Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

Summary (language alert) – Let's get straight to the point: It is shit.

It is shit because Matthew Reilly's writing can be matched by any 15 year old with semi-competent sub-editors, and the world-view and 'true history' of the world in the book truly suck. It's Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code with an Australian accent and stick diagrams.

Firstly, the writing. For a taste, see the quotes below. I know its the prerogative of a fiction-writer to write fiction. Fiction is not necessarily 'true', but good fiction is necessarily truthful. For example, a good thriller thrills because it carries a sense of real risk or uncertainty; in other words, it is truthful to the concepts of risk and uncertainty, without which its thrill is emasculated.

The Four Legendary Kingdoms falls at this first hurdle. Its a thriller that bores (I read it over the course of three interminable evenings). The plot comprises the hero, Jack, undertaking a series of mortal-combat challenges. He prevails (of course) by doing the unexpected ('… Jack did something else that no-one would have expected' Page 339, in case you didn't get it), which is remarkable because these challenges had been meticulously planned by a supposedly intelligent cabal of privileged insiders in a secret, expertly furnished arena. I wish he'd done something truly unexpected by getting himself killed.

As a literary work, the highlight for me was finding that the word 'tautology' had been used correctly. However, it could have been inserted by a sub-editor in his or her desperation to alleviate the tedium of having to fix up this drivel.

Reilly's most annoying tick is his habit of explaining, rather then describing. His inability to furnish adequate text for his explanations is manifest in the number of stick-diagrams dispersed through the text. His feeble attempts to establish credibility rest on passing references to 'real' people (General Sir Peter Cosgrove, for example), but they are nothing but sops to a click-bait generation of social-media trolls.

Worse still, Reilly needs an interpreter to explain the whole thing, and so we get to meet Mae, Jack's mother and supposedly brilliant history teacher. Of course, she 'knows' everything, dogmatically and omnisciently. Her explanations are never allowed to be questioned or challenged, which seems to be to be about as remote from a real engagement with history as you can get. Surely, the veracity of one's opinion is strengthened if one allows for some self-doubt, but this kind of truthfulness never troubles the characters in the book.

Which brings me to my second point; the history. For reasons that escape me entirely, there are people in the world who insist in believing Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, which Reilly ransacks in this book, and which was based on the equally risible The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent. There's nothing new here, but when you look at it historically, there's actually nothing at all.

Allow me to illustrate by example, to give you an idea of the scale of the pretensions of Reilly, Brown, Baigent et al. Let us say, for example, that I knew the real reason for the construction of the Gabba cricket ground was to communicate with aliens in a remote universe. My reason – because it looks like a giant radio dish from the air (and it does). I am unshakeable in this belief, despite everything that the stadium builders and operators have said, despite the experiences of the thousands of people who have passed through the gates to watch cricket there, despite the cricketers who have actually performed on the pitch, despite all the marketing and messaging put forward on behalf of the venue through multiple media outlets. No. I believe what I believe because the Gabba stadium is symbolic of (looks like a) giant radio dish, and because that is true, everything else is a conspiracy.

That's the problem with basing your knowledge on symbols, or rather your interpretation of them. You can make them say anything you like. Surely, a reasonable attitude would be to ask the owners of these symbols what they mean to them. If, for instance, you have the slightest interest in understanding the symbolism of the Catholic Church, you would do well to ask a knowledgeable Catholic what they mean. Reilly, Brown and Baigent simply don't bother with these inconveniences (see second quote below), and plough a trench through all considered research with their myopic dogmatism.

This vacuous symbolism most obviously triumphs over all attempts at authenticity in its treatment of the historical Jesus Christ (see first quote below). In this religiously illiterate age, it might surprise many readers to find that there is reliable documented evidence of eye witness accounts of the life of Jesus. Surely, these should be the prime source of material for anyone wishing to understand what Jesus said about himself, even if he or she has no intention of agreeing with him. The New Testament (the last fifth of the modern Bible) was not written, as Dan Brown seems to think, after Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper (1495-1489), but about 1400 years' earlier, a few decades after Jesus' death. Even so, Brown seems to think that the Christian Gospel was informed by the symbolism in the painting, not the other way around, which gives him, and Reilly like him, licence to do whatever they like with it.

So, despite, the Gospel's insistence that the life of Jesus was an unveiling of God to the world, Reilly, Brown and Baigent insist that it was more about establishing a blood-line that would preserve a secret wisdom passed down from super-human patriarchs. In other words, Reilly, Brown and Baigent have re-badged paganism as Christianity, and Christianity as paganism.

This might appear to be theological nit-picking, but I believe there is no such thing as an impractical theology. The pagan world-view profoundly informs the plot of The Four Legendary Kingdoms, and not just in the indiscriminate references to pagan myth. C S Lewis, author of the Narnia tales and devout Christian apologist, used pagan characters all the time, but he did so to illustrate Christian teaching. You could convincingly argue that he was following the example of much of the Old Testament. No, its not the characters and myths that bothers me. Its the morality of paganism that's shit.

So, here's how the scenario in the Four Legendary Kingdoms plays out. We have fights to the death to prove the worthiness of the victor, and the killing of non-combatants as hostages. The whole thing is justified because planet earth is about to get swatted by a giant swastika of a galaxy, and a few token human sacrifices need to be made. The only people to know about this is a privileged uber-elite whose sole purpose in life is the preservation of its own privileges and uber-elite-ness. In winning his challenges (and killing a number of also-rans in the process), the hero, Jack, proves his worthiness, saves the world (again), and gets his friends out of jail (enough of them to set up another sequel in this dreary series). He also gets to kill a number of bad guys who are bad because, you know, they are bad. That obviously makes him a good guy, and justifies his violence. You could say Jack is an unwilling combatant, being forced to fight by the prospect of his friends and family being burned alive in a landslide of boiling mud. The fact that all the other combatants' friends and family suffer this fate as a consequence of his actions is entirely incidental. It is all the more remarkable because some of these idiots had actually volunteered to be there.

Contrast this with the (documented) teaching of Christ. The one who leaves the 99 sheep to rescue the one and in so doing ensures that no-one is lost. The one who surrendered his privileges, and abandoned his legitimate claims to self preservation, to sacrifice Himself for the unworthy, and in so doing, set the prime example of how we should consider our fellow human beings. The (pre da Vinci Code) King James translation of, probably, the first recorded Christian text in history, puts it poetically like this

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Despite the machinations of Reilly, Brown, Baigent, and a host of lazy, incompetent and belligerent supporters, Christianity and paganism remain poles apart in mutual opposition to each other. Readers would do well to understand why this is so, and how this is so, but The Four Legendary Kingdoms flatters to deceive.

In conclusion, Matthew Reilly's The Four Legendary Kingdoms has its place in literature in the same way that pus has its place in a boil. If I may take the liberty of restating it; it is shit.

A Secret History II – The True History of the World
Page 127 etc. 
Capitals and italics per the original text
Conversation between three characters; Stretch and Pooh-Bear (nick-names for body guards) and Mae (supposedly, a sharp-minded historian and mother of the hero, Jack).

'Who is God?' Stretch said doubtfully. 'Are you talking about the Muslim god, Allah? Egyptian gods? The Christian God who supposedly sent his only son to earth to be crucified and then rise from the dead? You do realise that Jack once found the tomb of Jesus Christ in a Roman salt mine with the body still in it.' 
Mae nodded. 'I'm talking about all of them. And, yes I am also aware that Jesus the Nazarene was very much a man even if a sizeable portion of mankind has made him into a god. Why do you think this has happened?' 
Stretch shrugged. 'He preached a popular philosophy. Peace, equality, be nice to others. He fed his followers with loaves and fishes. Healed the sick. And what we learned in 2008, he was also a member of a very ancient royal line ---' 
 'That's right,' Mae said quickly. 'He healed the sick and he was a member of an ancient royal line. Imagine you're living in the Roman province of Judea and a guy comes out of nowhere with advanced medical knowledge and starts healing the sick? It'd cause a sensation. Christ's royal lineage made him an even greater sensation and his fame spread. 
'It is my contention that a handful of royal lines have been privy to advanced superancient learning handed down to them by a mysterious civilisation from the distant past. This wisdom has given them a knowledge-advantage over the general population and allowed them to appear, so to speak, god-like. 
'Did you know that every single ancient civilisation mentions being visited by a white-skinned bearded man – it's always a man, he is always white and he always has a beard – who bestows on them advance wisdom and who often heals the sick? 
'The Egyptians, the Maya, the Cambodians, all of them were visited by such an individual. The Egyptians called him Virata, The Mayans, called him Viracocha. The Cambodians, Vicaya. Soudn consistent?' 
'I mean, if you're a simple society and someone comes to you and shows you how to build giant pyramids, predict solar eclipses, plant sustainable agriculture, and miraculously heals your ill, you'd think he was a god, wouldn't you?' 
'Sure,' Pooh Bear said. 
'My postulation,' Mae said, 'is that our gods of old – from Zeus to Poseidon, to Anubis and Isis – were all royal beneficiaries of the superancient civilisation that build the Machine. They were all members of a few high families who exist today as the four legendary kingdoms. The question of who or what God is inextricably linked to the four kingdoms that rule our world from the shadows.'

Page 145
Exchange between Lily (Jack's step-daughter) and Cardinal Ricardo Mandoza (Catholic Cardinal)

'Young madam, it is an honour of honours to meet the Oracle of Siwa!' he exclaimed, taking Lily's hand and bowing low. 
Of course he was honoured, Lily thought. She had known for some time that the Catholic Church was the modern incarnation of an ancient Egyptian sun-cult, the Cult of Ammon-Ra. From their priestly garments featuring blazing suns to the many obelisks decorating Rome and the Vatican, everything about the Church was devoted to the worship of the sun. For a Cardinal to meet someone directly descended from ancient Royalty would indeed be an honour.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Toast to Evie on the Occasion of her 21st Birthday Party

Just over 21 years’ ago when Janna and I were choosing your name, we came up against the Teachers’ Curse. Every suitable name we could think of had already been assigned to a child. And not just any child, but the worst child in the worst class in the worst school in the entire universe. We couldn’t use any these names without the risk of bestowing some of that child’s qualities on to you.

Our deliberations might have gone on interminably, had it not been for the approach of a rather pressing deadline. We decided on Evangeline Sophia; Evangeline, meaning bringer of good news, and Sophia meaning Holy Wisdom.

Well, you can choose the name, but you can’t choose the child.

Fortunately, it has been our joy to see you live up to your name. You have brought good news to us, and our whole family, and it has been a wonderful privilege to have you grow up with us.

Shortly after you were born, we moved from the UK to Hong Kong. This is where I stalked you around the flat with a microphone as you learned to talk. All these years later, I used these recordings to assemble the EviePhon, and I invite you all to have a go. It’s not embarassing in the slightest, but you will get the full range of Evie.

You have a strong sense of fair play. We saw this early on when you insisted that noboby, no matter how big they were, no matter if they came from Europe, China or the Planet Krypton, would jump the queue at the slide in the playground at Kowloon Park.

We came to Australia and you went through Camp Hill State School, Somerville House and UQ. My fondest memories of those early days were of walking you to school. One morning, soon after we had watched the BBC documentary “The Legend of Big Al” (it was a reconstruction of the life of the titular Allosaurus) you asked me if Big Al went to heaven when he died. I didn’t know what to say then. I’m still thinking about it.

Much later, when helping you with your homework, I found how perceptive you were. Your essay on how the romantic composers, Claude Debussey and Eric Satie helped define the French National Identity in the pre-war years was particularly fascinating – and you were only Grade 7 at the time. (Sorry, I might have my timelines a little confused there).

With a few notable exceptions involving household chores, you have applied yourself to whatever has been given to you, whether it was study, music, drawing, or working in hospitalilty and retail.

However, it is not just about what you have achieved, its who you are as a person. You have been consistently fair and good to the people around you, especially your friends and family, to which all the people gathered here this evening, testify. Janna and I just hope we have given you the best in ourselves, so it is definitely not your father’s skill in cooking, or your mother’s skill in spreadsheets. (Though, if you had the choice, I suggest you’d be better off with Janna’s spreadsheets than my cooking.)

Now we get to the part where I’m supposed to dispense with some sage, fatherly advice. It’s a testament to your character that I’m quite lost for words. I don’t think I can tell you much that you don’t already know. If you can judge a person by the decisions he or she makes, then one of the highest compliments I can pay you is to say that you are good at making good decisions. Generally. You might still need some coaching in some areas, but you already know this.

What I will say to you, though, is that God is closer to you than you know, and that’s a good thing. If you’re like me, it will take you a lifetime to work out what that means, but it is worth it.

I don’t know, and nobody knows, what the next 21 years’ will bring you. They will probably bring you

Agonising anxiety
Bottomless boredom
Curious coincidences
Delightful diversions
Ineffible elation
Feindish frustrations
Great gastronomies
Heart-racing highs
Insufficient income
Jovial Jacobs’ jokes
Knowledgeable knaves
Luminous leitmotifs
Many misadventures
Nattering nannies
Odious obligations and ostentatious orations
Preposterous ponderings
Querulous queues
A rudimentary roof of your own
Sublime stupidity
Tepid tea
Uxorious unions
A very-expensive violin
Whacky weather
Xenophobic xylophones
Yonder yearnings yelling each year from your yokel-made yoghurt ...

... and finally, a zany zoo with zebra, zebu and zucchini at the zenith of your zone.

Knowing the person you have grown up to become, I am confident that, whatever these years bring you, you will bring to these years your own good news and Holy Wisdom.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Evangeline Sophia. We love you very, very much. Happy Birthday!

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Some time ago, I heard the story of a man who checked into a religious retreat to recharge his soul. The brother monk showed him to his bare room and gave him the usual welcome with an unusual twist; “Here is your room. Toilets are down the corridor. If you find that you need anything, please let us know and we will teach you how to live without it.”

Everybody knows that Lent is known as a time of learning to live without things. However, not everybody understands why. This year, I have joined the Lenten-observers by giving up something, in an attempt to understand why. The 'why' is more important than the 'what', and you may find it surprising.

Firstly, and to answer the most obvious question, I have given up watching TV. You might say its not a great loss, and I would agree.

When my father died last December, when I was grieving, I found myself resenting TV. It was so intrusive, I could not stay in the same room and had to physically had to walk out. I needed to think my own thoughts, and feel my own feelings without an unthinking, unfeeling, programmed machine in the corner telling me what to think or feel. I resented the blue box telling me what was important and what was not. My father was certainly not important to the TV, and neither was my grief, or the overwhelming currents of love that swept me along at that time. I needed to feel the grief and the love, and could share neither with the TV's relentless drivel.

Since then, the TV and I have come to something of a cease-fire, though we may resume hostilities in future. Giving it up has not been a heroic burden of Herculean proportions to me. In fact, it's been quite a holiday.

You might also say that a better Martin will emerge from this Lenten journey, and you could be right. That would be a consequence of my self-imposed exile from TV-land, but its not the primary reason.

That reason is quite difficult to explain, especially in a world that revolves around the core value of self-satisfaction. Inspired by a Christianity Today article, I deliberately set out on this journey with the express purpose of avoiding a self-satisfaction or self-improvement program. I decided to shun anything that had self as a primary motivator, even self-improvement.

For example, I could have given up chocolate, or wine, with the aim of losing weight. These are good goals in themselves, and it that's your Lenten observance, I wish you all the best. But its not for me. I aim to get away from what Lent can do for me.

If one word were to summarize my reason for doing Lent, it would be “available”. I hope to make myself available. Call it a mental desk-clearing, if you like, or a de-cluttering, or becoming more present in the moment, or not pursuing a thousand TV crusades against this or that urgent cause. I aim to make room, in my head and in my schedule, and in doing so, to make myself available to whatever wanders by. I don't aim to perfect the art of silence, and if I were to try, I would find myself doing what I aimed not to do. I'm curious to discover who, or what, turns up at my door.

As this is a religious observance, my availability extends firstly in the God-direction. Will He wonder through my door, and sit down for a chat? Naturally, dispensing with the noise and distractions (and untruths) of the TV assists greatly in setting a congenial atmosphere, and I think its beginning to work.

My availability also extends in the human direction. Remarkably, this posture of not-seeking-self-improvement has improved things wonderfully in this area. The first thing I left behind was any notion that my self-improvement-program makes me a better, more worthy person than my neighbours. This is where the Pharisees, that Jesus roundly condemned, tripped up. It occurs to me that, fundamentally, they were doing religion for their own self-interests. What made Jesus so unpopular with them is that He exposed their motivations. The problem was not that they were doing the wrong religion (actually, Jesus and His followers didn't have a problem with Pharisees, but you'd have to read more of the New Testament to understand the issue there); the problem was that they were doing it for the wrong reasons. They were self-centred. You could say they worshipped self, instead of God.

In a more contemporary example, the announcement of my Lenten intentions was greeted by my family with a pressing practical concern. My wife immediately asked if my abstinence included the watching of films or movies. She had (very lovingly) planned a surprise indoor picnic for my birthday that would include a video. Had I been more concerned about sticking to the program for my own self-improvement, this would have presented the kind of dilemma I might have experienced if I had been offered a large, fatty sundae part way through a crash diet course. Because my Lent was not a religious excuse to get on an overdue diet, I easily accepted, and thoroughly enjoyed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Self-worship explains much of what we do, including our religious observances. For instance, it explains the suicide-bombers, who do what they do because they think they can get a better deal for themselves in the after-life. It also explains our non-religious, non-observances; we wonder what benefit we can get from religion, and are often persuaded that it is not worth the time and effort. I get that. We are finite; we only have so much time, energy and money, and we need to think carefully about how to spend them wisely.

Wisdom, the thing that seems most elusive in our foolhardy world, tells us of the profound paradox; love. Love is not self-centred; it is not interested in a program of self-improvement. 

As I am a very visual person, I need to see something to understand it. I can't grasp love as an abstract ideal, but I can visualise it in the life and person of Jesus. In my Lenten journey, I hope to join with Him on His. It leads to the cross, where all self-interests are brought to an end. At the cross, God gives Himself in the most irreversible, public, demonstrable, concrete, self-less way. He becomes available, at the ultimate cost of all He is and all He has. That's love in its purest, most original form. The end-point of God's Lenten journey at Easter, speaks to me of the start of mine. That's why I am doing it.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review of 'The Future of God' by Deepak Chopra

I picked up this book from an airport bookstore in preparation for a long-haul flight. Had I thought I would write a review at the time, I would have been more careful in compiling my notes. But, I have lately come to the view that a review of, or response to the book is necessary, and so I have to do so in hindsight. My review therefore rests more on impression and leading arguments than carefully substantiated and balanced research. Notwithstanding my retrospective limitations, I trust the following is not inaccurate, and I hope it is of benefit to anyone who might read the book.
What I liked most about the book is Chopra’s fierce criticism of the New Atheists, led by Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion). Chopra rightly points out that Dawkins fails to subject his own beliefs to the same scrutiny that he applies to religion. Dawkins’ selectiveness with the data is neither scientific nor reasonable. In an epilogue, and typical to his style of writing, Chopra includes the following list, which I have reproduced below, with some comments of my own.
Ten Flaws in the Dawkins Delusion
  1. His atheism attacks a Sunday School version of God as if there were no other. It lumps any kind of belief in with the excesses of extreme fanatics.
  2. His atheism rests on the belief that the universe has no intelligent source. Yet a random universe is the least likely explanation for how intelligent life came about.
  3. His atheism equates reality with the material world, as perceived by the five senses. This fails to account for the quantum revolution, which opened up reality far beyond the physical world.
  4. His atheism traces all events back to the inflexible laws of nature but cannot explain why the laws of nature exist, or where they come from.
  5. His atheism uses evolution as an argument against an intelligent source for life, even though survival of the fittest cannot explain the creation of life . [Note: I think this is a weak argument that sinks to the level of pseudo-science that both Dawkins and Chopra despise]
  6. His atheism positions itself as rational but cannot explain the source of rationality. How does random brain activity produce order and logic? [I would prefer to frame this in terms of probability – what is the probability that a random universe can produce one single brain, i.e. Dawkins’, that perceives reality as it truly is. Why would the cosmos reveal itself to Dawkins’ brain and not the religious brains he so hates?]
  7. His atheism claims that biology is the basis of consciousness without offering a theory of how molecules learned to think. [Pseudo-science again?]
  8. His atheism views the brain as rigid cause-and-effect. All thought and behaviour is deterministic. He gives no explanation for free will, creativity and insight. [If all thought and behaviour is deterministic, how can any thought or behaviour be considered evil? Yet, Dawkins uses the term for all thought and behaviour that is expressed in a religious context.]
  9. His atheism denies the existence of the self, considering it an illusion created by the brain. Yet neuroscience has never found a location for “I” anywhere in the brain.
  10. His atheism cannot explain how the illusory self arrives at self-knowledge. [Good point – if our ‘self’ is illusory, how can we have any confidence that our understanding of our selves is itself an illusion? If atheism is true, we are locked into the blackest void with no hope of redemption.]
What I like least about the book is Chopra’s mangling of Christianity to get it to comply with his own dogma. I would prefer a much more honest approach; Chopra is a Buddhist (or, perhaps a Gnostic) who struggles with Christianity, and I wish he would say so at the outset so that readers would not have to get to the final chapters, armed with a considerable knowledge of comparative religion, to figure it out. I don’t object to Buddhists, or anyone else forming their own view of Christianity, but it irks me when they misrepresent it and then present their misrepresentations as if they were the real thing. It is much better, in my view, to say “I agree with this”, or “I disagree with that”, because it alerts the audience to the existence of a conflict between the differing world views and, preferably, provides some reliable information that would enable it to make an informed choice, which is its prerogative. Chopra, instead, denies all conflict in his extended sermon on Bhuddistic, Gnostic syncretism. Chopra dislikes dogma, which is unfortunate because it leads him to the untenable position of having to deny his own. I will lead with this in my list:

Ten Flaws in Chopra’s understanding of Christianity.
  1. Chopra, like many people, misunderstand what is meant by dogma. Dogma, in my opinion, is something that is either true, or it isn’t. Most issues understood to be dogma, for instance the virgin birth of Jesus, actually lie downstream of true dogma, and flow out of it. In this case, the true dogma is whether there is a God who can work miracles (a subject Chopra explores in depth). If this is true, the virgin birth becomes possible; if it isn’t, it doesn’t. The observable fact (that the virgin birth actually happened, or it actually didn’t) is shaped by the dogma, not the other way around. This leads to another aspect of dogma, in that it is essentially untestable or unfalsifiable. Another example is whether life has meaning or purpose. If it does, we would experience life as it is but, what is equally valid is that the same would be true if it doesn’t. What is more, we could not change the dogma, even if we wanted to. I think it best, then, to identify your dogmas and own them as what they are – revelations, epiphanies, insights, hunches - because they inform your logic far more profoundly than you may realise. Chopra fails to recognise and describe his own dogmas. Finally, the Christian understanding of dogma is that it is “out there” – in God, or in the heavens if you like - and we need to adjust our thoughts and perceptions of the cosmos to align with it. (Incidentally, this very dogma underpins the whole scientific enterprise.) To the contrary, Chopra’s understanding of dogma is that it is “in here”, and the cosmos will align itself with our thoughts and perceptions. Dawkins would scoff.
  2. Chopra cherry-picks Bible verses. The ones he doesn’t like are binned with all other “failed” scriptures. However, he likes Jesus’ assertion that “The Kingdom of God is within you” and uses it as a launching point for the inward journey to the Bhudda-nature within us all. He conveniently overlooks all the other verses that call us to look beyond ourselves, and to recognise that our inner selves are not the source of the light we seek. The curious thing about this kind of cherry-picking is that it comes with no explanation about why the cherry-picker prefers some passages and ignores others, especially when the cherry-picker is trying to make a point from the scriptures he has cherry-picked from.
  3. Chopra titillates post-modern tendencies by claiming that the truth is found within us, as expressed in his exegesis of “the Kingdom of God is within you”. The Christian’s understanding of how the truth is not found within, but comes to us, is most vividly portrayed in the rite of the communion, or mass, or eucharist (a Greek word literally meaning “good gift”) in which the believer receives the bread and takes it into himself or herself. The fundamental direction is towards and into the believer, not from and out of the inner self, as Chopra claims.
  4. Chopra refers to urban myth, rather than authoritative sources, particularly in dividing the Old Testament Jehovah, whose leading message is “smite” and the New Testament Jesus, whose leading message is “love”. Does Chopra not realise that the New Testament Jesus does, or promises to do, all the “smiting” of the Old Testament Jehovah? Or, that the Old Testament Jehovah does all the “loving” and sacrifice of the New Testament Jesus? There is a reason for that that Chopra’s dogma cannot embrace …
  5. Chopra’s Christ is not God Incarnate in the exclusive sense that the New Testament describes. The reason Jesus does the smiting of Jehovah, and Jehovah does the loving of Jesus, is that the two are one and the same, according to the corpus of scriptures in the Bible. Further, because there is only One Jehovah (a.k.a . Elohim, God, Lord), there is only one Incarnation, which is Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is one person, and not another person or everything, God is one, and not everything, which Chopra’s dogma explicitly denies …
  6. Chopra’s God is the universe. Technically, this is pantheism. Chopra’s dogma overlaps with Judaeo-Christian dogma in identifying God as the source of the universe, but it differs by claiming that God becomes the universe. The Judaeo-Christian tradition separates the Creator from His Creation. For instance, when the Bible talks about discarding the old (present) heaven and earth, what is God doing? If God becomes the universe, would He be amputating the limbs He grew. Thus, according to Chopra, God is the totality of everything, and Christian claims to the exclusivity of Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God are wrong and must be dismissed. Thus, according to Chopra, we can find God within ourselves, because we, too, are God. Thus, according to Chopra, we, being God, change reality around us through our Bhudda-consciousness.
  7. Chopra gives no attention to the Trinity, which is the central core of Christian faith as described in the Christian scriptures. This is a pity, because in the Trinity, Chopra might find a Christian perspective that is not entirely hostile to his own, particularly in the little-understood realm of Theosis. This is a subject too big to explore here, but it is worth noting that in their meditations on the Trinity, several prominent Eastern Orthodox Church Fathers used the language of “becoming God” (the literal meaning of Theosis). A couple of points must be kept in view, though. The first is that the Orthodox Fathers viewed God as a noun and a verb, which overlaps with Chopra’s perspective, and it is right to do so, in my opinion. In this sense, “becoming God” can be understood as “doing God” and we “do” God whenever we “do” something good, like love. The second is that the Orthodox Fathers saw the Trinity as something that makes Theosis possible, not the other way round. I fear that a syncretistic approach would jump on the Trinity bandwagon as a means to justify its talk of becoming God. In other words, the Trinity could become the means to the end, rather than the dogma from which the outcome flows.
  8. Chopra regards the resurrection of Christ as a mystical experience that is only of relevance to Christians after they have died. He fails to notice the physicality of the resurrected Christ who, on one notable occasion, cooked a meal of bread and fish (John 21). He also fails to acknowledge that the resurrection is not just a pointer to life after death; it is regarded by Christian Scripture as the ultimate vindication, verification and validation of God on the life of the man, Christ Jesus. The way to God’s vindication, verification and validation of our lives, therefore, is to follow Christ, and we had better do it while we are still alive.
  9. Chopra makes rookie mistakes with the Christian scriptures. I have previously noted his skewed perspective on “the Kingdom of God is within you”, and his false division of Jehovah from Jesus. But, he makes other blunders that should not have got through the editing. For example, Chopra claims that the Gospel of John describes Jesus’ life without reference to miracles. I don’t know which version he has read (maybe Benjamin Franklin’s, after he cut out every reference to the miraculous with a pair of scissors?), because in my version I read about changing water into wine (Chapter 2), the healing of the man born blind (Chapter 9) the raising of Lazarus from the dead (Chapter 11), and many more, culminating in the resurrection of Christ Himself (Chapter 20).
  10. Chopra would be better served by acknowledging the conflicts between his own dogmas and those of the Christianity he seeks to subsume. Rather than trying to claim that all is one and, in the process, damaging the dissenting world-views, an honest appraisal would leave them appreciably intact, which occurs to me to be the more respectful approach. Certainly, I would hope to use it if ever I were to critique or adopt aspects of a world-view that is different from my own.
There is more to consider in Chopra’s The Future of God than I have addressed here. Much of it is good, and Christians could learn from it. I hope, however, that they would not be misled into thinking that Chopra speaks for Christianity, because he doesn’t except where his dogma overlaps with Christian dogma. Chopra struggles with atheism, and for this I am grateful. He also struggles with Christianity, but makes the mistake of trying to absorb it into his own Bhuddism. He’s not the first to do so, and he will not be the last.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Eulogy for my Dad - Geoffrey Frank Jacobs

Read at the Thanksgiving Service at Christchurch Priory on Wednesday, 9 December 2015.

My name is Martin, and I was privileged to have Geoffrey as my father. Of course, I would like to claim some credit for that particular decision, but alas.

Dad’s life was not just an arrival at an end point. It was a long journey that intersected many lives. We remember the many meetings and intersections along the way, and we remember that they were good.

In the last few days, I have started to clear out the garage. I’m starting at its current state, or end-point. It was Dad’s shed; his man-cave. There was an outer crust of ‘I’ll just put this down there for the time being’ and stuff that would be sorted later, after a cup of tea.

Like an archaeological dig, the outer crust had to be removed in layers but, underneath, Dad’s workbench began to emerge. There were the screws and nails, sorted into boxes and jars, and used paint-brushes, standing in jars of turps, waiting for the next job. I found, to my dismay, that Dad had never assembled a piece of Ikea furniture, because, try as I might, I could find a hex key nowhere. Every piece of flat-pack furniture always comes with a hex key, and after a while of assembling these things you garner a small collection of hex keys, but Dad had none.

Of all the rooms in the house, Dad’s garage seems to be the place to remember him best. That was where he made things, fixed things, painted things, took things apart, and reassembled them with various degrees of success. It was where he solved problems.

Dad and I built a boat there. We or, rather, he started by laying out the plywood boards. Then we stitched them together with copper wire and sealed the joints with fibre-glass. Slowly, the thing took shape – the keel box, the buoyancy tanks, the rowlocks and rigging. We painted it a luminous fluro-yellow. Dad and I and assorted family and friends and enjoyed sailing it around Christchurch harbour. I remember, on one alarming occasion, looking down at the keel box and seeing the luminescent green sea through a hole, which then proceeded to fill the boat as water is wont to do. Time for some more of Dad’s repairs.

Whilst clearing the garage, I found a relic of that old boat and wondered about whether to bring it here today because it is such a pug-ugly thing. Here it is; a rudder pin, with its striking yellow paint.

I remember (or I think I remember) standing on Dad’s shoulders as a small boy. You can see the photo. He was big and strong, then. When he came home from the sea, we three boys would demand a romp and a wrestle with him on the sofa, and he would tie us up in giggling knots.

In later life, we got to know Dad further by his quiet deeds. Janna and I are always grateful for the support Dad and Anne gave to us as we started to build a life of our own. Dad’s generosity was not limited to material help, either. Dad, and Mum, never tried to keep us at home like household pets. They wanted us to go wild, and we did; to out and make our own way in the world, and that takes a particular kind of generosity. On the other hand they never closed the door to us whenever we needed a bolt-hole or a stopover or a cup of tea. Dad had a large and generous heart.

God is love, so the Bible says, and I believe it, in no small part because of Dad’s example. 

It’s a curious thing to say because love is a noun and a verb; something you have, and something you do. Is God a noun and a verb? Possibly. But trying to separate the noun from the verb is like trying to separate the journey from the thousand small steps, and each small step makes the whole journey.

I mention this because the small steps are important. Dad’s small steps of generosity, tolerance (which Dad valued highly), integrity, forgiveness, forbearance, giving others the benefit of the doubt, making space for others in your world; in a word, love. These small steps are important and there are too many to count, or remember here, but they are known to God.

Of course, a large number of these small steps are beyond my memories of Dad. For instance, I knew him as Dad, but his ship-mates would have known him as Captain, and you don’t get to Captain without mastering the sea and those that sail on it. I would have liked to have known more about Geoffrey as Boss, but I am content to believe he was a good one.

You have your own stories of Dad, your own memories. To conclude, I feel it is right to thank you, on Dad’s behalf, for loving him. Thank you, Dad, for loving us.

God is love, and love endures when all else has passed away.

Monday, August 17, 2015


When they swung the wrecking-ball through the cathedral,
the banner-wavers cheered and piped their congratulations.
Their rainbow chants flowed through the dull thuds
of rough weathered greystone landing on the very flagstones that I had trod,
my feet following ten thousand more, smoothing the way
until the memory of a dearly beloved wife or husband
had all but been worn from their faces.
The stone dust, once allowed to hover serenely in an undisturbed interior,
was now agitated by the invading raw elements into a choking smog.
The ancient masons' hands, now dust themselves,
brushed their art as ghosts, and kissed their hurried good-byes.
Oyster-shells, the remains of the builders' lunches,
and put to production as work-a-do shims,
were exposed once more to air as the arches' joints split and fell,
the same breath allowing the centuries-old lime mortar to finally set.
The books had long been been cleared out and pawned,
chains no longer needed to keep them at their desks.
But when the stained windows,
long hidden behind security mesh,
spilled onto the floor like broken bottle-glass,
the moment was posted onto Facebook
through a self-illuminated touch-screen phone

And I, fearful and mute, shrank into the shadows.

Friday, February 27, 2015


“The reality”, said my Doctor today in a matter-of-fact voice, “is that men’s health drops off after the age of 80 and the best option is to pass away in your sleep between 80 and 85.”

I’m grateful for my Doctor’s blunt assessment because it brought to mind something we all know and mostly avoid thinking about – death. Up to now, I had managed to push it away from me into the distant future, but today it appeared as a tangible blip on the horizon.

How do you plan your life with the realisation that the best outcome from here on in is to pass away in your sleep between 80 and 85? That’s only 30 years away for me, about the same time since I left university. That blip on the horizon will never go away. In fact it will get bigger and bigger until it and I collide at some definite point in the foreseeable future.

This isn’t someone else’s death either. It’s mine. What do I do? How should I live?

As I think about this, I find that I’m less concerned with self-preservation than I was as a young man. No doubt the survival instinct is still there, but it now sits at the back patiently rather than thrusting forward at every opportunity like it once did. Even it won’t be able to steer a course around that blip on the horizon, though it might delay the inevitable.

Of course, we’ve had deaths in the family before. The occasion for my conversation with my doctor was the first of a measured program of check-ups and screenings initiated by the arrival of my fiftieth birthday, and we were discussing the health of my father, who is now frail and in what must be terminal decline. When loved ones had died previously, I was struck with the ephemerality of life, the importance of relationships and the fact that opportunities inexorably close. I kick myself for not fully appreciating how blessed I am by such a wonderful and wide circle of family and friends. Despite our wrangling and disagreements, we still consider each other to be valuable and worthwhile. That is, so valuable that it, and the individuals who make it up, is worth “wasting” my time with. 

“Waste” is such an inappropriate word here, especially when you take your bearings against that blip on the horizon. Who does the final assessment on what is "wasteful" and what is not?

Should I worry about the opportunities I have missed, the mistakes I have made? Yes, and no. Yes, because I could have done something good, but didn’t. To gloss over them would be dishonest and would not do justice to the good I failed to do. No, because there is a greater power at work, and it will prevail even though I failed.

It’s impossible to address this last question without getting theological. Early in my life, I came to terms with the concept that God sees everything about me. I could not, and still cannot, hide anything from Him, not the stuff I manage to hide from my closest and dearest, not even the stuff I hide from myself, nor the stuff that disappeared into the memory hole decades ago. My response to my past, therefore, can only be one of absolute open-ness, fully acknowledging my failures as well as my modest triumphs. 

How does God look at me, knowing absolutely everything about me? The question is not what He sees, but how He sees it.

Fortunately, I don’t need to die before I find out, because I can see the answer expressed in everyday life by my loved ones. I also see the ultimate example of this in the life of a remarkably ordinary human being, Jesus of Nazareth. Having gleaned some faint clue about how God looks at me from these observations, I now have the pattern of how I should look at others, and this shines a light on how I should live out my remaining, limited years. 

It’s a mystery. It's not survival of self at all costs, but a life lived outside and beyond my self for the good of others. At the risk of getting mystical and mysterious, I resolve to be taken up into that river that has been pouring itself out long before I came onto the scene and will continue to do so long after I have left. 

How do I describe this divine mystery? In a word, love.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:11-13