Monday, 25 June 2007

The love that dare not speak its name

There is a fascinating exchange on homosexuality and Christian (specifically Catholic) doctrine here, in a recent Commonweal magazine.

The correspondents are, if you can believe it, a straight male theology professor (Luke Timothy Johnson) who advocates acceptance of homosexual relationships, and a lesbian freelance journalist (Eve Tushnet), a recent convert to Catholicism, who stands for the traditional position of the church.

Despite what I initially thought, both of them seem to be on the level. And despite what you might think, both of them are worth reading.

Professor Johnson's responsibly liberal position involves a certain amount of --- let us be frank --- special pleading and tendentious argument. (The references to slavery, for example, are depressingly rote and tone-deaf. If that's not already clear to you, I suggest reading The Letter of Paul to Philemon and then trying to square it against Johnson's statement on the apostle's views.) But Johnson is an unlucky man. He indulges in much less special pleading or tendentious argument than you might expect, and he is clearly trying to be straightforward and plain-speaking. His concern for being faithful to Christian revelation, and faithful to the phenomena, is manifest. And he has put all of his cards on the table, including those which count against his own argument: a refreshing thing, that, in these polemical times. In isolation I would have called his contribution to the discussion a good one, for these and other reasons, but he has had the misfortune to be up against someone who completely outclasses him.

Ms Tushnet is altogether extraordinary. She is rigorous. She is open. She is clear on what is secure in her own understanding, and what is provisional. Honest and critical about her own experience, and speaking with what anyone in our culture would recognise as a kind of authority, she finds that she needs to listen to what Christian (and specifically Catholic) tradition has to say. Reading her words, I am reminded --- quite outside my own experience --- of why I take the Scripture seriously. Of why I take Christian doctrine seriously. This does not happen often.

Her position is a classic example of faith seeking understanding, the great model of Christian thought. Prof. Johnson by contrast is trying to achieve a final position --- to get in all the data --- and one feels the strain. In fairness to him, he will probably think the same thing in five years' time. Ms Tushnet may well think something quite different in five months' time, and as a scientist I can't help feeling that that is an indulgence. But I will still listen willingly to whatever she has to say.


Stepping back from the detail of Prof. Johnson's and Ms Tushnet's positions, there is something deeply Catholic about their whole discussion. I mean that in a good way. It respects reason (and reasonableness), tradition, experience, insight, and beauty, in a way that many Protestant discussions do not. It takes difficulty and obscurity for granted. It is recognisably about a world that real people live in.

As an Anglican, I have the privilege admiring the (Roman) Catholic church from a safe distance. This is something worth doing, and something that my fellow evangelical Christians are depressingly reluctant to do. The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, is an honourable exception in this matter, and I note that it is a brave man who would accuse him of being insufficiently Protestant. So what, exactly, is everyone else's problem?

[Acknowledgement: I am indebted to Ben Myers, and his estimable blog Faith and Theology, for a pointer to the Commonweal article.]

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Pheasant Plucking

This afternoon on ABC Classic FM they played The Pheasant Plucking Song. If you're going to indulge in innuendo, you might as well go all-out ...

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Cows With Guns (in claymation)

If you've never heard the comic classic Cows With Guns --- and there's a whole generation that seems not to know it --- there's a claymation adaption on YouTube with the original song as its soundtrack. Some of the claymation is a bit random, but still it's great to see/hear this song doing the rounds again in another medium.

In other claymation news, I only recently discovered the [adult swim] clip depicting What really happened after the Death Star blew up. Hysterically funny.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Back to Jupiter

There is now a proper website for Juno, the second in NASA's New Frontiers programme of medium-class, PI-led missions. NF is a good and necessary scheme: it fills the gap between the cheerful Discovery missions and the seriously expensive flagship efforts like Galileo and Cassini.

Juno seems like an intelligent, practical way to address the gaps in our knowledge of Jupiter: after the Sun, it's the dominant object in the Solar System, and it deserves a second orbiter. Juno is set to use a polar orbit, and a clever set of instruments, to complement Galileo's work and to further chip away at our ignorance.

In other planetary programme news, MESSENGER, on its way to Mercury, made its second flyby of Venus during this last week (one of many gravity assist manoeuvres to get it into Mercury orbit without breaking the bank). En passant it made some cooperative measurements with the ESA's Venus Express, currently in orbit around Earth's evil twin. It's good to see the inner solar system getting some attention as well.

Three cheers for the SES

The local branch of the New South Wales State Emergency Service spent the better part of Saturday at my place, together with a very big commercial crane, lifting a tree off the roof of my neighbours' townhouse. To be precise, the tree was leaning against the edge of the second-storey roof, having taken out a fence, the gutter, about ten tiles, and associated support beams. One metre further, and my neighbours' second bedroom would have been smashed open and under an inch of rainwater.

The SES generally has been busy in the last couple of days, with wild weather all along the coast and elsewhere. The rain is scheduled to last for at least another week, so there will be no rest for the wicked.

My last dealings with the SES were at a Cave Rescue Weekend more than fifteen years ago, in a late-adolescent flirtation (which would be surprising to some of my more recent friends) with the insanely dangerous pastime of recreational caving. In general, as a city boy, I don't have much cause to cross these guys' path, but I have always liked them. Even in this day and age, the work is voluntary. Respect.