Sackcloth and ashes on Valentine’s Day

My latest article at MercatorNet is inspired by the fortuitous coincidence of Valentine’s Day and the Christian observance of Ash Wednesday, a day of penance and the beginning of the penitential season of Lent:

The flip side of humiliating oneself with public acts of penance is that we no longer have much of a stake in the prestige and demands of social status.

The worldly values that make sackcloth and ashes humiliating and therefore penant are themselves abjured when we remember who and what we truly are.

Worldly humiliation becomes genuine humility, reflected even in the Latin root of the word humble, from humus meaning ‘earth’ or ‘soil’.

True humility lies in knowing that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. All our worldly affairs, striving, and accomplishments, but also our troubles, fears and dilemmas are but dust.

But this would still be a bit of a downer if that was all there was to life. Our relationships might all be dust, but that doesn’t mean your romantic dinner should turn to ashes in your mouth.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/sackcloth-and-ashes-on-valentines-day

 

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Cosmic Christmas Symbolism

My latest article at MercatorNet is about symbolism and Christmas:

To celebrate Christmas in the heat is ridiculous unless you remember that we are, in a sense, as far from our true home as the reindeer and fur-decked Santa and fake snow-capped evergreens and images of roaring fireplaces and renditions of “White Christmas” and all the other Christmassy accretions that survive way down here in the God-forsaken antipodes.

Christmas in the North may blend seamlessly into the natural order, symbolising the incarnational aspect of all creation awaiting the birth of Christ. But Christmas in the South transcends the natural order, symbolising the supernatural, transcendent aspect of the incarnation itself.

Christmas doesn’t fit in the Southern Hemisphere, and that’s what makes it special.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/cosmic-christmas-symbolism-in-the-sweltering-southern-hemisphere

The service-provider state

My latest article on MercatorNet takes the providential view a step further by speculating on what good might come out of the dismantling of traditional moral structures and principles in society and the state.

Like an internet service-provider, we will increasingly expect the state to keep us connected and free from unwanted interference, the perfect venue for the exercise of autonomy.

And despite its association with various ethical issues, autonomy is not a bad thing. It’s a part of our humanity and deserves exercise and respect.

The rise of individual autonomy is not intrinsically evil, nor was the paternalism of the past.

But with providence in mind, the overall trend suggests a development or evolution of our social and political structure, and it’s no accident of history that the rise of individual autonomy came on the heels of the most horrific expressions of collectivism and statism.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/same-sex-marriage-and-the-service-provider-state/20793

God writes straight with crooked lines

My latest article at MercatorNet brings a providential view to bear, for those disheartened or dismayed by the same-sex marriage postal vote result:

…it would have surprised me if this society, in which we’ve seen moral norm after moral norm explode in the face of individual autonomy, suddenly bucked the trend by voting “No” to same-sex marriage.

This is an individual perspective. I wouldn’t try to convince people not to campaign, if they feel that is what they should do. For me, campaigning would have felt insincere.

Because what inspires me is not the thought of victory in battle, winning the culture war, or defeating the enemy through cunning, effort, or good strategy.

What inspires me is finding the right path to tread, a path that will always lead in the right direction no matter what is going on in the world around me.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/god-writes-straight-with-crooked-lines/20733

Are more guns the answer?

If gun control is really impossible in America, then surely the onus is on “good guys with guns” to take responsibility for ensuring public safety? In my latest article at MercatorNet I give an Aussie perspective on gun control, take a quick look at the historical and political origins of America’s unique gun culture, and play out the logical conclusions of a society that can’t or won’t limit access to semi-automatic weapons:

if a good guy with a gun really is the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, then in light of this knowledge, the good guys clearly aren’t doing enough to uphold their responsibility for public safety.

If we really believe that, then we shouldn’t celebrate the fact that a Good Samaritan with a gun happened to be nearby; we should question why there weren’t two or three or four of them.

“Good Samaritan” implies happenstance and luck, but if responsibility for stopping the bad guys lies with gun owners, then happenstance is actually negligence.

In other aspects of life we have designated first aid officers, fire wardens and emergency evacuation plans. We don’t just hope that a random person in our office or at a public event will know first aid, or take the initiative and lead people in a crisis.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/american-mass-shootings-are-more-guns-the-answer

Zuckerberg: the world’s biggest dictator

My latest article at MercatorNet is a brief primer on the increasing significance of Facebook and other Big Data collectors in shaping our polity:

So called “dark post” Facebook ads are visible only to their targeted audience, and as a recent post promising to build a border wall “(not a fence)” shows, the Trump campaign clearly thinks these tactics worth continuing.

With all the focus on “fake news” and not trusting everything you read online, it’s disconcerting to find that people are being wilfully manipulated by online content the rest of us can’t see or scrutinise, even if we wanted to.

The danger in Facebook’s Big Data powers is epitomised in new revelations that Russian operatives used Facebook to influence American politics over a two year period, with as many as126 million Americans viewing the posts.

Facebook has refused to release the ads, but described them as focused on “divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum”, such as race relations and gun rights.

https://www.mercatornet.com/connecting/view/is-mark-zuckerberg-the-biggest-dictator-in-the-world

 

To Hell with an Aussie Halloween

Inspired by the growing popularity of Halloween in Australia, my latest article at MercatorNet questions the authenticity of…well, everything, including authenticity.

On the one hand, Halloween in Australia is profoundly meaningless, deeply inauthentic, and the kind of culturally vapid, commercially-driven embrace of superficial Americana that our own cultural elites always warned of.

On the other hand, an increasing number of Australians feel like doing it. It’s an authentic expression of their wishes and enjoyment. And what could be more authentically Australian than people doing what they want, because they enjoy it?

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/halloween-and-other-nightmares

Weinstein, ‘rape culture’, and one-punch assaults

My latest article at MercatorNet looks at Weinstein and ‘rape culture’, and a personal epiphany about ‘victim blaming’ in our society:

The goal of re-educating society is laudable but it’s also a long-term project and may be unrealistic. In the meantime, violent and vicious people still exist, and it’s up to us as individuals to do our best to protect ourselves.

I thought this argument was what people were getting at when they cautioned women to heed their personal safety, and not put themselves in vulnerable situations. It’s not “rape culture”; it’s just a realistic approach to personal safety.

But it turned out I was wrong. It turned out that society at large does have faith in our capacity to re-educate violent and vicious people – just not when it comes to sexual assault.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/are-we-too-tolerant-of-sexual-assault

Addiction and pornography: rediscovering virtue in the internet age

It’s been a while folks. Inspiration is a mysterious and fickle thing.

My latest article at MercatorNet examines the underlying nature of addiction, and how it inhibits our greater happiness and enjoyment of life:

This disproportion between the object of addiction and the pleasure or enjoyment we derive from it is characteristic of all addictions. When the pleasure and pain we feel at the presence or absence of the object far outweighs its objective value or significance, something is clearly awry.

Becoming sexually excited by images and videos may be the quintessential addiction of the internet age, but it is also deeply absurd because images and videos per se are not sexually exciting.

Taking a drug to experience “ecstasy” might be popular too, but it is absurd because there is nothing intrinsically ecstatic about ingesting a tablet.

On this level, addictions are always absurd. In the first instance they break the relationship between reality and pleasure, leading us to seek pleasure in unreal and absurd stimuli.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/addiction-and-pornography-rediscovering-virtue-in-the-internet-age

 

How much should we hate our enemies?

The obvious answer is that we shouldn’t hate our enemies. In a Christian context we’re told to love them. Some religions even exhort us to have no enemies, perhaps converging on the same point.

But enemies and hate can sneak into our worldview without our realising it.

Do you hate Trump? Is Trump your enemy?

You might not think about it that way, but if Trump (or any other group or individual) seems to embody everything wrong with the world, then yes they are your enemy, and you probably hate them too.

In my latest article at MercatorNet I examine this issue in the context of same-sex marriage – a debate that’s heating up in Australia at the moment.

Check it out: https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/how-much-should-we-hate-our-enemies