Reflections on Christmas's past & present
20 December 2022
TUMBY BAY - As I write this, we’ve well and truly entered the dead zone of the Christmas-New Year holidays.
The world’s problems haven’t gone away but this is a time of maximum ignorance and indulgence.
A time of the year when we ignore our dire existence on the planet and revel in the inane commercialism that annually accompanies this holiday break.
A time when we indulge in an orgy of overeating, drinking and maniacal shopping for junk that will probably be discarded in the early months of next year.
We’ll literally spend billions of dollars and quickly look away from media reports of starvation in the horn of Africa and that insane war in Eastern Europe.
Excuse my negativity but I’ve come to dread this time of the year.
For me it encapsulates the sorry state in which humanity finds itself in this late stage of capitalism when anything and everything has been commodified in the pursuit of profit.
And excuse me for trotting out the old line about being old enough to remember when it wasn’t like this at all.
Once upon a time Christmas and New Year were about catching up with family and celebrating all the good things in life that didn’t require dollars to purchase.
It was a time of giving, not just of presents but of love and care.
More often than not that care extended beyond our immediate families and was bestowed upon friends and neighbours and even to others we thought needed a little joy in their lives.
It was also a time of setting aside petty squabbles and embracing a brand new year free of animosity and argument.
For some of us it was a time of celebrating human goodness, whether in the form of religious belief or simple moral persuasion.
Except for very young children, we all knew that Santa Claus was a fraud and many of us also knew that Jesus, whose birth Christmas purports to celebrate, was a simple man of good mien whose life had been turned into a supernatural myth.
Yet we went along with it because of the joy it brought to children and adults the world over.
It was a time of redemption, perhaps best personified by Charles Dickens in his 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, which recounts the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, a cold-hearted miser who despises Christmas, into a decent human being.
For a long time Dicken’s story of Scrooge was the defining tale of Christmas in the English-speaking world.
Christmas is now primarily inhabited by unredeemed Scrooges intent upon making a dollar out of a gullible population that has bought their cry of eat, eat and spend, spend to be happy.
What good is goodwill, say the Scrooges, if it can’t be monetised?
For me Christmas and New Year is now a time to hunker down until all the silliness and depravity has abated, hopefully by the end of January.
In the meantime don’t eat too much, don’t spend too much, especially of you can’t afford it, and perhaps, if you feel inclined, reach out a hand to those around you who are having a hard time of it.
Do that and you might just experience what Christmas is supposed to be all about.
Here you go Arthur:
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 22 December 2022 at 05:44 AM
In discussing the probability that the rules that govern this universe are a matter of chance Arthur is repeating an argument perhaps put forward most eloquently by Professor Paul Davies in his book 'The Mind of God'. I commend this book to believers and non-believers alike.
There is a lively discussion amongst cosmologists about whether this particular universe is a singular entity or an endlessly cycling entity or one of many similar entities that have existed and still exist.
The many universes idea is associated with String Theory, which is one of the more popular and plausible attempts to reconcile the rules that govern the universe we can perceive and the very different rules that govern matter and energy at the quantum level.
However, it may be fairly said that the science surrounding just how this universe came into existence remains highly uncertain.
Arthur quotes one of the popular philosophical arguments to prove the existence of God, commonly known as the "First Mover' argument. This attractive but logically flawed argument postulates that God is the 'uncaused causer' of the universe.
One obvious problem with this argument is that the true nature of the 'uncaused causer' can never be known through any scientific or logical or philosophical means. Why must the 'uncaused causer' necessarily be God as conceived by the religions that insist that there is only one true God? Why could it not be the Great Cocker Spaniel Goddess or Mithradates or Zeus?
Arthur is, of course, entitled to his beliefs and if they bring him comfort all well and good. Problems only arise when people decide that they must impose their version of God on someone who does not share their belief system even to the extent of imprisoning, torturing and murdering those who do not recognise their version of 'the truth'.
I do not think of myself as an atheist but more as a universalist.
My belief, based upon very solid science, is that the several quadrillion atoms that make up each and every one of us are truly immortal and remain an intrinsic part of the universe long after we have ceased to be. Upon our death they simply disassemble themselves from the organic form that is us and return to the universe as something else.
In this sense at least we remain, indirectly at least, forever part of the universe.
I derive a certain comfort from this notion but do not expect to be taken into some non-corporeal heaven to commune with God.
If that should happen I intend to demand a full explanation of just why God has chosen such a bizarre and convoluted way to organise his heavenly realm that otherwise operates accordingly to the exquisitely refined rules identified by Roger Penrose, Paul Davies and many others besides.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 21 December 2022 at 05:32 PM
Penrose's Number. Hmm....
Charles Spurgeon. I think he might have forgotten all the bad things perpetrated in the name of Christianity, particularly the wars.
As for me, I've known and still know some fine Christian people who I admire a lot, not least a number of priests and pastors and a particular French Canadian nun I met at Bolivip and a Lutheran pastor who was once a coastwatcher.
So please have a joyful Christmas in the spirit it was intended Arthur.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 21 December 2022 at 02:23 PM
Ok Phil! It's the Taffy Christian who has taken your second bigger clickbait.
I swam around in the murky waters of your 13 December diatribe against St Patrick's ill effects on the Emerald Isle, PNG and the world in general but I am one of the (Acts 9v5) nasty pricks you are kicking against even though or perhaps because it is the last week before Christmas.
Phil to get out of your personal sloth of despond you could do worse than read about 'Penrose's Number', which I had never heard about until researching and meditating what I could reply to you today.
Below is a snippet.
2022/11/14 The Harmony of Scientific and Philosophical Facts downloaded from www.catholicexchange.com by FX Cronin.
In the early seventies, scientists studying the many aspects of the physical realities of the universe began to discover the confluence and simultaneity of a variety of physical constants that made some researchers postulate the possibility that the universe was tuned for biological life, particularly human life.
They identified a few physical constants of the physical universe that were absolutely necessary for human life to exist. They called their theory, the 'anthropic principle'.
Over the ensuing decades the number of crucial constants has grown to over one hundred apparently 'tuned' constants present in the universe that make human life a realistic and real possibility.
The fine tuning of these constants is so crucial that if a mere exponent of any of these crucial constants was changed the universe would not exist as it is, nor would human life be possible.
Notice the appeal here is to scientific facts and the systemic interrelatedness of these crucial constants.
Here is an appeal to science and to mathematics, both of which strongly imply a possible intention or plan. Or, at the very least, a highly unlikely probability that all this 'tuning' happened by accident, by mere chance.
To take this a bit further, a scientist named Roger Penrose calculated the probability that the “tuning” of the universe, such as it is, could have happened accidentally.
He wanted to examine the real probability that all this apparent complex tuning was reasonably explainable through the accidental processes of an unguided, mechanistic universe.
His mathematical probability became known as Penrose’s Number. It indicated the possibility of the universe’s tuning occurring accidentally was 1 in 1010/123. That’s one in ten to the tenth to the one hundred twenty third power. (10^ 10 x 10^123)....
That number was so infinitesimally small, making an accidentally tuned universe all but impossible.
To give you a sense of how small the probability is that there is a chance, a probability that the universe came about by accidental processes, the probability is so small that we cannot even write the number.
We must resort to description of this vast number, for it is almost unimaginable. For the probability of the universe with all its fine tuning came about accidentally is stated as 1 in 10 followed by more zeroes than there are molecules in the universe. Crazy, right?
So, the possibility that this fine tuning of the universe for human life, based on scientific findings thus far, was accidental is a mathematical impossibility.
Philosophy too, through the raw power of reason, tells us that the law of cause and effect requires an 'uncaused causer'. So, philosophy and mathematics affirm this reality, as do the physical sciences that provide the scientific evidence of the tuning of the cosmos.
Here we see mathematical probability and the logic of an 'uncaused causer' and the current science agreeing on the first cause to our cosmos.
But, here we also see science’s limitation to physical phenomenon telling us we can only have an infinite regression despite scientific findings to the contrary.
But it isn’t that science is wrong. Rather, it means science can only operate on physical realities.
Phil, being guilty of so many sins in my lifetime I'm am the least worthy to criticise anyone but believing in the doctrine of Christ's forgiveness being available for all I must close my puny efforts with part of a sermon couched in Victorian era-spik in 1866 by Charles Spurgeon:
“O sensible, thoughtful man, kick against the pricks no more. If you do not become a Christian, do not be a persecutor. There is no need to make your eternal portion worse.
"Suppose you think that the gospel is not true, at any rate do not fight against it, for if it be of God you cannot prevail against it, and if it be not it will go down without you.
"Do not, however, think that we ask you to cease from wrath because we are afraid of you. The gospel is like an anvil; you may hammer it and it will break your hammer, and itself remain unbroken.
"You may stumble against this stone and you will be broken, but you cannot break or remove the stone. Woe unto you if that stone fall upon you, for on whomsoever this stone shall fall it will grind him to powder. Stop and think.
"If we can get men to think we may have good hope of them. At any rate religion is worth a thought. If you must and will go to hell, go there with your eyes open, and do not be deceived."
No matter how you view it, have a blessed Christmas Phil.
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 21 December 2022 at 12:01 AM
As Phil says, "If you feel inclined, reach out a hand to those around you who are having a hard time of it." Amen. Happy Christmas.
Posted by: Garrett Roche | 20 December 2022 at 08:38 PM