RealityBites blog

Schoolswork in Cumbria

Over the moon with this recent RealityBites subversive activity in Cumbria. Henry Brooks is a gifted writer and friend and is now conducting his own RealityBites events! He writes as follows:

I was asked 2 weeks ago by a local secondary school to do three one-hour RE lessons when presenting year 7s with their Gideon New Testaments. 'Remember', said the Head of RE, 'some of these children won't know who Jesus is, so keep it simple!' What could I do to keep them interested for a whole hour?

Obvious: use RealityBites – Hollywood and Nazi worldview stories!

I bracketed Mark's slides with others of my own and we talked about what Jesus said about these things.

The Head of RE, upon hearing the presentation and being genuinely astounded by how well the children listened, asked if I would do a further one hour presentation to her year 11 class. 'Yes Ma'am, just line them up!' says I. And so once again I was able to exploit the God-given opportunity with the RealityBites material. The 15 year olds went on to ask questions about life, death, the afterlife, love, sex, marriage and the meaning of life without any prompting.

I also adapted the same presentation to speak at two different congregations last weekend for Holocaust Remembrance Sunday on 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, 'The mystery (secret plan) of Lawlessness is already at work' etc. One pastor was amazed, 'my adult son usually goes home after the worship, but he stayed and said how much he was engaged and challenged by what you said.'

There were similar comments from many members of both congregations which are still trickling in by Facebook, so basically I just wanted to thank RealityBites again for Mark and the gift he has been to our church and West Cumbria.

Parable Probing Education

Once upon a time there lived a tribe of happy nomads who lived in the Sudan. These desert nomads depended on their sturdy and faithful camels for survival. Camels supplied nutritious milk in geographical locations where there was nothing to eat and it is important to remember that camel meat is tasty and nourishing. Practically disease-free and cholesterol-free! Camel hair and wool were used to weave clothes, tents and rugs. Camels were also first-rate riding animals. They could either run very fast over a short distance, or cover very long distances without tiring. They were sometimes known as 'ships of the desert' and their value to the nomads was priceless.

To say that the nomads loved their camels would be an understatement. These odd and sometimes grumpy creatures were their pride and joy and young nomadic children were constantly being tutored in the ways of the camel. We could say that young children of six or seven knew their camels in much the same way that 'enlightened', western children know their shoot-em-up game boys and internet chat rooms. An elderly nomad would only need to say – "Where is Fatimah today?" and precise geographical knowledge would pour forth from the mouths of alert and attentive stewards. A sick camel could trust a six-year old boy to minister tender loving care and a pregnant camel was never bereft of young midwives.

Unfortunately our young charges were unable to furnish a rational account of their 'knowledge'. They could find any given camel at the drop of a hat but probe the young camel 'expert' and there was always a conspicuous lack of 'rational method'. Living in a scientific society we sometimes forget the crucial ingredients that all proper knowledge must display. We can only be said to know something if we believe any given proposition for the right and proper reasons. A person must be able to support any given knowledge claim with appropriate logical and factual support. Eliminate this foundation and we are left with mere opinion and conjecture. In plain terms we are confronted with unenlightened dogma and belief.

In those days the Sudan was ruled by an enlightened, secular government and important representatives of the regime were distressed and alarmed by the crass ignorance of the nomadic offspring. Surveys clearly demonstrated that precise nomadic knowledge of quadratic equations, Boyle's law, and the Big Bang theory was non-existent. Civil Servants in Khartoum became understandably cross, grumpy and tetchy. How could an enlightened society tolerate such an appalling antipathy to precise, accurate rational knowledge?

Knowledgeable agents of the state apparatus contacted the nomadic tribe and alerted them to the abysmal plight of their children's education. Something had to be done and the perfect solution was devised. A law was passed that forced all the nomadic progeny to attend government-sponsored schools. In these centres of reason and science the youngsters would no longer waste their lives mastering conjecture and opinion about camels but the fundamental laws of maths and the hard sciences would be their daily companions. Precise knowledge would replace vague opinions.

In time the young nomads became increasingly rational and scientific. They learnt to despise their nomadic folk-lore and embraced the firm discipline of Cartesian prejudice. We can only know what is clear and distinct. We can only possess knowledge when vagueness and fuzziness have been eliminated.

Overpowered and bullied by the modern descendants of Galileo and Descartes, the nomadic offspring gradually became 'enlightened'. They distinguished carefully between facts and opinions as any normal, healthy western child will do and the benefits and advantages of a western secular education became their prized possession. They learnt to despise any belief or prejudice that could not be explained in strict, scientific fashion and the old primitive concern and stewardship of camels became but a distant memory. Now they were able to draw accurate, scientific representations of these humpbacked beasts and develop cunning cigarette marketing strategies while quaffing excellent lager beer.

The nomadic offspring basked in the glories of algebra and statistics. Passionate discussions about electrons and protons were common fare and Newton's theory of gravity was fully mastered. Value-free, objective knowledge became an all-consuming focus. Happy days!

In the fullness of time their parents and their camels died and the young secular citizens became increasingly addicted to cigarettes, malt whiskey, drugs, computer games and pornographic magazines. At last enlightenment had come to the largest country in Africa.

Fido, the pet rat and worldviews

In 1998 in Devon, England, Fido, a pet rat was minding his own business in his cage, when an electric fire set alight Lisa Gumbley's carpet and furniture. Fido managed to escape from his unlocked cage but instead of darting to safety he scuttled up the stairs to awaken single mother Lisa and her daughters, Megan, nine, and Shannon, three.

Fido frantically scratched at the bedroom door to alert 29-year-old Lisa to the impending disaster. She takes up the story:

The noise of the scratching woke me up and I got up to go to the toilet and I found Fido.

Lisa picked Fido up and carried the considerate rodent downstairs to put him back in his cage. Bright as a button she noticed smoke and flames attacking the ground floor; she rushed back upstairs and alerted her two daughters and their gran, Gloria to the danger.

The family managed to get out of the house and then Lisa called the fire brigade who arrived promptly and quickly got the blaze under control. Lisa stated poignantly:

If it wasn’t for Fido we'd all be dead now. They say that rats desert sinking ships but our Fido's a real hero. He didn't run off but came upstairs to save us. We all love him to bits.

A spokesperson for the fire brigade opined:

We've heard of dogs and cats waking their owners. Even a parrot. But never a rat. Now we hope to make Fido an honorary fire fighter.

Lisa added thoughtfully:

We got him a Chinese meal of sweet and sour with fried rice, which he loves, and bought him an Easter egg because chocolate is his favourite.

This heartwarming story is full of humour, warmth and eccentricity. Your response to the story reveals your deepest beliefs. Imagine you are Lisa: how would you interpret the event? Christians would thank God for Fido the rat! Materialists would invoke 'luck' or 'chance'. Buddhists might mention having 'a good karma'. Pagans might chirp – "you should thank your lucky stars". Let's probe a bit deeper about biblical teaching.

Just as Fido unexpectedly rescued Lisa's family from fire and untimely death, so God rescues humans by sending His Son Jesus into the world. But a note of caution must be sounded. The gospel story is deeply personal but it isn't personalistic. Biblical salvation is not God's rescue of individuals from the world, but God's rescue of the whole created order. Lisa, kids and gran are not snatched away to Mars or Jupiter! They do not vanish into an unseen 'spiritual' realm. In the fulness of time they come back to their house that has been rebuilt, replastered, repainted and restored; a home where Fido can carry on being… Fido, the lovable rat and hopefully enjoy additional Chinese treats. In biblical terms God is busy rescuing His broken creation from sin, evil and darkness.

Big Story in Bible

At Christmas time it’s worth thinking about the Big Story we find in the Bible. The Christian story can be told in terms of a Six Act Drama.

Act 1: God establishes his kingdom – Creation

God creates a bobby-dazzler of a world. Ferrets, weasels and stoats are just some of the many creatures that God has crafted with great delight. God then commissions humans, the crown of his creation, to care for and to unfold this amazing cosmos. In this story humans are not merely machines à la Thomas Hobbes (£4.99 per item) but rather we are dignified and given extraordinary worth by God, the Creator. We are appointed as the Image of God and we have a task to reflect God’s goodness and wisdom to the rest of creation. We live in this peaceable and good-humoured kingdom with a loving and artistically creative God. We know God is imaginative by considering the works of His hands. Just as we admire Bill the Bard for his cracking plays so we can admire God for his stunning creation. According to Psalm 104 whales reveal something of God’s wisdom and glory by frolicking in the sea.

Act 2: Rebellion in the kingdom – Fall

Unfortunately the plot goes horribly wrong when humans break the everlasting covenant/deal/treaty. Humans turn away from God and worship created things. We bow down before the crocodile and worship it. We prostrate ourselves before worthless idols and gods. Everything starts to go pear-shaped. Instead of valuing and honouring all people as God’s image bearers we turn some people into slaves, commodities and 'objects to consume'. Badgers are no longer rejoicing and dancing merry jigs. The peaceable kingdom has morphed into a warzone. Humans, the key players in the drama, are no longer focusing on such innocent pastimes as Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo. Now they are killing, raping and torturing each other.

Act 3: The King chooses Israel – Redemption initiated

But God does not abandon His kingdom (creation project) and his unruly, defiant and rebellious subjects (us). He raises up a holy people (Israel) and shows them how to live in ways that are good and life-affirming. Israel is given the task of revealing God to the rest of the world by loving justice, mercy and responsible stewardship of the bobby-dazzler creation. Unfortunately Israel fails miserably in this holy calling. Instead of worshipping and loving the true God they bow down and worship false gods like Baal, Asherah and Molech. These gods demand human sacrifice and all kinds of superstition, abuse and savagery.

Act 4: The coming of the King – Redemption accomplished

And so God sends his Son the Lord Jesus Christ to bring the story to a dramatic climax. He fulfils the calling of Israel. He lives in perfect fellowship with His Father by obeying all aspects of the covenant. He announces God's kingdom and confronts the devil, his arch enemy, who has been deceiving and enslaving the King’s subjects. Satan thoroughly enjoys ruining peoples' lives by adroitly sponsoring idolatry and false worship of created things like money, sex and power. Every murder, every theft, every rape is greeted with heartfelt approval by demonic powers. Jesus, God's Son, the Word made flesh, dies on the cross and comes back from the dead. These two pivotal historical events launch God’s kingdom and signal Satan's demise.

Act 5: Spreading the news of the King – The mission of the Church

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, God's kingdom begins to advance into the devil's territory. At Pentecost we see God's new people, the Body of Christ emerging as they are filled with the Holy Spirit. People are now turning away from false gods and false stories and turning to Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The gospel message urges humans to repent, believe, get baptised and enter God’s kingdom. We are all living in this fifth act and we are called to improvise faithfully with our gifts and talents.

Act 6: The return of the King – Redemption completed

One day Jesus will return and bring His Kingdom in its fullness to the earth. There will be a great day of judgment. God will judge everyone who has ever lived. Those who have honoured and obeyed God will inherit the renewed creation but the wicked will be unable to enter the New Jerusalem. God will not scrap His broken creation; rather he will heal it, restore it and renew it. The lion will lie down with the lamb and ferrets will stop being beastly to rabbits. In this perfected kingdom humans will be able to slide down the necks of friendly and good-humoured brontosauruses. And King Jesus, the Word made flesh, will rule forever in His kingdom without any opposition from evil-doers and demonic powers.

Read more in this short paper on the Bible in six acts.

Report on Debate in Cumbria with 'Sceptics'

Here is an eyewitness account from our great friend Henry Vyner-Brooks as to how the RealityBites talks/seminars went down in Cumbria. He was a superb host along with his wonderful wife Ruth and he helped at every event!

It was just so amazing to have Mark from RealityBites come to Cumbria; in little over 24 hours he had spoken to a church group, at three secondary schools, and then also debated the dangers of scientific materialism with the Cumbrian sceptics society. The kids and teachers lapped it up, and the disciples of Dawkins gave their respect, even admitting the weakness of their position. It was awesome to see intelligent, thinking men, finally meeting a Christian they could respect and dialogue with – why isn’t the church doing more of this? Can we clone Mr Roques please?

At the Cumbrian Sceptic Society I delivered a thirty minute lecture which explained Hobbes' materialist worldview.

Here is a simple summary of Hobbes' materialist creed.

  1. God barely exists so don't worry about him.
  2. Everything is physical.
  3. You are a selfish, calculating machine.
  4. As a machine you have no intrinsic value.
  5. The Market, alone, decides what you are worth.
  6. Some people are worth a great deal (the great and the good) and others (the poor and the weak) are worth very little.
  7. So everything is a commodity and this includes people.

I argued that materialism as a theory about reality leads to the consumerist way of life. If we believe that everything is just physical then enjoying material possessions is all that matters. And people easily morph into 'things' and commodities… hence "Tarzan" the human trafficker who buys women and then makes a fortune exploiting them as sex slaves.

I then explained how this materialist worldview impacts celebrities, scientists and philosophers. I mentioned Imelda Marcos, Russell Brand, Richard Dawkins, Eric Pianka, Lothar von Trotha, Marie Stopes, Peter Singer and Tarzan the human trafficker.

I was very surprised by the friendly and appreciative reception that the 'sceptics' showed towards me. I had expected a lot of sneering, rage and accusation but they were very respectful and even conceded quite a few points. No-one was converted to the Christian faith during the three hour session but good seeds have been planted.

The best bit for me was when the leader of the 'sceptic' group, Tony, said that he found my presentation 'scarily challenging'. And at the end of the meeting he said the evening had been 'brilliant'. Three other atheists said similar things to me. It was a very encouraging time.

Anybody who would like a free copy of my presentation needs only to contact me. If anybody can help me to improve it I would be over the moon.

Amazing story to teach Isaiah 11:6-9

Chito and Pocho

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:9

Sometime in the early 1990s a 16 foot long crocodile lay severely injured on the bank of the Parismina River in Costa Rica in Central America. The crocodile had been shot by a farmer who was fed up with the beast snaffling his cows. Fortunately for the afflicted crocodile, a kind-hearted local fisherman named Chito decided to rescue the large reptile. Chito took the croc back to his home and nursed him back to health.

During the recovery process, Chito stayed by Pocho's side, even sleeping with him at night. 'I just wanted him to feel that someone loved him, that not all humans are bad', Chito says. 'I love all animals, especially ones that have suffered. It meant a lot of sacrifice. I had to be there every day'.

When Pocho had regained his health and vigour, Chito took him back along the river to release him but Pocho was having none of it! Cheekily he followed Chito home!

As their friendship developed over the years, Chito and Pocho became so intimate and at ease with each other that they would spend hours each day swimming and playing together in a large pond on Chito’s farm.

Surprisingly Pocho was placid and gentle with Chito and would even respond to his name when called. Chito encouraged Pocho to do tricks such as winking his one good eye, lifting his head and tail out of the water, rolling over and permitting Chito to stick his head inside Pocho’s jaw. Thousands of tourists, boffins and scientists flocked to see the two friends cavorting together. They were gobsmacked but delighted!

Sadly in 2011, Pocho died of natural causes at the age of approximately 60. Chito was distraught by Pocho's death but he continues to celebrate Pocho’s life.

This story can really help us to see God's good purposes for His creation. One day the lion will lie down with the lamb and we will swim happily with crocs!

Jimmy Saville and the Marquis de Sade

The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) was a thinker and pornographic writer who would have appealed to Jimmy Saville. We could argue that both men lived in a similar story/narrative. Perhaps we could say that Thomas Hobbes and his many disciples had 'seduced' both men! Mugged by the materialist creed?

I do not know if Saville read the Marquis but their faith in 'nature' is strikingly similar. There is only one difference that I can detect. Saville claimed to be a Roman Catholic but De Sade openly despised Roman Catholicism.

In his writings De Sade talks about 'pleasure's divine laws' and he urges his readers to sacrifice everything to the god of pleasure! Jimmy would have found this congenial.

De Sade's worldview can be summarized thus:

  1. God does not exist.
  2. Humans are machines.
  3. Everything we do is strictly determined by the laws of Physics.
  4. You cannot help it, then, if you are sexually perverse or depraved.
  5. Nature is our only ethical guide.
  6. Humans are no more significant than insects.
  7. Since Nature uses matter from dead life forms to create new ones, crime, destruction, and death are necessary and pleasing to her.
  8. Therefore murder, torture and sexual debauchery are good.
  9. When we die we rot and our bodies are eaten by worms/rats.

For me what is significant about the Marquis de Sade's worldview is that human beings are incurably religious – "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25, NIV). It is possible for humans to worship 'pleasure' and for this to function as an idol or false god in their lives.

RealityBites in New Zealand

It's been a really fabulous time for RB in New Zealand.

In partnership with the International Association for the Promotion of Christian Higher Education (IAPCHE) and the Bethlehem Tertiary Institute in Taraunga, I delivered six workshops to about 30 academics from Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and Tonga. Other speakers included Dr John Kok from the USA, Ken Dickens and Chris Parker from Oz and Dr J Dinakarlal from India.

I was told by many of the academics present that our style is 'refreshing', 'imaginative' and 'cheeky'. One person said that the experience had been a 'treat' for her! To be frank and candid I was overwhelmed by the very positive responses to our work in the land of the kiwis. Being a bit thick and ignorant I hadn't realised that kiwis are endangered flightless birds that are indigenous to New Zealand.

Thank you very much to our dear friend and conference host Dr. Bev Norsworthy who did a superb job organising the conference along with Michelle Wyllie. Bev's husband, John was also very friendly and hospitable in showing me around the northern island. Apologies if I have missed anyone out!

RealityBites goes to New Zealand

Tomorrow I am flying to New Zealand to lead six workshops on biblical ways of knowing.

I will be launching a blistering attack on Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Jimmy Tarbuck et al and will also be exploring a Christian view of knowledge which honours midwives, blacksmiths, artists, cobblers and nomads as well as academics and boffins.

I will also focus on pedagogy and imagination in teaching/facilitating learning that honours the complex ways that God has made us.

I am doing this work in partnership with the International Association for the Promotion of Christian Higher Education (IAPCHE) and the Bethlehem Tertiary Institute in Taraunga.

Academics from Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and even Tonga will be attending.

Please do come if you are free and available.

Black Magic at the Court of Louis the 14th

The dismal and ugly consequences of marrying platonic views of the soul with Christian teaching is most evident in the following 17th century black magic story.

The Marquise de Montespan (1640-1707) was considered breathtakingly beautiful by the standards of her day. She had thick, curly hair that fell in ringlets around her face so charmingly that even the Queen of France copied her hairstyle. Her eyes were striking and blue, her lips full and her figure sensuously curvaceous. She was the posh Cheryl Cole of the French court during the reign of Louis the 14th.

The famous Sun King found the Marquise exciting, dangerous and alluring; her love of mockery, infectious laughter and cheeky badinage were engaging, as were her intelligence and flirtatious interplay.

Athenais (as she was also known) had an extravagant and demanding nature and possessed enough chutzpah to usually get what she wanted. She was 'high maintenance' and her extensive apartments were filled with pet animals and thousands of flowers; she had a private gallery, and costly jewels were showered upon her by Louis.

She was given the nickname Quanto ('How much', in Italian) by her aristocratic contemporaries. Indeed she was highly discriminating as regards the quality of gems, returning them to the king if they did not meet her demanding standards.

It was during the early days of her love affair with Louis that she met an infamous sorceress, Catherine Monvoisin who provided her with aphrodisiacs and magical spells by which to entice Louis into her amorous cobweb. But this amateur, half-hearted dalliance with the occult did not fully sate her romantic ambitions.

In 1666, Madame de Montespan was increasingly desperate to become the king's official mistress and so she allowed a renegade priest, Etienne Guibourg, to perform a black mass over her nude body! Catherine Monvoisin provided the infant that was sacrificed during the ceremony. In July 1667, Madame de Montespan became the king's new mistress even though Louise de la Valiere, the king's first mistress, was carrying his child, Louis de Bourbon, Comte de Vermandois.

It is fascinating from a worldview perspective that the Marquise and Catherine Monvoisin (1640-1680) both had a perverted view of the Roman Catholic sacraments. They soothed their troubled consciences by the belief that so long as the child had been baptised, it was a sinless creature which, when killed, would go straight to heaven. Monvoisin once said – "How fortunate! The child was able to be baptised!"

Monvoisin is said to have been very particular that any child which she handled which was born alive should be baptised before it was 'disposed of'. A lurid light is thrown upon this belief by the slang name by which these midwives, who were prepared for a price to do away with unwanted babies, were known. They were called 'faiseuses d'anges': 'makers of angels'.