Posted by: gcarkner | April 20, 2014

Easter Beckons: a Poem

Easter Beckons

Come buds, birds, brilliant sun, blossoms all
Fair Spring is here to greet all souls as one
New notes sound forth from birds as harmonies waft
Gone the bleak winter with its chill and rain dark skies
Come are the spring lambs with twitching tails
New buds break forth to charm the eye with blossoms fair

The cheeks of chubby babes soak in the sun aloft their stroller craft
Moms chatter about the joy of giving new life
New life, resurrection’s legacy, hope spun soft in spider’s web
The scholar’s imagination soars amidst the cherry blossom’s bloom
There’s more to this human frame than mud shaped into motion
Signs of transcendence capture one’s dreams of what might be

Garden soil is stirred for seed to come and die, to give new life
Easter beckons Mary at empty tomb where once her Lord lay motionless
Darkness has been replaced by light so bright it hurts the eye
Doubts of disciples are washed from bloodshot orbs
Angst replaced by sudden joy as mysterious figure finds his way through wall
It’s a new world to discover, a new paradigm to ponder, eternity in time

Posted by: gcarkner | April 17, 2014

Good Friday by Malcolm Guite

Good Friday; the Stations of the Cross

Malcolm Guite, Poet, Musician, Chaplain

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Here is a complete sequence of sonnets for the Stations of the Cross. I am posting them a little before Good Friday, so that anyone who wishes to make use of them for personal devotion or reproduce them for use in their Church can do so. Please feel free to make use of them in anyway you like, and to reproduce them, but I would be grateful if you could include in any hand-outs a link back to this blog [] so that people who wish to can follow the rest of the sequence through the church year, of which these stations are a part and which will I hope, eventually form a book of sonnets for the whole church year.


I Jesus is condemned to death

The very air that Pilate breathes, the voice

With which he speaks in judgment, all his powers

Of perception and discrimination, choice,

Decision, all his years, his days and hours,

His consciousness of self, his every sense,

Are given by this prisoner, freely given.

The man who stands there making no defence,

Is God. His hands are tied, His heart is open.

And he bears Pilate’s heart in his and feels

That crushing weight of wasted life. He lifts

It up in silent love. He lifts and heals.

He gives himself again with all his gifts

Into our hands. As Pilate turns away

A door swings open. This is judgment day.

II Jesus is given his cross

He gives himself again with all his gifts

And now we give him something in return.

He gave the earth that bears, the air that lifts,

Water to cleanse and cool, fire to burn,

And from these elements he forged the iron,

From strands of life he wove the growing wood,

He made the stones that pave the roads of Zion

He saw it all and saw that it is good.

We took his iron to edge an axe’s blade,

We took the axe and laid it to the tree,

We made a cross of all that he has made,

And laid it on the one who made us free.

Now he receives again and lifts on high

The gifts he gave and we have turned awry. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | April 6, 2014

The Wisdom of Abraham Heschel

The Wisdom of Abraham Joshua Heschel

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century. He was a prophetic genius, a voice deeply concerned about justice and human rights, and a strong advocate of Jewish-Christian dialogue. He had a profound insight into society and its discontents. Here are some quotes from his thought.

Philosophy can be defined as the art of asking the right questions… Awareness of the problems outlives all solutions. The answers are questions in disguise, every new answer giving rise to new questions.

Wonder (awe) rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge. Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

The worship of reason is arrogance and betrays a lack of intelligence. The rejection of reason is cowardice and betrays a lack of faith.

What is the meaning of my being? … My quest is not for theoretical knowledge about myself … What I look for is not how to gain a firm hold on myself and on life, but primarily how to live a life that would deserve and evoke an eternal Amen. What am I here for?

To be human is to be involved, to act and react, to wonder and respond. For humans to be is to play a part in the cosmic drama, knowingly or unknowingly. Living involves responsible understanding of one’s role in relation to all other beings.

We cannot restrain our bitter yearning to know whether life is nothing but a series of momentary physiological and mental processes, actions, and forms of behaviour, a flow of vicissitudes, desires, and sensations, running like grains through an hourglass, marking time only once and always vanishing … Is life nothing but an agglomeration of facts, unrelated to one another–chaos camouflaged by illusion?

Humans are more than what they are to themselves. In reason the human may be limited, in will perhaps wicked, yet the human stands in a relation to God which one may betray but not sever, and which constitutes the essential meaning of life. The human is the knot in which heaven and earth are interlaced. God in the universe is a spirit of concern for life … We often fail in trying to understand him not because we do not know how to extend our concepts far enough, but because we do not know how to begin close enough. To think of God is not to find him as an object in our minds, but to find ourselves in him. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | April 1, 2014

Who Stole Our Humanity?… 4

Are We Missing the Bigger Picture?

Further on the quest to recover our humanity in the age of scientism: In this post, we find ourselves on a quest to retrieve excluded knowledge [1], addressing the refusal of the transcendent inherent in scientism, including that biases endemic to the New Atheists’ writing.[2] During the Cold War, the Soviets often constructed city maps that excluded churches, a practice that made it difficult for tourists to find some of the architectural and historical treasures. The agenda was to eliminate knowledge of religion or God (exclude/bury it). This practise  stands in the true spirit of scientism; it operates on a cosmic authority dilemma. Philosopher Charles Taylor offers some very useful discernment here; he notes that transcendence can be read from two opposite angles, both of which involve faith at some significant level, i.e. it goes beyond mere rational argument or evidence.

We can either see the transcendent as a threat, a dangerous temptation, or an obstacle to our greatest good. Or we can read it as answering to our deepest craving, need, fulfilment of the good. … Both open and closed stances involve a step beyond available reason into the realm of anticipatory confidence.[3]

This is a moral choice as well, not neutral, nor scientifically objective. Within today’s immanent frame, Taylor points out that things do go both ways; this is in fact true of professional scientists today. Many hold to the reality of the transcendent; many do not. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | March 25, 2014

Who Stole Our Humanity?… 3

Recovery of Humanity Involves Recovery of Language and Perspective

More on wisdom and scientific reason: Poetry, the language genre in which wisdom often appears to us, proceeds from the totality of human sense, imagination, intellect, love, desire, instinct, blood and spirit together.The metaphors of wisdom are equally important to the inductive scrutiny of science. Prudence, courage, justice, self-control, honesty and other virtues are deeply relevant to both one’s daily life and the entire scientific enterprise. Wisdom calls out to all humans and is relevant to all human endeavours; it is a stabilizing and sustainable influence.

It is clear to major decision-makers that technological, statistical and scientific expertise is always helpful, but nevertheless incomplete for adjudicating many issues that they face. It is necessary but not sufficient. Science, while it is a good method for investigating and manipulating the material world, is of much less value for deciding what to do with its knowledge–stewardship of the power of this knowledge. This requires ethics and a philosophy of what serves the common good. In light of this, twentieth century physicist, philosopher and historian of science, Pierre Duhem provocatively argues for the priority of metaphysics and religion over physics. He has the highest regard for physics but circumspectly realizes that it is only part of the picture of existence and only one part of the available human knowledge base. Psalm 90 to 103 gives a phenomenal range of wisdom, richness of insight about God and his world, and a tremendous motivation to study it in all its varied aspects. There is a holism of perspective which covers the various layers of meaning, and the extent of human curiosity.

Brilliant philosopher Calvin Schrag (The Self After Postmodernity) urges respect for the significance of all four culture spheres: aesthetics, ethics, science and religion.[1] Scientific reason, successful as it is, is only part of the human knowledge economy and it should not dominate, oppress or eliminate the other culture spheres. It should interact with them in balance and even tension, and benefit from their checks and balances, as well as their creative questions. Scientific insight is good but only one type of good. Can we find a balance in the relationship of these culture spheres in late modernity? Many top scholars such as Schrag and Alvin Plantinga believe that we can. Much wisdom is required by our best minds to strike the balance.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | March 24, 2014

An Ode to Lent

The Season of Lent ushers in the Preeminent Celebration of the Christian Year, Easter.

N.T. Wright on Lent

See the compilation God For Us: rediscovering the meaning of Lent and Easter

edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe

Lent. it is a season to slowly prepare our souls. it is a time to open ourselves to the presence of God in our lives and let angles feed us. It is a time to sit among the ashes, confident that love will abound in due time. it is a time to be washed by our tears into the water of new life, to come to ral transformation and newness ready to celebrate the feast that is given us at Easter. ~Ronald Rolheiser


Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making: recovering our creative calling, (Chapter 8 “Jesus as Culture Maker”) has some brilliant insights into the difference that Jesus life, death and resurrection have for shaping the horizons of possibility (shalom and human flourishing) for societies, ancient and modern. Note also classic poems by John Donne; and Christina Rossetti

The Cross

He suffered the full weight of the human story of rebellion against God. He was literally impaled on the worst that culture can do–an instrument of torture that stood for all the other cultural dead ends of history, from spears to bombs, gas chambers to waterboards. Like all other instruments of violence, a cross is cultural folly and futility at its most horrible. (141)

The core calling of [Jesus] life is not something he does at all in an active sense–it is something he suffers. The strangest and most wonderful paradox of the biblical story is that its most consequential moment is not an action but a passion–not a doing but a suffering. (142)

“On Good Friday, love embraced suffering as Jesus drank the bitter cup. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. self-consciously followed the same journey of the suffering death of Jesus, the way of the cross, as he promoted civil rights for African-Americans in the Southern USA in the 1960s. He worked hard to replace the perverted symbol of the cross which was used as a justification for aggression, hate and violence—e.g. the Ku Klux Klan. His life quest was to restore the cross as a symbol of love, mercy, justice and non-violence. He incarnated a form of extreme love, a committed non-violent protest against systemic injustice.” ~Iwan Russell-Jones, Professor of Faith and the Arts, Regent College

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | March 19, 2014

Prayer of a Skeptic

The Prayer of a Student Skeptic

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Dear God, Buddha, Allah, Plato, Krishna, Beings from other planets, Jesus, Confucius, Zeus, Ra, the Universe, the Great Principle, etc. Is anyone out there?  Pluralism is confusing. Could you get together, have a chat and send one representative to explain all this? So many worldviews on offer; so many games in town. How do I choose? How can I trust any of you? How do I know what’s true and bogus, aside from all the shouting, the rituals, images, many paths to peace and funny hats?

OK, right, this is awkward…. I don’t really believe in you anymore. I’m kind of still angry with Dad who dragged me and my sister to church and forced religion on our family. It’s just not cool with my friends to think or talk about spiritual things; they get creeped out. They are big on science, world politics and extreme sports. God talk is out of the question. I don’t want them even to know I’m thinking about this meaning and purpose stuff. They’ll think I’ve gone off my head.

One of my social science profs is keen about Nietzsche, will to power, self-assertion therapy. He loves Foucault and the power of self-invention and reinvention–freedom to be who we want to be. But it’s a big job to create one’s own universe of meaning. Daunting really. Practically I’m concerned about my career big time–medicine is my goal. Jobs are scarce and I want security and a chance to leave my mark. Is meaningful work too much to ask for? But a thousand other colleagues want the same thing. How’s that going to work? Competition for everything is brutal: professions, grad school, employment, mates.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | March 18, 2014

Who Stole Our Humanity?… 2

Towards Recovering Our Humanity: Wisdom … 2

It is our conviction that if we are to become more human, science must be more engaged with and tempered by wisdom. Philosophy, of which science is a part, by definition is the love of wisdom that prompts persons to use all the skills of reason in the quest for truth, goodness and beauty. Rationalism unfortunately pits truth against beauty and goodness and against theology; we question this kind of prideful wisdom. Intellectual Jacques Maritain cautions that ‘science without wisdom is blind’;  it is therefore dangerous as a form of raw power without the tempering effect of wisdom. How is its insight and knowledge to be used well, for the best, for the common good?

There is a significant revival of virtue ethics today in academia. Upon deeper reflection, genuine knowledge is the cultivation of the virtue of wisdom, which entails that all knowledge must have a relationship with both the intellectual and the moral virtues. Science within its appointed limits attends to matters of fact, quantity, cosmic order, matter and anti-matter, the physical forces and the realm of stars and galaxies (the what and how questions). Wisdom, however, has a large vested interest in the qualitative conditions of life and research (the why questions): relationships, meaning, purpose, value, idea, narrative, appropriate application of knowledge and other meta-issues.

Read More…

A Review of Gore, A., 2013. The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. Random House, New York. 558 pp.

Al Gore’s selection of the six key drivers of global change can be debated, but no one should underestimate the thought and vision that has gone into the writing of this book. If you are worried about investing in 558 pages of text I would strongly recommend that you read the final chapter (Conclusion) first. The range of recommendations is bound to impress and the evidence on which such recommendations are based should intrigue the reader to return to the opening chapter and stay the course. This is not another climate change peroration but a balanced warning in relation to the trajectory of the six major drivers of change, as perceived by Al Gore.

The six drivers are as follows:

  1. The emergence of a deeply interconnected global economy which is characterized by an expanding global wealth gap. Increasing speed of transactions, complexity, integration, capitalism in crisis and the changing nature of work.
  2. The realization of global electronic communication, a global brain, big data and the threat of “big brother”, a crisis in education and health care, the conundrum of the search for security and the loss of privacy.
  3. A new balance of political, economic and military power, the unpredictability of China, the growing influence of corporations,  the nation state in transition and the uncertain meaning of the decline in wars.
  4. Rapid unsustainable growth, exemplified by city growth, mass marketing, waste and pollution, continued population growth, family migration, refugees, soil erosion and dust storms.
  5. A revolution in genetics and materials science, ethical issues surrounding the genome, creation of new body parts, fertility control and GMOs.
  6. A new relation between the power of civilization and Earth’s ecological system, questions around mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, risks, fracking and species extinctions.

In his conclusion, Gore says that our decision about the way we choose to live will determine “whether the journey takes us or whether we take the journey”. He lays out his assumptions about human nature: intrinsic human nature does not change but aspects of human nature which we routinely express can and do change. Some genes are expressed while others remain inchoate and vestigial. Neuron trees grow dense and vibrant when they are used; others atrophy when they are not. Better education is essential but is not, in itself, enough. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | March 16, 2014

Who Stole Our Humanity?

Scammed Out of Our Humanity?

There are forces and ideologies in society which rob us of our dignity and freedom, of our very humanity. Scientism is one of those forces or perspectives which depletes or blocks a higher humanism. We have to say that it  is not conducive to a holistic or healthy view of humans. Its reductive character has contributed to the devaluing of people through a number of ideologies in the twentieth century, many of which are still in play in the twenty-first century. Dehumanization of persons is the result of treating them in terms of their machineness or their biological being alone.  Scores of books have addressed this topic. In a very devastating sense, modern culture is deprived of some of the richest interpretation of the nature of humanity that history has available.[1]

Is this a wise way to go? E.F. Schumacher captures the problem of scientism for personhood in rather shocking terms.

The Universe is what it is; but he who … limits himself to its lowest sides—to his biological needs, his creature comforts or his accidental encounters—will inevitably ‘attract’ a miserable life. If he can recognize nothing but ‘struggle for survival’ and ‘will to power’ fortified by cunning, his ‘world’ will be one fitting Hobbe’s description of the life of man as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.[2]

Under the mythology of scientism, people are viewed as sophisticated cogs in the cosmic machinery, or simplified as the most intelligent animals (highest primates). All human characteristics, including mind or soul, are taken as explicable in terms of body (neuron networks, DNA makeup, biochemistry or physiology, or mere physics and chemistry). There is a philosophical reductionism at work, i.e. the higher is explained in terms of the lower, mind in terms of brain, human social behaviour in terms of physics and chemistry, or ant colonies (E.O. Wilson). Humans are appreciated mainly for their instrumental value: earning capacity, socio-political usefulness and their excellencies of giftedness. We saw this mentality lived out in the old Soviet Union, but often it exhibits itself in how people are treated in the West as well.

We briefly note here the distinct lack of wisdom in viewing humans as mere animals. This is the kind of reductionism that leads to alienation, human rights abuse, cynicism, even nihilism, as we see in the oppression by malevolent elites or dictators, or abusive employers of immigrants. The movie The Way Back depicts such brutish conditions of Stalin’s Siberian labour camps–the Gulags about which Solzhenitsyn wrote.[3] Scientism is easily exploited by a political ideology that is disconnected from the moral good; it carries the potential to be used in the most destructive ways on humans and the rest of creation, promoting a nihilistic anti-humanism.[4] Read More…

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