Thursday, 26 September 2013

Tweeting Jesus?

Was Jesus the world's first tweeter? Well, yes according to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Vatican's Council for Culture.

Ravasi says that Jesus "used tweets before everyone else, with elementary phrases made up of fewer than 45 characters like 'Love one another' "

Firstly, the cardinal is just plain wrong here. Even leaving aside the considerable difficulties in figuring out exactly what he did and didn't say, Jesus was hardly the first person to express himself using pithy sayings - there are plenty attributed to the Buddha ("The mind is everything. What you think, you become") and Socrates ("The only thing I know is that I know nothing"), both of whom lived centuries before Jesus.

Secondly, am I the only person who finds all comparisons between ancient and and modern things somewhat grating? A couple of years ago, I watched a documentary in which a TV historian described medieval castles as being "the aircraft carriers of their day." Really? Did medieval castles float? Or cruise at 30 knots? Could you even use them to launch a squadron of F/A 18 Super Hornets?

Dover Castle: Cruising Speed 0 knots. (Photo: Wikipedia)
So in the case of our tweeting Jesus, I'm not sure how you can compare oral messages, heard and passed on by perhaps a handful of people at a time, to a mass medium like Twitter. In the few seconds it takes his publicist to type a tweet, Justin Bieber can tell 45 million people how exciting his breakfast was - a figure roughly equivalent to the entire population of the Roman world in Jesus' time.

There's also a hint of desperation about these comparisons, as if the person making it is hoping that the perceived coolness of the modern will somehow rub off on the ancient. In Ravasi's case, the logic seems go something like this: "Twitter is cool and trendy. Jesus is a bit like Twitter. So Jesus must be cool and trendy too. Please come back to church."

Anyway, don't all the cool kids use Snapchat these days?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Russell-Copleston Debate Linked and Mapped

I've found this link to a public domain audio file of the famous debate between atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell and Catholic priest F.C. Copleston (who, as far as I know, is unique in the history of philosophy for having a name that sounds almost exactly like a non-league football team).

Like other links I've found, the portion of the debate we hear covers a discussion on the cosmological argument, focusing on contingency and necessity. From Copleston's comment at the end of the clip, it seems that they then went on to talk about religious experience. I'd be interested to know if a link of the full debate exists anywhere?

Below, I've also shared a mind map I drew of the some of the key points in the debate.

Asking students who they think "won" the radio debate is always an interesting exercise. I'd say that overall, my students have tended to think that Copleston shades it. Any views or comments on this point are welcome!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Teen Exorcists

How could a TV programme called Teen Exorcists not be on some level awesome? This BBC show follows three karate-chopping all-American girls as they tour the UK, visiting churches, exorcising evil spirits and generally kicking demon butt.

Teen Exorcists
Teen Exorcists. Photo: BBC
As you might expect from BBC Three, the focus is more on the girls and their unusual lifestyles than on the evidence for the reality (or otherwise) of evil spiritual entities. 

The show does raise some interesting questions about how popular culture might influence religious beliefs and practice: for a group who claim to reject much that the modern world stands for (they see Harry Potter as dangerous black magic), the three girls seem to have more than a hint of Buffy The Vampire Slayer about them...

The show is available on iPlayer until September 18th.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Philosophy Quotes You Should Know #1

Quotation Mark
Philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell, after being asked what he would say if he died and was brought face to face with God in the afterlife:
"I shall say 'God, why did you make the evidence for your existence so unconvincing' "

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Anselm's Ontological Argument Made Simple

It's that teaching the ontological argument time of year again. This is a little chart I use to try to make the logic and flow of the argument a bit easier to follow:

Anselm's ontological argument flowchart

HT: C. Ransom

Monday, 2 September 2013

Simon Schama: The Story of the Jews

Simon Schama: The Story of the Jews

Historian Simon Schama has a new TV show which started yesterday, The Story of the Jews, which should be a great watch for students of A-level History or Religious Studies. 

Last night's episode looked at the beginnings of the Jewish story, and the emergence, around 3,000 years ago, of the Jews as a distinctive people. You can watch it here on BBC iPlayer. Schama also briefly discusses Freud (who we look at in our unit of work on Psychology and Religion).