Tag Archives: debate

Why I prefer a paper Bible

There are lots of words that could be used to describe me. Among some of the more reasonable would be ‘Luddite’ ‘technophobe’ or ‘old fashioned.’ One aspect in which this is true is how I read books. I do not own and have no desire to own a kindle or other sort of tablet device to use as my primary mode of reading. I love picking up a real book and reading it. Even when I have read something, I still like dipping back into it occasionally. Though, of late, I haven’t re-read many books entirely, there are a few which I like to return to again and again: Jamaica Inn, Jude the Obscure, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and His Dark Materials are among the works I’ve read more than once.

Above all these, though, is the anthology of writings which is commonly known as the bible. It really is 66 separate books (though some are sequels to earlier books), spanning a variety of genres, telling the history and beliefs of a nation, climaxing in the life, death and resurrection of one man; and of starting to explain what it all means for the wider world.

Though I consider myself a religionless christian (where I use the term ‘religion’ to indicate a life of ritual, rite and ceremony – see more here) the bible is still, for me, the primer for my belief.

Also, as a reasonably well-educated person (though, admittedly, I don’t have a PhD) I know the importance of, where feasible, checking your sources. If I see, say, a rumour on Twitter of something significant happening, but it’s not being reported by and of the mainstream media then I become quite skeptical and will (if I think it’s worth the effort) try to trace the origin of the idea.

Likewise, if I hear or read anything about christianity, then my first port of call is usually to check against the bible. Is someone making something up (even if it sounds like the sort of thing that ‘might’ be in the bible), quoting something out of context or choosing to ignore another point of view that might significantly alter their position?

So here I come back to the point about paper books. If I do an electronic search for what I am looking for (say, on Bible Gateway) then that is all I will see. Though I have a concordance, I am reluctant to use that as a first reference. You see, if I only have a vague idea of what it is I want to check, and I don’t ‘cheat’ then what I have to do is read a lot more material than I otherwise might.

For example, if I think that the passage I am looking for is in 1 Corinthians, what I have to do is re-read most of, or maybe all, of the book. What happens when I do this? More often than not, I come across a passage that I can learn something from, or remind myself of, that I had no intention of reading half an hour earlier. Also, by reading large sections quite quickly, I find that the books flow much better than when broken down into small chunks over a long period of time. Even if you take the longest gospel, Luke, this can easily be read in one sitting on a quiet afternoon (if you have the luxury of such a period of uninterrupted peace). Yet many will eek it out over a week, 2 weeks or even longer!

Of course, I put a reasonable time limit on such searches, otherwise I would never reach my goal. This I usually cap at about half an hour; only if I can’t find something after that do I resort to my concordance.

An analogy I find useful is that of climbing Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. I ought to add, I’ve not actually climbed it myself, though I have climbed much taller mountains in the Alps. Many who attempt to conquer it don’t make it to the summit. It’s not because it’s an especially hard mountain to climb, it’s because there are some beautiful sights to be found just off the route to the top. So climbers get distracted by these and by the time they are ready to move on it is necessary to start making their descent, lest they be caught by a creeping nightfall.

The other benefit to the paper bible is the cross-referencing that is included in some. In my NRSV bible, I have a list of cross-references in a thin column down the centre of the page. So what I do is look up the reference whilst keeping a finger in the original passage. Any electronic bible I have used has not been able to replicate this with either the practical ease or the tactile pleasure that you get by flicking through pages.

So what about you? Are you one to adopt any and every new technology as it comes to market or are you more of a stick in the mud like me? Would love to read your opinions.

Empty chair syndrome

Last autumn, there were a couple of stories going round the blogosphere (though rarely hitting mainstream media) that seemed to me very similar, though with some holding apparently contradictory views. The link between them is an empty chair on a stage. During his recent speaking tour of the UK, William Lane Craig invited Richard Dawkins to a debate. Craig was already booked to speak at the venue in Oxford, so Dawkins would not have as far to travel as the visiting American. Dawkins declined this invitation, though apparently Craig left an empty chair on stage to signify Dawkins’ absence.

More recently, another empty chair was left on stage, at a test for Sally Morgan. Led in part by the science writer (and now something of a libel law expert), Simon Singh, Sally Morgan had been invited to take part in a test of her psychic abilities. Like Dawkins, she declined this invitation. Unlike Dawkins, though, Morgan chose not to write an ad hominem attack on Singh to be published by a national newspaper. There were however, some letters sent between Singh and Morgan’s lawyers, which, in spite of being marked “Strictly Private and Confidential” Singh thought appropriate to publish online. I will leave it to you to consider whether it was appropriate to publish the letters.

What struck me was the reaction from the “pop science” or “science journalism” section of the blogosphere, who seemed to consider that in the case of Dawkins/Craig, that the person declining the invitation was right in declining and that the empty chair was a bullying gesture, while in the Morgan/Singh case, Morgan was considered be the slippery one who was rejecting a perfectly honest invitation.

My personal opinion is that in both cases, the invitation should have been accepted. My reasons are as follows: Both Dawkins & Morgan have made personal financial profit from their relative claims. As such, there is some duty of responsibility to defend their claims. In contrast to this, had an anonymous blogger (such as myself) been invited, I think there wouldn’t be a duty as no one has paid me for my writing or for a tv show (which is probably a fair reflection of the value of my thoughts!). Both have considerable media experience and so would not be flayed in an environment where they are far less experienced and uncomfortable than their critics.

On the other hand, I do have sympathy for them both. In both cases, there was an underlying theme of trying to portray the non-attendee as being in some way scared or unwilling to appear on a platform with their critics. The empty chair is loaded symbolism, somewhat akin to giving them a white feather, in an effort to shame them. This is, I think, an act of bullying that should not be encouraged.

In the case of Craig/Dawkins there was also a phrase banded about to the effect of “[this would look good on your CV, not mine]” in reference to the merits of one having debated the other. I think various other commenters have made as much of this as can be made, so I will offer nothing further.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever invited me to a debate or a test of my claims in a public arena. I certainly do not recall ever having declined such an invitation. If such an invitation were to come, I think in all probability that I would decline. I am not a skilled debater. One of the reasons that I choose to write is that I have a mild stammer, which always makes me appear to be even less intelligent than I actually am. The trouble is, my mind moves faster than my mouth, so when I come to speak I can usually think of 2 or 3 ways of saying the same thing, and I often get muddled. By writing, this can be slowed down. So when it comes to oratory, I prefer to write word-for-word and then either read or memorise what I am to say. This makes such events as those Dawkins & Morgan were invited to something of a problem for me.

But if such a case were to arise, I would dearly hope that no one leaves an empty chair for me on stage. It is an act that I think is ungracious and, if you will allow me to be a little quaint, a rather poor show. If I were to go further into old parlance, I would say it is “ungentlemanly” or “unladylike” though I hope you do not infer this to be sexist; it is not meant to be.

It is rare for me to pick a fight. I do not go out of my way to present challenges to others that I demand they meet. I may ask questions of them to clarify their views and I may respond to articles, blog posts, etc. that others have written. Anyone is, of course, welcome to write responses to anything I write. If such a response is included, I would hope that they inform me and I am very willing to provide a link to any such response in my blog. I do not like the empty chair and would hope that I never stoop to such a cheap level as to do anything like it. Debate and the free exchange of ideas should not be about point-scoring, but should be constructive and proactive; something I always try to achieve here, though I could not necessarily say that I always succeed.