Daily Archives: June 15, 2021

(CEN) Michael Fuller and David Jasper–Being human in the 21st century UK

Who am I? What am I? Humans have been asking these questions almost from the moment they were first capable of framing them. For the Christian, they are questions with added dimensions to them, because our faith prompts us to ask, who am I, and what am I before God, the Originator of everything that is? And those added dimensions include ethical ones, as we ask the further question: How am I to become the person that God wishes me to be?

Such reflections prompted members of the Doctrine Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church to explore how we might respond to them in our current circumstances: in short, how we might start to frame a twenty-first century Christian anthropology.

As someone who has been engaged (Michael Fuller) at different times both with scientific research and with ordained ministry in busy parishes, and who now teaches in a university in the field of science-and-religion studies, the question Who am I? is one I have been privileged to look at from a number of different perspectives as I reflect on my own experiences, and on those of the people around me. The Church, as the community of the faithful, has many wonderful resources to help people considering the question, Who am I? – from the Scriptures, to the writings of theologians, sages and mystics, to the lived experience of walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Those lived experiences, and the internalised wisdom of our tradition, are perhaps what help us most in forming a response to the question. But it seems to me that we should not neglect the knowledge that comes from outside our tradition in shaping such responses. In particular, the sciences have generated a huge amount of knowledge about what it is to be a human being: they show us to be evolved, biological creatures, formed by our genetic heritage and by our environment to behave in particular ways.

My thoughts centre on the ways in which the sciences place parameters around how we think of ourselves as living beings, in particular when we come to think about ourselves as somehow ‘special’ within the created order (which our being in the ‘Image of God’ surely suggests). How are we to think of ourselves in such terms when we share so much genetic information with other creatures (including our prehistoric hominin ancestors)? Are there particular aspects of our behaviour that mark us out as unique – are we the only creatures on our planet capable of prayer, for example (or, indeed, of sin)? Is it likely that life forms like ourselves might exist elsewhere in the universe, and if so what would that tell us about ourselves? As we create more and more complex, and more and more capable, artificial intelligences, what does that tell us about ourselves? And what might we say regarding the possibility of a ‘post-human’ future, in which people might be genetically and cybernetically enhanced to achieve feats completely beyond those of which we are currently capable? And would such people even be ‘human’?

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books

(Canon J John) Words of caution about the ‘woke’ revolution

A second word of caution concerns attitudes of wokeness. I find a troubling naivety within the movement with its apparent view that sexism only occurs with men, and racism only with white people. The sad reality is that all human beings have a tendency to be unjust to others. As the Bible says well, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23 NIV). This means that all human beings treat other human beings unfairly. All of us love others inadequately in our personal lives and in our political and communal structures. Studies show that all human beings hold some form of conscious or unconscious bias. It is part of the fallen and broken world which goes against God’s original design of perfect love for all. We need to acknowledge that division and bias runs through every human heart. As I have often said, ‘At the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.’

My third area of caution is the motives of wokeness. At the heart of the woke movement seems to be a bitter mindset that delights in finding breaches of its moral code. The fuel for wokeness often seems to be anger: something seen not just in violent demonstrations but in the hunting out and pursuit of offenders. Journalists, executives, celebrities and even preachers increasingly find themselves carefully checking what they write or say, lest those committed to a woke ideology slander them on social media and then at their door. People are tagged as either ‘woke’ or ‘unwoke’ and are not seen as whole, complex human beings with moral and immoral biases. This kind of generalisation about a person is the very posture ‘wokeness’ decries.

I offer a word of caution on the actions of wokeness. With some justification, wokeness has been criticised for mainly being words and not actions. Certainly, while there’s much to be said for evaluating the sins of the past with justice there’s much more to be said for seeking to remedy the sins of the present with grace. Although in theory I applaud the demands for reparations over past historic injustices, I find them problematic in practice. Let me give an example. I am a Greek Cypriot, and over history Cyprus has been looted, colonised and oppressed by Romans, Arabs, Turks and the British. So who do we Cypriots take to court? What is needed is for us to come together to work for a more just society today. We need to repent of the past and then work for a more just society. Followers of Jesus should be on the front line of speaking out against racism, disparity and oppression.

The message of wokeness calls on all people and the whole of society to treat every human being with love, dignity and justice (which, paradoxically, is something they are not doing). This reconciling message lies at the very heart of God, exemplified in the person of Jesus. In this sense we all should be awakened and we also need to acknowledge that there are significant aspects missing in the woke movement. Jesus’ final prayer was that his followers would all be one … one human race, one human family, one church. This requires speaking the truth in love and an abundance of patience and grace.

Ultimately, then, I feel that wokeness needs to be greeted by wariness. Although it has much that is good in it I cannot help but sense that at its heart lies an aching void. The concept of ‘being woke’ is an attempt to create moral boundaries but without God.

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Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Ministry of the Ordained, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

(NYT) Jane Brody–The Health Benefits of Coffee

Americans sure love their coffee. Even last spring when the pandemic shut down New York, nearly every neighborhood shop that sold takeout coffee managed to stay open, and I was amazed at how many people ventured forth to start their stay-at-home days with a favorite store-made brew.

One elderly friend who prepandemic had traveled from Brooklyn to Manhattan by subway to buy her preferred blend of ground coffee arranged to have it delivered. “Well worth the added cost,” she told me. I use machine-brewed coffee from pods, and last summer when it seemed reasonably safe for me to shop I stocked up on a year’s supply of the blends I like. (Happily, the pods are now recyclable.)

All of us should be happy to know that whatever it took to secure that favorite cup of Joe may actually have helped to keep us healthy. The latest assessments of the health effects of coffee and caffeine, its main active ingredient, are reassuring indeed. Their consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of all kinds of ailments, including Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, gallstones, depression, suicide, cirrhosis, liver cancer, melanoma and prostate cancer.

In fact, in numerous studies conducted throughout the world, consuming four or five eight-ounce cups of coffee (or about 400 milligrams of caffeine) a day has been associated with reduced death rates. In a study of more than 200,000 participants followed for up to 30 years, those who drank three to five cups of coffee a day, with or without caffeine, were 15 percent less likely to die early from all causes than were people who shunned coffee. Perhaps most dramatic was a 50 percent reduction in the risk of suicide among both men and women who were moderate coffee drinkers, perhaps by boosting production of brain chemicals that have antidepressant effects.

Read it all.

Posted in Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine

(Politico EU) Meet Wu Dao 2.0, the Chinese AI model making the West sweat

A new artificial intelligence model developed by Chinese researchers is performing untold feats with image creation and natural language processing — making rivals in Europe and the U.S. nervous about falling behind.

The model, dubbed Wu Dao 2.0, is able to understand everything people say — the grammar too — but can also recognize images and generate realistic pictures based on descriptions. It can also write essays and poems in traditional Chinese, as well as predict the 3D structures of proteins, POLITICO’S AI: Decoded reported.

Developed by the government-funded Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence and unveiled last week, Wu Dao 2.0 appears to be among the world’s most sophisticated AI language models.

Wu Dao 2.0’s creators say it’s 10 times more powerful than its closest rival GPT-3, developed by the U.S. firm OpenAI.

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Posted in China, Science & Technology

(ES) Grenfell tragedy a ‘story of careless decisions,’ says bishop Graham Tomlin

The bishop recalled his memories of the day of the fire, when there was “confusion, anxiety and fear, trying to bring a sense of comfort and hope, all the time trying to process how something like this fire could happen in a sophisticated, supposedly safe city like London in the 21st century”.

During his sermon, Dr Tomlin described the story as “not a happy one”.

He said: “It’s a story of careless decisions, of regulations ignored, of an industry that seemed at times more interested in making profits or selling products than keeping people safe. And of course, the whole process is taking longer than many of us would have hoped.

“And still across the country, thousands of people are living in flats with unsafe cladding or other safety defects, unable to sell their properties and yet facing the costs of waking watches, huge insurance bills, rising service charges, and so far no obvious answer as to who’s going to pay for the mistakes that were made in the construction of their homes.”

The bishop said there was “an urgency about justice and healing” and that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Parish Ministry, Police/Fire, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Evelyn Underhill

O God, Origin, Sustainer, and End of all creatures: Grant that thy Church, taught by thy servant Evelyn Underhill, guarded evermore by thy power, and guided by thy Spirit into the light of truth, may continually offer to thee all glory and thanksgiving, and attain with thy saints to the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast promised us by our Savior Jesus Christ; who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.

Posted in Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer to Begin the Day from James Mountain

Almighty God our heavenly Father, who hast given thy Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins, and hast commanded us to love one another as thou hast loved us: Make us, we beseech thee, so mindful of the needs and sufferings of others, that we may ever be ready to show them compassion, and according to our ability to relieve their wants; for the sake of the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

–The Rev. James Mountain (1844-1933)

Posted in Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Bible Readings

The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people; for they perceived that he had told this parable against them. So they watched him, and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might take hold of what he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a coin. Whose likeness and inscription has it?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him by what he said; but marveling at his answer they were silent.

–Luke 20:19-26

Posted in Theology: Scripture