Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Which Halo do you want?

Homily preached at Eltham College on 18th June based on St Matthew vi.19

It’s your best game of Halo ever.

You’ve destroyed
an entire battalion of Grunts
and their commanding Elites
through careful use of fragmentation grenades
and a Scorpion tank.

A few plasma grenades
have wiped out an attack
by The Flood.

You’ve retrieved the Index,
and set Pillar of Autumn
onto self-destruct
finally escaping
within the 15 minute countdown
before it destroys the Halo.

And then you’re done.

That’s it.

You’ve won.

You’ve beaten the computer.

You’re the champion,
the best,
the bees knees…

But what now?

Well, yes 343 Guilty Spark
does survive the attack,
but that just sets you up for Halo 2.

How are you going to keep hold
of this feeling of victory?


Computer games
have come a long way from Pong or Pac-Man,
where if you reached level 8
the thing would flip round
back to level 1 again.

If all you do is guide
a little yellow eating machine
around a maze for hours on end,
then what’s the point?

What’s the end result?

Whatever your victory may be,
there’s the fact that
at the end of the game,
you’ve got to switch the console off.

Your victory
as Master Chief Petty Officer John-117
over the Covenant
is obliterated in the flick of the switch
as if it never happened.

In the course of a second,
you’ve gone from the king of the world
to just you.

You have desire
to try and preserve that stupendous victory
on the screen for ever,
immortalised as a testament
for future generations
that you beat the Covenant.

Your family would object if you graffittied it
to the television screen.

But no.

It’s dinner time
and the Xbox must be switched off.

So what’s the point of reaching
for victories that disappear
at the flick of a switch?


What is it that truly lasts in this world?



Well, how many of you have heard
of Larry, Curly and Moe?

Of Wilson, Kepple and Betty?

Of W.C. Fields and Mae West?

Of Lon Chaney Sr or Bela Lugosi?

Of Les Dawson or Dick Emery?

Of Peter Beardsley or Gareth Southgate?

What about Chantelle?

All famous in their time,
but now, even within a few decades
(or 5 minutes for Chantelle),
their memory is fading.

Rockerfeller and Howard Hughes
are no longer exactly household names.

Their fame has been replaced
by the likes of Roman Abramovich
and Bill Gates.

But who says that their fame
will last the test of time?


The human race is very good
at depressing itself with its own mortality.

Channel 4 rejoices
in its quest to make us miserable
by showing us in gory detail

images of Big Ben standing
corroded and stopped;

the Eiffel Tower,
rusted and overgrown with climbing plants,
collapsing into a pile of mangled metal

statues of famous people
broken and fallen

all human books,
records and computer discs
corrupted and rotting in a pile of mildew.

All human construction and achievement
seems to fade away.

Of course when the Sun dies,
it will be as if humanity never had existed.

Depressing, eh?


That’s how we can choose to look at our lives
– see it as a struggle to hold on to bits of life
that crumble and fall through our fingers
like the packet of biscuits
that someone has dropped several times,
run over with their trolley
and put back on
the supermarket shelf.

We can hoard up wealth,
or possessions,
or certificates,
but they aren’t going to last forever.

Wealth is always stolen,
certificates always get destroyed.

Achievements always get forgotten.

What will remain of you in a million years time?


Now that you are thoroughly miserable,
take a look at yourself.

Isn’t there something more to your self
beyond your ability to out-run,
or out-think every one?

Isn’t there something beyond
your ability to remember useless facts?

Isn’t there
something within you
that says, “yes, I am!”?
something that screams out against Time,
against change,
against decay?
something that objects to being forgotten?

It’s difficult to think of
our own existence
beyond our own lifetimes.

Some people believe
that we no longer exist after we are gone.

Others believe that we always exist,
that within you there is the flavour of eternity,
that you matter eternally.

Certainly, Christians fall into the latter category.

Jesus says:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy,
and where thieves break in and steal.

Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where moth and rust do not destroy,
and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also.”

What He is saying to us is that
each human being has an existence and a worth
beyond the world where our achievements
can be switched off as easily as an Xbox.

We have to become aware
of those things that really matter
and that cannot be taken away from us
no matter
how poor, ill or miserable we are.


So what is the stuff that lasts for ever,
that doesn’t decay?


Generosity of spirit?


Won’t the actions
to which they are attached
still be forgotten?

The fact that you helped an old lady
across the road in 2007
is not going to be remembered in 2057,
but the effects of that kindness
may well linger on
- not through fame or honour.

like hatred,
grows and grows forever.

An act of charity may be
unnoticed in the ages to come,
but its worth to the future
is incalculable
and its place in the fabric of the universe

What are you storing up
for yourself?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mapping the Truth

Let’s start with Pilate.

What is Truth?

As far as I can ascertain, Truth is the correspondence between what really is and what is held in thought. It’s not the only definition of Truth but it seems the best definition that fits my thought and experience of mapping reality as accurately as possible. We look at the world around us and try to replicate what we experience in our heads. Why? Why do we need to make the correspondence? To be honest, I don’t know but it seems utterly programmed into our brains to ask that question – “Why?” We have what appears to be a natural and universal need to make this correspondence between object and its idea in order to make sense of our lives.

In mathematical parlance, Truth has the aspect of a manifold – a mathematical space of manifold dimensions (perhaps even infinitely many) which can be described by a collection of maps, charts and maximal atlases. (Be grateful, my other mathematical encounters with God have involved modelling the Truth as an operad or a quiver. I might explain those later.)

Each human being seems to have a way of mapping out the Truth – there is only one Truth as there is only on Reality – and that mapping will be faithful but only up to a point, and some mappings are more faithful than others. Some mappings will lack the true dimensionality of what is. One cannot make a map of the earth by charting every line of longitude. We just get an uncountable collection of lines with no idea as to how they fit together. Clearly the Earth’s surface is bigger, and that is why our charts have to be 2-dimensional to include longitude and latitude. If we need to take into account of the three dimensional aspect of the earth, then we need to build three dimensional models (quite why we would try and construct an accurate replica of the Earth is another matter). We reserve charts to mean maps of the right dimensionality. Charts of the Earth’s surface.

We get an accurate picture of the Earth by a collection of charts – an atlas. Each chart has the fullness of the aspect of the Earth, however it still has limits, and in order to get a better picture of the Earth we have to turn the page and note that the charts overlap at the edges so as we know how the previous chart relates to the new.

The question is, do there exist charts for the Truth? Well yes, for me, the Atlas is Christianity, the charts the fragments into which the Religion has fallen. Some aspects of Christianity are not full enough and fail to be proper charts. Others have certain fullness, but are too small in their scope – all charts get distorted towards the edges. Notice that it is mathematically impossible to get the whole of the Earth’s surface onto one chart. The chart always breaks down into a singularity or cannot extend beyond a certain point. Likewise, the charts of the Truth fail to encompass the whole Truth – singularities arise, boundaries are thrown up. But the Truth exists as an object.

Even as a mathematician, I believe that Truth is God and I believe in His Son, Jesus Christ when He said “I am the Truth” and that the Holy Ghost completes the Triune Godhead.



It’s complicated. I have no rational reason to be a Christian – indeed as a rational man (allegedly) I have every reason not to be a Christian. But belief in God is not irrational, I accept that there are things that exist and are unempirical – love, hatred, beauty, truth. The existence of God is an assumption that I have made in order to make sense of my life. One rather weak argument is that because the Universe is more complicated than human thought, either Truth does not exist or there exists a mind big enough to hold the idea of the Universe as it really is. It’s a weak argument because it assumes that Truth cannot be partial. However, if the Truth is partial, then scientists have no hope ever of finding a theory of everything!

The only way that I can prove that God does not exist is to assume that He does exist in show that this leads to a logical contradiction. However, I have subjective reasons to believe that He does, and that is enough to convince me that He exists and that He wants me to exist as well. For me this is enough to convince me that I am loved by God.

In wanting me to exist, God wants me also to know that He exists and in order to do that, He must reveal Himself to me, but also to all people, since He has decided that He wants other people to exist too. What is the nature of His revelation? How does He tell us about Himself?

Well, He tells us about Himself by talking to us. However, there’s a problem in that we have been given some freedom. If God loves us by wanting us to be in the first place, then He could just be in absolute control over us. We human beings are witness to activity within our species that some human beings do not want other human beings to be. Has God wanted some people to be only for them to have their existence taken away again? Well, yes, that is possible, but it does not seem consistent to me, and if I am to believe in God, then I must also believe that He is consistent. If God wants all humans that are to be, and some humans do not want other humans to be, then it must be that human beings are free to choose whether to follow God, or not to follow God.

So we then have a choice, to hear God or not to hear God. However, we now have the ability and propensity to be deceived by others. Even in our own selves do we have conflicting voices in our heads, to the extent that, ab initio, we cannot tell the voice of God from the other voices in our world.

So human beings need a reliable revelation that comes from God – a revelation that does not err or change in Time because God does not change in Time. Where is this revelation? We have the Holy Scriptures, but these Scriptures have been written at a particular point in the past. Nowhere in the Bible will we find explicit reference to the internet, to women priests, to the Holy Trinity (amendments to I John v notwithstanding). Thus there is a need for the Scriptures to be interpreted reliably. Also the revelation of God in Christ existed before the Scriptures were written down, so it is not enough to assume that all the revelation of God is contained in Holy Writ.

So here we are. We’ve arrived at the notion of Infallibility – the need for the revelation of God, His Truth and His teaching about Himself to humanity to be taught reliably, without error and without the possibility of error. If God wants all human beings to be, and we have this strange mysterious phenomenon call Time whereby human beings appear and disappear from sight in the space of a century or less, then there has to be a reliable transmission of that teaching from the beginning to the end, there has to be Infallibility.

Is it possible for human beings to be infallible? Well, Holy Scripture was written by human beings. We know that St Paul was a sinner, yet he wrote the letters which have been incorporated into Holy Scripture. What St Paul wrote must have been Infallible. Likewise St Peter, who was wrong in what he practised when he refused to sit down and eat with Gentiles, nonetheless wrote letters and preached sermons which have been preserved into Holy Writ. Despite the fact that he acted in error, and spoke in error, the teaching that he broadcast in Scripture is infallible, and this infallibility existed before the Scriptures were written down.

It is clear then that the teaching of the Church is infallible; it has to be, otherwise there is no revelation of God from the beginning. It is also clear that our own understanding of the Truth has developed in Time. The Holy Trinity has always existed, but our interaction with that Holy Trinity has not because we have not always existed. How is it that the strange mountain god of the Israelites develops into the more convoluted and transcendent Being of the Three-in-One? Well, He doesn’t develop, we do! This development cannot stop because the Truth is infinite in extent. The Church possesses the fullness of Truth. What does this mean?

It means that, although we never have the entirety of the Truth accessible to us at any one moment in Time, the Church will continue to teach the Truth as it is revealed to us in Time until that Truth is completed as predicted in I Corinthians xiii. This teaching is necessarily infallible even though individual human teachers do err. However, as we have seen, there are conditions in which human beings accurately and infallibly communicate the Truth. The Church has decided which books of the Bible are infallible and which are not, which contain true teaching and which do not. That decision itself must have been made infallibly otherwise humanity has no hope of knowing what the Truth is about God and His love for us.

If human understanding about God develops, how can we be sure that our development is correct? We do have the Vincentian Canon – quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus – i.e. that we are to believe whatever has been believed everywhere, always and by everyone. The trouble with the Vincentian Canon is that we cannot say what is the Truth about the humanity and divinity of Christ, because some folk in the past have held the teaching Creed of Nicaea a priori, and other have wandered into what we now understand as the heresies of Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism and Patripassionism to name but a few. Isn’t it a bit convenient to say that those who are heretics do not contribute to the Vincentian Canon?

However, the Truth has always been held infallibly by the Church. Thus, in Time we can be assured that the Truth will be apparent in times of doctrinal disorder. That Arianism, et c. have failed to prosper is an application of the testimony of Gamaliel to the Church. Thus in following the teaching of the Church from the Creeds, we can be absolutely certain that we follow the Christian Verity.

In this time of plurality of Christian Doctrine, and without the benefit of hindsight how can we be sure that the teaching to we hold now is not heretical? Considering that there were large numbers of powerful bishops and priests and even Popes who were Arian in their belief, the weight of numbers, nor the office of individuals is not sufficient to determine orthodoxy.

Looking at the Creeds, it is clear that, although not all the credal statements appear specifically in Scripture, they have their seeds in Scripture, and they have a clear development in Tradition from those seeds. This is precisely why I believe that women cannot be priests – there is no scriptural seed, and no traditional development. The doctrine of female orders has no basis in history. It is not a singularity of the chart, it is a discontinuity from the chart of Truth, and a chart fails to be a chart if it is discontinuous.

But still the question remains, to whom do I listen over a point of more complicated debate? The Roman Catholics would say that it is from the infallible statements of the Holy Father. But does the Holy Father possess infallibility ex officio?

The seed, we are told is, Matthew xvi:18b-19: Thou art Peter and upon this rock will I build my Church. The implication is that the Lord’s metaphorical rock implies that the teaching of St Peter cannot err. However, are we told that is a property that will be transferred to all of St Peter’s successors in the See of Rome? Nonetheless, this is just a tiny seed, and lo and behold it has indeed developed into the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility that we see defined formally at the first Vatican Council in 1870. The seed exist, and the organic growth exists with all the glitches, snags and underhand machinations that dogged the development of the Nicene Creed. One might recall the parable of the mustard seed and apply it to this tiny little piece of scriptural evidence. However the problem is that not all the Church affirms the doctrine.

The Roman Catholic Church has the fullness of truth meaning that as humanity grows and extends its relationship with God, the chart of Truth grows in its extent with the correct dimensionality – it does not lose its scope. However, it is limited by Time. Within its chart is Papal Infallibility which may be true, but appears not to be true in Orthodoxy nor Prayer-book Anglicanism because these do not have that in the overlap between the charts. You can’t turn the page of Truth’s atlas from the Roman Catholic Chart to the Prayer-book Anglican Chart and find Papal Infallibility on both pages. You would find more overlap with the Anglican Papalist pages, but again the charts distort at their edges. That doesn’t mean that they cease to be true but rather they give a false impression – like the North Pole in a stereographic projection.

I wish I could believe Papal Infallibility to be true, though it's difficult to see how the conditions for infallibility could ever be met - how can you show that the Pope is the teacher of all Christians without saying that you're only Christian if you believe in Papal Infallibility? I believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the Head of the Church on Earth, but "supreme" is meaningless if that supremacy is recognised by everyone. However, this does not rule out the possibility that the Pope is infallible, nor that he is Supreme Head of the Church - they are not proven and only accessible in a certain chart.

I hold Anglicanism to be a valid and fully coherent expression of Christianity, though I do not subscribe to the full XXXIX articles because I do not see that they follow the Vincentian Canon and some are downright false (if they aren’t, then why are there Roman Catholic in England thus violating XXXVII?), nor do I believe that they define Anglicanism as it existed before they were written. However, others do and with good reason which does fit in with the Vincentian Canon. The same is true for the Orthodox, the Old Catholics (who have remained true to Catholicism).

The key issue is Time, and sometimes we act as if we should have all the answers to our disagreements here and now. If we keep pushing at the boundaries of the extent of our charts, may be they’ll move, and maybe they won’t but the act of trying means that we encounter a better view of the Truth as an objective reality. This growth can only come with God’s grace and our humility. We have to accept the limitations of the Temporal Church’s understanding of the Truth but hold to Our Faith and Hope that the Church does have the full Truth. We just have to submit to her teaching in the Chart in which we have found ourselves born and brought up.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bishops take note!

I am grateful to Dr Jim Ryland who provides a very clear illustration for the need for Anglicanism to stop fragmenting. There are too many bishops out there with their own agenda, and unifying the church is not it, quite frankly, to their shame.

We have all, in our own ways, acknowledged some personal alarm at the rampant fragmentation of our Catholic Anglican Church. Someone aptly referred to it as "purple fever" as bishops tread on other's jurisdictions or occasionally split off for some rather petty and questionable reasons.I grew up on a ranch in the, then, rural area of Southern California. The great Edwin G. Hart ranch had, by the 1930s, been parceled into several smaller but still quite sizable ranches. Over half of the original holding was still in a single parcel of many thousands of acres. Edwin, and later, his widow, Adelaide, leased the land to the remainder of some early Basque shepherding families. I grew up among the Arroueses, Bastenchurys, Yorbas, and Essevary families. They seemed one vast Catholic family but the Basque temperament sometimes led to territorial disputes over grazing rights or a stray in the wrong fold.

The pastoral life has largely disappeared from the American scene but during those early years of my life I learned a lesson that forever colored my view of pastoral responsibility, both in the field and in the church.

I doubt that any of you have witnessed what happens when two shepherds go to war. It is a truly horrible thing. While the men fight and grapple the flocks panic and run amok. I remember, as a boy, helping Jean Pierre Arroues disentangle lacerated lambs from barbed-wire fences and watching in silence as he used his rifle to dispatch ewes trampled beyond the possibility of salvation.

In parables, Our Lord always spoke of the flock with great and gentle love, but most of His words for the shepherds were those of admonition.

Dr Jim Ryland