those less so.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Day

You will need me less after today
At least not in the same way as before
Some day you will be the one to lift me up
To drive me there, to help me fix it
To explain, to help me see
Growing as I fade away

I hope to help you on your course
There is no time to waste
For it's a short privilege that you are
My daughter, my son.

Friday, September 2, 2011


“I think we too often make choices based on the safety of cynicism, and what we're led to is a life not fully lived. Cynicism is fear, and it's worse than fear - it's active disengagement.” - Ken Burns

Standing on the sidelines and making witty commentary is much easier than a full-throated engagement in the fray.  It’s easy to ridicule what has not worked, it’s much harder to dream up the solutions.  So, for many, cynicism has become the default mode.

Cynicism is created when hope meets experience and experience shows hope up.  We leave high school or college with grand ideas of how the world can be a better place.  We wonder why our parents seemed jaded.  We embark on careers full of hope, believing a little inspiration and perspiration go a long way, until many of us hit the walls of organizational politics, bureaucracy, or most depressing of all, people who can’t or don’t want to be helped.  Eventually, most of us settle for making a living and doing good where we can.  We smile a little at those who still think they can make a difference, but mostly we entertain ourselves with witty, cynical comments.

It’s embarrassing to admit that our dreams of bettering humanity have failed.  It’s not the right thing to admit that society is still plagued with poverty, crime, illiteracy, and poor health.  Indeed, it seems these problems are likely getting worse.  While we lock our doors at night and look for the best schools for our children there is still a part of us that resents ourselves for fleeing instead of engaging the problems.  So what do we do?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


A clean page
A pictureless frame
An empty suitcase
No bridges burned
No lessons learned
Never say the wrong thing
Never say anything at all
Fear of looking a fool in the everyday
Is to throw it all away

Friday, August 5, 2011


We all have a beginning – a start date.  There was a time when we were not.  This fact is frequently brought back to me as I listen to my children.  Young as they are, they are fascinated by their birth stories.  They find it hard to think there was a time before them.  I find it difficult too.  They want to find their place in the story.
Adults too are fascinated by our past, and in particular the past of our ancestors.  The story of how we came to be is after all not just our story but the story of those who came before us and, directly or indirectly, caused us to be instead of not.

Why do children love to hear about their beginnings?  Why do we as adults desire to learn about not just our personal pasts, but the history of our families?  I believe we are fascinated by the journey.  We want to see how far we have come from Point A.  We may not yet have reached Point B, or even know what Point B is, but we want to see progress. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011


No time to waste
Days that never end
No time like the present
Days over before they begin
Chasing, ticking, counting
We do not set the pace
Too much or too little
No time to say goodbye

Saturday, July 9, 2011


“Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.”  (1)

We have an inbuilt desire to do things that matter.  But what if everything we build and love and fight for is gone someday?  Without a trace.  As if it never was.  Would it matter that we existed for an instant in the face of an eternity without us?  The inescapable answer is that it would not.

The problem is that we know, with the rarity of absolute certainty, that we will die. 

However, modern science tells us the universe is not about us.  It tells us via evolutionary biology that we owe our existence to chance.  With all the potential apocalyptic disasters looming over our heads, it is possible that we as a species will not endure forever. We know we have our own expiration date.  Yet, the thought of our non-existence causes us great angst.

 “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.”  This is how Paul of Tarsus, the writer of much of the New Testament, which is the second part of the Christian Bible, summed up life if death is our final curtain call.

But even hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, doesn’t work out.  We can’t do what we want because of limitations that all of us (to some extent or another) face.  We may lack the material resources: money, power, or physical capacity, to do what we want.  Further, more often than not, our desire to do something will conflict with someone else’s desire to do something else.  Someone may prevail (there is a possibility that neither person will get what they want) but it may not always be you.  We also know that many aspects of our lives are beyond our control.  Disease, natural disaster, war, economic collapses, and political convulsions, can all radically alter the course of our lives.  As we are all too painfully aware, there is little we can do to insulate ourselves from these things.  So the best we can hope for is to strive to eat, drink, and be merry as it is not within our power to achieve even this modicum of happiness.

Why do we feel this need for significance in the face of our insignificance?  Is it some kind of cosmic joke?  If so, I don’t hear too much laughter.

The Bible reassures us that there is a meaning to all of this.  The writer of Ecclesiastes, a part of the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, outlines the meaningless nature of life coming to the conclusion that life only has meaning because God judges everyone in the end.  The Bible tells us there is a life after this – heaven and hell.  After advising those who reject the resurrection of Jesus, the central element of Christianity, to “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”, Paul points out the difference for Christians is that we have a hope because the end of this life is not our end.  For those who believe and obey Jesus, who defeated death, there is a hope that will never be destroyed.  Paul writes: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (2)

You may choose to reject the idea of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but if this life is all there is, any attempt to find meaning is doomed, fulfillment is fleeting, and significance illusory.

(1)           1 Corinthians 15 v.32.  King James Version.
(2)           1 Corinthians 15 v. 55. Kings James Version.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer Rain

Summer rain leaves little trace
Of endless torrents
That so soon before promised to wash the day away
I venture out in mindless complacency
Lacking wonder at the restoration
Hasn’t it always been this way?
A few scars of lingering puddles
Show the lie of my easy ways

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Conspiracy Theory

Many today are obsessed with conspiracy theories. They believe that hidden from view those with great power and influence manipulate everything for their personal gain. Behind wars, economic disasters, disease lies the guiding hand of an unseen group of politicians and bankers who really rule the world. They think there is a double-game; a powerful group of kingmakers and breakers meeting in secluded luxury to decide the fate of the world; that they are not being told the truth; that something deeper is going on.

We humans will never be satisfied until we can explain everything and remove every mystery. Science has also got into the act with the search for theories that explain everything and the quest for the end of inquiry. Philosophers have also sought to find great forces that cause the changes that we see around us. Karl Marx theorized that class warfare was the driving force. Adam Smith believed in the invisible hand that guided human commerce. In addition, we think the explanation will boil down at its core to some overriding cause or principle behind everything.

Today, we want to see that cause as something physical or material and not metaphysical such as an omnipotent God. Indeed, religion and Christianity in particular, are theorized to be great conspiracy theories at their heart. The wildly popular novel the Da Vinci Code, purported to expose a conspiracy to conceal the fact that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene. Even though numerous authorities have exposed this theory to be pure hokum, more than eighty million people have read this book.

Why do we look for a cause that links everything together? What if instead of a hidden group in control of everything, there is no one pulling the strings. Chaos. Every man and woman for his or herself? Frightening? Definitely. But we don’t think like that.

The Bible provides an answer why we have this sense of something deeper going on. That reality is not all that meets the eye. The Bible presents a world where there is an unseen spiritual dimension that determines what occurs in the physical world.

In the movie the Matrix, the hero Neo has an inkling that there is more to life than his hum-drum existence as a corporate cubicle-clone. Neo’s eyes are opened after he comes into contact with Morpheus and his cohorts. The grey everyday world in which he has existed was a sham all along. This movie exploits the familiar feeling that surely this can’t be all there is.

Plato described this feeling as living in a cave sitting in front of a fire watching shadows on the cave wall made by people and objects that pass the entrance of the cave. He claimed that like the cave dwellers we only see shadows of reality in our everyday existence and not the true reality that exists outside of the cave.

Some might argue that one day science will demystify this sense of the spiritual. But this claim is profoundly unscientific. Science deals with what can and has been proved. So until science proves this spiritual sense away, this argument has no power. To claim it is an answer is to make science a religion.

This idea that for all we know, our everyday physical world is a shadow of something greater, obviously has legs. Plato’s cave allegory and the Matrix are separated by over two thousand years. The sense that we live our lives in monochrome while a technicolor universe lies hidden behind every curtain - from time to time brilliantly shining through to expose the drabness of the quotidian - has not diminished since ancient times. Try as we might we can’t seem to shake the sense there is something else happening on a greater stage.

Friday, June 10, 2011


I build and break for you
I weep and pray for you
While today passes unloved

It’s easier today - a day of light
After the night of dark and rain
But that doesn’t change
The working out in the end

That sun follows rain
That joy follows pain
That there is no tomorrow without today.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Post-Modern World?

Today there is much talk about how we live in a post-modern world. What does that mean? What does it mean to assert that we have moved from modernism to post-modernism? Has the nature of truth changed or just our view of it? What was the motivation for this change – whatever it is?

Let us define the terms. Modernism is the view that asserts that there are objective truths out there to be discovered. It maintains however that these objective truths are material truths that can be discovered by empirical scientific discovery.

Modernism, marked a change from what went before as it explicitly rejected the existence of spiritual or metaphysical truths; modernism was driven by the Enlightenment and the explosion of scientific discoveries that followed. In other words, that everything about our world, where we came from, art, love, hate and the morality that binds us could be discovered and broken down into material, empirical terms.

Before modernism the prevailing view was that our world had a material as well as a metaphysical or spiritual dimension. It was also held that we humans had a dual nature – a material physical body and a spiritual soul. [1] The traditional answer to why we have a drive to be good, to why we are exhilarated by great art, to why we dream of utopia, was that these concepts, which were grounded in a higher spiritual reality, touched our souls in an intangible way. Throughout much of the world it was believed that Christianity explained this higher reality.

The end goal to which modernism was travelling was to make sense of the world without metaphysics – without God. Modernism wanted to answer these questions about morality, art, love and human aspiration, without resorting to positing the existence of a Supreme Being. But modernism concerned with only examining the tangible proved not to be so good at explaining the intangible.

The end point of modernism in a philosophical sense was logical positivism, a philosophical movement that held that any statement that was not a logical tautology or that could not be empirically tested and verified was meaningless. [2] This left ethics, art, love out in the cold.

Post-modernism is a reaction to the failure of modernism to account for essential facets of humanity such as poetry, politics, love and morality. Since objective answers to these questions proved impossible to come by so there was a migration to a different paradigm of truth that was subjective. Post-modernism rejected of the dogma of objective empiricism and instead insisted that truth was based on community. The post-modern worldview asserts that our values about ethics, art, politics, love and hate evolved over time as humans evolved and formed societies. [3] Post-modernism is therefore another attempt to come up with satisfying answers to the essential human questions without the need to talk about metaphysics and spirituality. Its solution is that there is no objective truth and we haven’t discovered it because we’ve been looking for something that isn’t there. On this view all of our current values are the result of historical accident and could have been otherwise – they are contingent.

According to a post-modern view, truth is pragmatic, subjective and contingent. Truth is made not discovered. But this also means that truth changes over time. Nothing is absolute. Nothing is guaranteed.

The problem with post-modernity is that if truth is contingent and subjective, nothing has any meaning. If our concepts of truth are based on society they could change at any moment, and there is no basis for calling action something right or wrong, beautiful or hideous. Everyone is right and wrong at the same time.

So I don’t think that post-modernism provides meaningful answers. Many people insist that the prevalence of post-modernism is a death knell to belief in the spiritual and therefore to traditional Christianity. However, I think the opposite is true. The failure of modernism and the inherent contradictions at the heart of post-modernism show that attempts to reject a spiritual or metaphysical dimension to this world do not cut the mustard. Indeed, belief in spirituality among “non-religious people” is marked. [4]

Instead I think there are cosmic clues that alert us to the fact that there is more to the world than meets the physical eye – a spiritual as well as a material dimension to our world. Our desire to be good, our desire for utopia, our love of art, our wonder in the face of nature, our fear of the end are some of these clues. The modernist project to ground these clues in the physical world has come up empty, the post-modern attempt to ground them on society has not provided any answers to the big questions just denied there are such big questions to be answered.

What’s the upshot? First, new atheism is in trouble. Much of the current crop of new atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, are modernists. They answer questions about morality, love, society and art by reducing them to material terms. If modernity has been replaced by post-modernity, this approach has been widely rejected. Second, post-modernism doesn’t provide meaningful answers. If you want meaningful significant answers they must be objective. Searching for objective answers about morality, art and love inevitably leads to contemplation of the metaphysical or the spiritual. The surge in interest in spirituality provides evidence for this thesis. Human attempts to answer these questions in terms of science and society have failed. Maybe that’s because we had the answer all along.

1. Plato. Republic. Trans. Waterfield, Robin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994; Descartes. Discourse on the Method and the Meditations. Trans. Sutcliffe, F.E. Penguin Books. Middlesex: 1971.

2. See, for example, Ayer, A.J. Language, Truth and Logic. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1952.

3. See, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Ed., Robert Audi. Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1995; 634-35; Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations, Anscombe, G.E.M., Hacker, P.M.S. and Schulte, Joachim trans. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2009; 99, Investigation #261; Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

4. See Hemmingway, Mollie Ziegler. “Look Who’s Irrational Now”. Wall Street Journal 19 Sep. 2008: W13. Available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122178219865054585.html.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I want you to remember it won’t always be like this
There is something else, another place
This life of lies sprouting slander
Reaping loss and decay
But we are not of this place

We travel through the loving and dying
Broken and bloodied
He made the way
Above the horizon
Flying as it all melts away
We see the first sun on the first day

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Race

A trapped animal in a cage
Driven rabid by what it can’t catch

I gnawed on the bone till I broke my teeth
Empty, burnt and tasteless

There is an empty meadow
A reason to live and love and remember

I see the beauty in your face
Of letting go of the chase

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Earth Day

The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is – marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state.Joseph Conrad, Author’s Note to The Shadow Land (1)

I recently attended an earth day celebration with one of my children. The kids sang a couple of songs celebrating the earth and proclaiming the virtues of tree planting and not littering. Of course, these are positive things to tell our children to clean up after themselves and to recycle where possible. But earth day, or international mother earth day as the international version is called, is not just about cleaning up litter or recycling – it’s much more than that.

The traditional Christian view that the earth and all that exists is the result of divine creation has been rejected as unscientific - fine to teach at home but not suitable for the classroom. However, the idea of celebrating mother earth is also unscientific when viewed through the paradigm of evolutionary theory.

The dominant scientific theory regarding the origin of the earth presents the world gradually through the process of evolution. Leaving aside any argument regarding the truth or falsity of evolutionary theory, is an evolved earth a sensible thing to celebrate? Earth day as a secular celebration is celebrating an earth that we find today as the result of evolution.

Evolution we are told occurred because of a unique set of circumstances that resulted in the world we live in today. If anything was the slightest bit different as evolution worked its way along, life as we know it would not exist. (2) So it isn’t as if mother earth somehow set out to make us what we are. So what are we celebrating on earth day – random chance that somehow worked out in our favor. That is a scientific and rational basis for a truly secular celebration of nature. But that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. In fact the opposite is true. If you truly embrace the idea that life itself is the result of a series of random events the rational person won’t see much purpose. You can’t sing too many happy songs about that.

The Bible states that the wonders of nature point to God. (3) Evolutionary theory contends to have demystified nature and exposed divine creation as a myth. However, we are still spellbound by nature.

Atheists state that there is no need to appeal to the divine or the supernatural to experience awe and wonder. Instead they argue that nature itself is a wonder. See the quote at the beginning of this piece by Conrad that Christopher Hitchens quotes in his book God Is Not Great. But doesn’t this beg the question?

When surrounded by the wonders of nature do you think that it’s really amazing that everything here happened by chance? Or do you have an inkling that this couldn’t have just come about by pulling the lever on some cosmic slot machine.

Unless of course you think nature is indeed a terrible mess. But we have to be taught to think like that. Left to our own reflection on a summer day we have an intuition that nature is in fact truly wonderful. Beautiful even. Some atheists agree that nature itself is amazing and wonderful except when they want to criticize the notion that nature did not come about by chance but by design.

Earth day cannot be rationally explained. It is not a celebration of nature as the prevailing scientific worldview paints it. The best explanation is that it is the celebration of nature itself as if nature were responsible for making itself and us – as if it were mother earth. This is surely totally irrational. Yet many do it. We claim that science has disproved the idea of divine creation but instead of truly embracing the non-teleological nature of evolutionary theory (that is to say that nature is essentially random and purposeless) we celebrate mother nature as if it was teleological or purposeful.

The Bible states that humans have two modes when it comes to nature. Either we worship God as creator or nature itself (4). Paul of Tarsus wrote these words two thousand years ago, and despite the myriad of technological changes, very little has changed. This is not surprising as the Bible, whatever you think about it, provides much valuable insight into our world today, e.g., that there is nothing new under the sun (5).

It seems that the natural world inspires us to think there must be some purpose to all of this. We have to place this purpose somewhere – either in the mind of a divine being that created the world or in nature itself. Evolutionary theory prevents us from locating purpose in nature so either we remain consistent to this worldview and refrain from deifying random chance or embrace the idea that the natural world is evidence of something higher.

But if after tracing these thoughts through you still celebrate nature for its own sake you should remain aware that doing so is no more "rational" than worshiping God as creator of the world. If you can’t bring yourself to see nature as purposeless and random, maybe you should consider the possibility that there is a divine purpose behind the natural world.

1. Quoted in Christopher Hitchens. God Is Not Great. Twelve. P.73.

2. Hitchens. God Is Not Great. P. 92-93. Quoting Stephen Jay Gould.

3. Holy Bible. New International Version. Psalm 19 v. 1-4

4. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Holy Bible. New International Version. Romans 1 v 20 -23.

5. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. Holy Bible. New International Version. Ecclesiastes 1 v 8-10.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The world drove past
As I looked you in the eye
I felt the wind in my hair
As I said good bye

Freedom is not free
But some things aren’t worth dying for
It's knowing the difference
Between vanity and responsibility

So I will walk away and leave you behind
I wish you well but you won’t understand
I will go home and kiss my wife
And let the waters rush over me
Submerge and rise free
To start again
A life rich in possibility.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


The problem of evil is raised as an unanswerable objection to the existence of God. The problem of evil or phrased in another way – the problem of suffering or pain, states that if there is a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good, how can he permit bad or evil things to occur? The conclusion then drawn is that either God cannot be all-powerful if He is all-good, or cannot be all-good if He is all-powerful. However, the problem of evil argument ignores the fundamental message of the bible; that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God has put in place a plan to end suffering and evil.

God is all-powerful in the sense that it was His choice to create beings with a choice to embrace good or evil. The freedom that He allowed to us individually led to the evil in the world today. In order for humans to be able to do good we must have the ability to do evil as well. In other words, to act morally, we have to choose to do good rather than evil to truly do good. No one would claim that a robot programmed to only do good things was morally good, just that he had a morally good programmer.

Moreover, the Bible clearly tells us that God is not going to leave things as they stand. It tells us that God will judge the actions of all of us and punish those who have done evil. He will then rule over a new world of peace. If you dismiss the Bible as man-made because you reject the idea that there is a supernatural or spiritual dimension to our world you are not playing fair because if you take on the problem of evil you are going beyond the simple dismissal of the supernatural. (Click here to read some ideas on the idea that God is man-made.) You are arguing that even if you grant the possibility of a supernatural dimension to our world, the idea of the all-loving Christian God of the Bible presiding over a world of so much pain and suffering is a fatal contradiction. So, to be consistent the problem of evil should be presented as follows: even if I grant the existence of a supernatural dimension to this world, the God presented by the Bible is an impossible contradiction. But if you take into account what the Bible says, the Bible presents an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God who has a plan to bring about an end to evil. He is not powerlessly standing by.

Some like the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre have dismissed the dichotomy of good and evil. However, this is surely a minority view. Even the most ardent denier of the existence of God to acknowledge that there is evil in the world. In fact many of the most-widely disseminated critics of God’s existence constantly harp on about the prevalence of evil in the world. They maintain that religion is the source of evil.

Christopher Hitchens, the noted atheist, maintains that religion has been the cause of much evil in the world. From the crusades and the Spanish inquisition to Al Qaeda, he details atrocities that have been perpetrated in the name of religion. Of course many atrocities, perhaps more, have been perpetrated in the name of irreligion.

There is no question that religion has been used by some to further evil selfish ends, and some have warped Christianity to provide to justification for selfish hateful ends. Indeed in my opinion as an Irishman, on many occasions where religion is blamed for conflict, the underlying conflict is ethnic in nature and religion is dragged into the fight as a convenient marker of ethnicity.

However, whether or not Christianity has been abused by those seeking to use it as a cover to spread hate, authentic Christianity is not a religion in this sense. Jesus challenged and held in contempt the hypocritical religious authorities of his day who in their holiness oppressed those who didn’t agree with them. The religious leaders of Jesus' time professed holiness but had no qualms about condemning an innocent man to death as they did in the case of Jesus. Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies. Jesus preached that we cannot reach God by following rules but must permit God to reach out to us by grace.

Finally, the fact that evil exists points to the existence of a universal moral standard. If evil exists, good must exist and there must be a way to distinguish between the two. Where does this standard come from? It cannot be man-made or it would vary from society to society and person to person. The traditional solution was that this standard was an unchanging metaphysical or spiritual truth to which we physical humans have access. Christians believe that the God of the Bible is the source of these universal truths.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Twirling in pearls and cotton
Don't stop growing
But stay my little girl
Don't grow cold
But learn who to trust
Don't forget where you're from
But don't let that stop you getting there

Don't stop joking
But remember to live in this world
You need to dream of how it could be better.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


“Am I a good person?”  This is the great question facing all of us. We want to be good.  We feel that if we do good deeds our lives will have meaning.  We want to add up all of our good deeds and measure these against the sum of our bad deeds and hope that the scale comes out in favor of finding our lives good or justified.  

This is not solely a religious phenomenon.  Secularists and atheists consider themselves to be doing “God’s work” to convince the world that religion is nonsense and that has caused great evil and suffering.  Why do they do this?  Because they believe they are doing the right thing – doing a good thing.  They want to do good and make the world a better place.  They contend that if religion is eliminated war and suffering will disappear.  I don’t share their viewpoint, but I think it is interesting that their goal is directed towards doing good.

Even those who have unquestionably done great evil in their lives do not want the eulogy at their funeral to present them as bad people.  They want others to focus on the good or show how bad acts are really good.  Why when faced with death are we so keen to be told that we are good?  Is it because we want to remember only the good things or is because we believe that whether you have lived a good life has an important bearing on what happens after death?  


Often it is difficult for us to determine whether we are good.  Fortunately, we have no difficulty in determining whether others are good.  We never want to blame ourselves. We live in a culture of blame with an absence of self-evaluation. There is always a villain.  We judge the other rather than ourselves.   Governments and large corporations are vilified in our society.  Nearly any theory of government or corporate malfeasance, no matter how outlandish, is given credence by some group if it resonates with their particular prejudices. 

On the other hand, we like to think that our personal indiscretions are minor and don’t affect anyone else.  If I cheat on my taxes I rationalize that there will still be enough money in the kitty or that most tax dollars are wasted or there are others who should pay more than me.  If I slander a colleague to further the progress of my career, I can plead that she would have done it to me if I didn’t act first, or that my ascent at her expense would benefit my organization because I’m more talented.  Moreover, I can argue that these actions greatly help me and if they hurt someone else the scope of the damage is limited.  

But, if we turn the tables it is quite easy to see that these kinds of actions are wrong and harmful.  If I find out that my neighbor is cheating on his taxes or that my colleague in the cubicle opposite has slandered me to our boss I will be incensed with a strong sense of injustice.  These actions appear to be plain wrong when done by another to us.

So an objective outsider examining our thoughts and behaviors would not fail to find any selfish or bad actions on our part.  But, we don’t see ourselves as bad.  Most people would probably tell you they are not bad people – at least not as bad as some other people they know.

So when we claim to be good we are not claiming to be perfect but that we do more good things than bad things.  And if we find that not to be true then there are others who have done worse things than we have.

What does all of this tell us?  First, we care about being good. We want our actions to be considered good and we develop rationales to explain away actions that could be considered to be bad.  Second, we implicitly accept that there is some standard of goodness to be met. 

Why do we care if we are good?  Why do we act as if there is some standard of good to be met?

We have a need to make things right – to do something good, because we want to prove we are good.  But if we are honest we know we can’t do enough – we all make mistakes.  But if it’s self-evident that nobody’s really good why do we need to reassure ourselves that we are good?  The problem is that our desire to be good conflicts with our inner sense that we are not good. We know there is a standard we cannot meet. We know we were meant for better.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Melting snow - there may be a future after all
Reveals a new but familiar world
This spring I feel changed
Ready not just to renew but to reap
Timeless seeds impervious to rain and sun
That You planted deep beneath
Waiting for me to recognize the change in season
And hang up my winter coat.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

His Daddy's Glasses

He wants to be like his daddy
He wants to see like me
Does the world look different
Through his daddy's glasses?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sailing to Utopia

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.” – Oscar Wilde  [i]

Oscar Wilde wrote that a map that didn’t include utopia was not worth glancing at.  Why do we dream of utopia and strive towards it? 

The dream of a world of peace and harmony has inspired many throughout history.  The communist and socialist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were inspired by this urge.  Many today march in the belief that by joining with others they can effect change - protesting wars, pollution, discrimination.  They believe like Wilde that there must be a better, fairer way of doing things than the way we live today.  But, what is this need in us to remake our world for the better? Why do we spend so much energy struggling for a more equal world instead of focusing purely on our own selfish needs? 

Human dreams of utopia have constantly run aground on the rocks of human greed and ambition.  History has shown that we are incapable of creating a more equal society merely, as George Orwell put it, a society where some people are more equal than other people. [ii]  In the face of our increasing attempts to build international institutions and laws to bring about an end to conflict we stand no nearer, and arguably farther away, from achieving this aim.  But, in spite of the weight of history there are those who still seek the dream of a man-made utopia – heaven on earth. 

Where do these ideas of utopia come from?  Were we born with them?  Did they develop over the course of human history?  Is there some scientific explanation for them?


In the late nineteenth century, Karl Marx proposed a theory that claimed to provide a scientific foundation to the dream of a man-made utopia of equality and brotherhood.  Karl Marx, whose ideas are still deeply influential in our world today, asserted that history was driven by observable class conflict. 

The appeal of Marxism lay in its presentation as a scientific theory.  Marxism is a materialist theory.  That is to say it explains itself in economic terms based on observable factors like conflict between workers and factory owners without resort to metaphysical (or supernatural) terms or entities.  Karl Marx propounded a theory called historical materialism that explained human history as a series of class conflicts between two opposing groups – one in control the other not in control.  Slaves and masters, serfs and landowners, factory workers and factory owners.  At each stage class conflict arises when the group out of control realizes that there is a better way to do things and fights to achieve that new arrangement.  For example, in this way Marx contended that the slave/master society gave way to a feudal society and feudal society to capitalism.  He asserted that the nineteenth century conflict between factory workers and owners would inevitably lead to the final stage – communism in which resources would be equally shared among everyone.  The communist stage would usher in an utopian world of peace and plenty for all.

However, communism did not inevitably follow capitalism as capitalism followed feudalism.  True, various political movements around inspired by Marx tried to bring about the communist era by force.  As we now know, they failed and in doing so caused human suffering on an epic scale.

Communism promised a utopia of equality and brotherhood that turned into the greed and graft of the elite and the oppression of dissidents by secret police of the Soviet Union. The world reacted in horror to the brutal inhumanity of the Soviet Union and rejoiced when the Iron Curtain fell. So the theory of historical materialism failed in the laboratory of history.

But the utopian dream lives on.  The motivation behind many post-modern political movements is to achieve a Marxist utopia without the theoretical Marxism that has proved to be such heavy baggage.  The appeal of Marxism and historical materialism was that it showed a path to heaven on earth without any religious or spiritual mumbo-jumbo.  But now that the sheen of scientific credibility has melted away under the tide of history, belief in a man-made utopia has the distinct air of religious belief about it.


The Christian answer to the question of where the dream of utopia comes from is that we are born with a sense that there is a supernatural dimension to this world.  The Christian concept of heaven is based on absolute, immutable ideas.  The Christian idea of a future of absolute peace assumes the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing God that guarantees this future.  However, the Christian heaven of perpetual peace is only open to those who acknowledge this all-powerful God and pledge their allegiance to Him.

Many people have a problem with the idea that one must surrender to God to enter heaven and that humankind cannot by themselves build such a heaven on earth.  For these and other reasons, the Christian worldview as it relates to a heavenly utopia is rejected.  However, the biblical imagery of turning swords into plowshares and loving your enemies is retained.  The lingering notion that there must be something more, that humanity is not always destined to drown in enmity, is kept alive.  The project then becomes to build a ladder to heaven using earthly materials.  Hence, the appeal of Marxism and historical materialism.

 But, as we have seen the idea that Karl Marx’s historical materialism provided a scientific foundation on which to build our dreams of heaven on earth no longer holds water.  Marxism without its scientific backup involves just as much faith as anything else.  That is to say, there is no objective reason to believe that humanity will achieve a world of peace, love and brotherhood.  It seems that the harder we try the farther it slips from our grasp.

I do not imagine there are many well-intentioned people who would reject the biblical picture of endless peace.  What they do object to is the idea that this peace is God-given and not man made.  However, if they object to the involvement of God in the process because they think this to be without any objective scientific basis, they should be aware that belief in a man-made utopia is no different. 

Of course Wilde was quite right that life would not be worth living if there is no chance of a better world than this one.  So what can one do?  Continue to dream, ignoring the evidence to the contrary, of a man-made utopia?  Embrace the despair that comes from the acceptance that we can never reach utopia and that it’s better not to try?  Accept the longing for perfection as a sign that there is more to our world than we see everyday?

Whatever the origin of the utopian dream, I think one is hard pressed to deny the existence and universality of such longings.  This urge for utopia persists.  Next, one must admit these longings have been misused to inspire great evil.  Human efforts to leave our world of petty jealousies and mass murder and sail to a better place have failed.  History has shown us there is no place on the map called utopia and that many attempts to reach that fabled shore have in fact led to hell on earth. 

So, considering purely material earthly factors such as history show us that utopia is an impossible dream, if one wishes to be truly scientific about it – there is no quantifiable evidence that utopia is achievable.  Even what we consider to have been great civilizations were built on cruelty and inhumanity and exclusion.  As a result, it is insanity to look at our world and dream utopia is possible.  

Perhaps it is time to let the dream of utopia die.  But we know that if we lose hope we lose everything.  If we deny the possibility of a better world we will lose our essential humanity and so guarantee inhumanity.  So for many of us ditching the dream of peace and plenty for all is not an option.  Therefore, if we want to keep believing in the possibility of utopia, we perhaps need to consider that the utopian urge is not explainable in material, physical terms, but is a sign that there is more to human life.  To save ourselves from the perpetual disappointment that results from the mismatch between our dreams of perfection and the realities of human nature, maybe it is time to look to heaven.

[i]  The Soul of Man Under Socialism.  Oscar Wilde.

[ii] Animal Farm.  George Orwell.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


A race not for the winning, an end before a beginning
To get there from here, I built it day by day
Love, beauty, hate, war, buying, selling – all empty spinning
One step on the ladder and it rotted away

Even success turns bitter at the end
Plaudits and other trappings aside
Discovering the ladder is just pretend
You can't hide the broken pieces inside

Love, beauty become broken clawing at the young
How could the perfect touch this sordid earth?
We wrestle till we are overcome
But You gave the dying a second birth

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Standing at the top of the stairs
Stopped for a moment in infinity
How did I get there?
I climbed the steps as a child

But this is something more
A hand stretched out - a mind opened up
A glimpse of the beginning and the end
An anchor for stranger times

Touch wood.  Feel the earth under your feet
Return to the unfinished chore
The wonder of a suburban afternoon
Made higher and lower than before.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Crossing Wires

Severed connection, loose wires - unclasped hands
Misunderstood understandings - unheard questions going unanswered
Complications transferring insecurities through communications
Fallible messenger.  Clarity lacking.
Seeks brunette with a sense of timing.
Mutual subatomic complicity optional.
Determined to connect in spite of technology and human error.

I met her at a party
We're still trying.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Early Morning Lessons

Life is not lived until you see the newness of it all
The details of a thousand everyday nothings fascinate you
And transport me to another place

Constant in movement and motivation
Keen to revel in every possibility
You compel me to abandon sloth for activity

Who is the learner - the father or the boy?