Sunday, August 14, 2016

We need to pay for high quality journalism

I am just finishing seven weeks in the USA. For the last 3 weeks I have enjoyed buying and reading a hard copy of the New York Times every couple of days. This is journalism at its best. They have an impressive array of in-depth articles. Many have clearly involved a lot of background research. This obviously costs money and is difficult to support in an era when newspapers are under such extreme commercial pressures.

This video from John Oliver highlights how serious the problem is and the severe negative implications for society.

Good journalists in a democracy enhance the accountability of both public and private institutions, where small companies, churches, local governments, sporting clubs, multi-national corporations or the United Nations.

For just one example, look at this nice New York Times article, How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate Americas Influence.

This has challenged me to be wiling to pay for some of the content I read.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The profundity of a mundane existence

My family enjoyed watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
It promotes a very interesting idea: real heroes are not necessarily those who do glamorous things, attract fame, or have outstanding achievements, ...
Real heroes may be those who do a simple job well; faithfully and with integrity.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Small practical steps towards poverty alleviation

I recently read A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity
by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

It gives a nice overview of initiatives, both large and small, to alleviate poverty in both the USA and globally. The book has many strengths.

It is practical. Rather than being overwhelmed with statistics and the massive size of the problem it gives many concrete examples of individuals and organisations that are making a difference. It ends with some very specific suggestions of what the reader can do now.

It is encouraging and inspiring. Analysis of different issues is interweaved with stories of a diverse range of individuals, from children to wealthy businessmen, who are taking action.

It is challenging because it puts a human face on poverty, with stories of individuals.

It is balanced and realistic. It does not gloss over how difficult some of the problems are and how many well-intended iniatives fail, and sometimes even make the problem worse. Consequently, it discusses the value of randomised trials, such as described in Poor Economics.

Solutions are multi-faceted  because poverty is so complex. There is a role for small and large organisations, local and global action, political activism, education, creating social enterprises, ...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Where does the love of money lead?

My family recently enjoyed watching The Big Short, which retells the true story of investors who made a lot of money betting (shorting) on the collapse of the USA housing market in 2008.

Like other movies and newspaper headlines (e.g. Panama papers or Rupert Murdoch) what often strikes me is how greedy and insatiable some people are. Almost everyone would like to have a million dollars. Some would like a few millions. But some want hundreds of millions, even billions, .... What are you going to do with it? In the end it must be a psychological problem. It is not really about the money but an obsession and the adrenaline rush of making the money ....

This clip captures some of the essence of the movie.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
1 Timothy 6

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A dark period of American history

I enjoyed watching the movie Trumbo, which is based on the fascinating and true story of the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who was blacklisted in Hollywood in the McCarthy era because of communist sympathies.

It nicely portrays Trumbo's engaging personality, the petty personal and political ambitions of his opponents, and the personal cost to his family of his stubbornness and his principled stand.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Uncomfortable wealth

Last sunday night I gave a sermon at Unichurch in Brisbane on James 5:1-6.
Here are the slides.
For me this is a very uncomfortable passage.

To illustrate the issue of paying fair wages to workers I showed a clip from this video (beginning at 10:30).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

An excellent book on the theology of science

I have just finished reading the wonderful book Faith and Wisdom in Science by Tom McLeish. I think it may be one of the best (advanced) books about the relationship between science and theology.
Next monday night I will lead a discussion about the book at the monthly theology book club I am a part of.

Maybe the book partly resonates so much with me because like me, McLeish is both a theoretical condensed matter physicist and a Christian.

To get some of the flavour of the you can look at the associated blog which links to several reviews and a few videos where McLeish discusses the book.

The book is rich and highly original. Here are just a few ideas that I thought were particularly valuable.

Science should be be viewed as a richly human scholarly endeavour that should not be divorced from the humanities. Here he draws heavily on the classic book Real Presences by the literary critic George Steiner, who suggests

"Only art can go some way towards making accessible, towards waking into some measure of communicability, the sheer inhuman otherness of matter..."

McLeish takes this as a departure to explore that this is actually what science should really be about.

We should not think about "theology versus science" or "theology and science" but "a theology of science" and "a science of theology".

The book of Job, rather than Genesis, should be the starting point for a theology of science.

Science involves pain and love and worship. Science should be about "a meaningful reengagement  and reconciliation with nature".

Science today has lost this richness due to being instrumentalist and seen solely as a means of "wealth creation".

Drawing from a report about the safety of nanotechnology, McLeish considers several popular narratives for science, identified by the philosopher, Jean-Pierre Dupuy

1. Be careful what you wish for - the narrative of Desire
2. Pandora's Box - the narrative of Evil and Hope
3. Messing with Nature - the narrative of the Sacred
4. Kept in the Dark - the narrative of Alienation
5. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer - the narrative of Exploitation.