Onward and Upward

Posted in Life on July 23, 2014 by James McConnell

I’m in America. I’m in New York. I’m 3016.97 miles from my hometown, my family and my (home) friends. I’m spending twelve weeks working and living here on a J-1 visa and, at the time of writing, I am half-way through.

I left home early in the morning of 11th June with my Dad. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous; it seemed like a normal day. I slept as normal the night before and, to be honest, it kind of felt like I was going on a holiday, maybe even a holiday with my Dad. We got to the airport, I handed over my luggage to the lovely lady at the check-in desk and my Dad and I parted ways. I went through security and seated myself in the departures lounge. It was then that it suddenly hit me that this was for real. I started to get nervous.

Fast forward six weeks and here I am, living just outside the small town of Bolton Landing, working in the Laundry department at The Sagamore, a local resort.

In a way, these six weeks have been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of emotions. I’ve been scared, I’ve been happy, I’ve had (self) doubts, I’ve been welcomed, and I’ve heard “Hey, man” more times than you can shake a stick at. Maybe some of these emotions are surprising to some people but, to me, they’ve been part-and-parcel of the experience. Truth be told, I was aware back home that, at times, I would possibly have rough days here and that it all wouldn’t be rosy fields. But, I think it was OK to think that and, in some ways, the rough times have been beneficial; they’ve challenged me to cope with the stark reality of not having the familiar forms of comfort around me (and them being far away too): family, friends, and the four walls of my bedroom.

To be honest, the reason I haven’t talked about my actual job much on social media is simply because there’s not much to say. Like I said at the start, I work in the Laundry department of The Sagamore. I realise that laundry may not be the most exciting topic in the world to talk about and, if I’m again honest, the job is actually quite boring; doable, but dull (it would be a different story if I were working at Microsoft or Apple. Nevertheless, I still appreciate the job and the income and experience I’ve received from it).

In a way, though, coming here for me was never really about the actual job, though of course I wanted (and still do want) to perform it as well as I can; it wasn’t even really about the money either. For me, coming here was about doing something different, not just during summer but during any time or season. It was (and is) an opportunity for me (above anyone else) to prove to myself that I can do something like this and, cliché as it sounds, to develop and grow as a person; while I think “Worked and lived in New York for 12 weeks” will look great on my C.V., it’s not the primary reason I’m doing it.

To be honest, I think already I’ve been absorbed (at least a little bit) into the States, the people and the way of life although there are times, even now, when I still can’t quite believe that I am actually here.

I’ve sometimes though if I would ever call the United States home. Would I, or do I, want to emigrate here now that I’ve spent a while living here? To be honest, the answer (for the foreseeable future) is no. The people are lovely, the weather is gorgeous now, and the area is beautiful, but I wouldn’t want to pack up shop, as it were, and move away from home permanently. If I were in a different area working in a different capacity (something more up my street) then perhaps the answer would be yes.

The past six weeks have gone by quite quick, and no doubt the next six weeks will go by just as quick. Most likely, before I know it, I will be packing my suitcase again bound for my native home, and homeland. I will miss my time here, the people here, and the place itself.

I am incredibly proud of myself for having gotten so far (literally!), especially since a part of me wondered back home if I’d even be able to reach here; if I’d be able to find the courage to go. I said earlier that, at times, I still can’t quite believe that I am actually here. It’s hard for me to imagine it now, but I think it will only be when I’m home again that I’ll look back and realise just how significant, and beneficial, an experience this was. I’m not expecting to return home super-loud or super-brash; I think, in a way, I’m the same person as I was when I left. But I do think my confidence and my courage will be greater as a result of coming and being here: confidence and courage to travel (solo or otherwise), to see new places, and to do new things.

I’m not sure who will read this or where I will post this to but I just want to say thank you. Thank you friends and family for your support, encouragement, help and interest in this endeavour of mine, not just in the run-up to it but while I’ve been here. Despite the physical distance between us, I do think about you, a lot, and I look forward to seeing you in-person again; hopefully I have made you proud.

The motto of New York State is Excelsior, meaning Ever Upward; or, to put it another way, Onward and Upward…

Space of Time

Posted in Life with tags on January 21, 2014 by James McConnell

It has been a long time since I last posted an update and for that I apologise; I have, as of late, been ploughing through quite a bit of work for University, and some paperwork not for University (which I will explain later). Even in the first half of last year, I had quite a bit of work for college which didn’t leave much time (or thought) for my Blog. Today, however, I have decided to set aside a bit of time for a bit of reflection.

In some respects, it is baffling to me that it is January already; it doesn’t seem like four months ago (approximately) that I enrolled on and started studying for my Degree in Computing at the University of Ulster. Time over the past couple of weeks has whizzed by; even Christmas almost seems like yesterday – no doubt the upcoming weeks and months will pass just as quick (if not quicker). So far, I’ve enjoyed my time at University. I’ve made new friends (always a plus), found my way to classes (another plus) and kept on top of the work (even if it has been a bit stressful at times). I will be honest in saying that I initially had some doubts a couple of weeks into the Semester; doubts about whether or not it was somewhere I should be and something I should be doing; on reflection, however, I am glad I decided to continue as it has turned into a great experience.

I generally don’t make New Year’s Resolutions but it’s interesting to see and hear what resolutions other people make. According to Statistic Brain, in a study done by the University of Scranton, the Top 10 resolutions for 2014 are the following:

1
Lose Weight
2
Getting Organized
3
Spend Less, Save More
4
Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5
Staying Fit and Healthy
6
Learn Something Exciting
7
Quit Smoking
8
Help Others in Their Dreams
9
Fall in Love
10
Spend More Time with Family

Most resolutions (if not all) are on a personal level; things we aim to do in order to be better people (in our eyes). Perhaps a resolution of mine this year is to be more self-assured and more confident in myself and to push myself out of my comfort zone – quite literally (I tried “cut back on coffee” but it didn’t last long).

Last month, I applied to a program called American Work and Travel through an organisation called Camp Leaders. I had an interview in Belfast with them on 10th January and found out last Monday (13th January) that I had been accepted onto the program – if all goes according to plan, I will be spending about three months this summer (June-August/September) somewhere in the United States of America. It wont actually be my first time in the States – I have been to America before (twice) albeit on family holidays for two weeks each time (the last time, in July 2006, if memory serves me right) – but it will be the first time I’ll be going to America, and spending time in it, without the company of family. Personally, I’m really excited about the opportunity, if not a little scared (it will be sad not to be spending time with my family or friends on my birthday, which is at the end of July, but maybe I’ll go to a theme park!).

The organisation of Camp Leaders is itself part of an organisation called Smaller Earth and one of its mottoes is “Explore your world”. While I didn’t quite enjoy the recently released The Desolation of Smaug I did enjoy An Unexpected Journey. In The Hobbit films, and book, Bilbo Baggins is a reluctant traveller; a hobbit content with his home comforts; that is, until Gandalf arrives with a band of Dwarves and sends him off on an adventure. Bilbo at first is ill-prepared, even grumpy, but soon finds his stride and courage in the face of danger and death. In An Unexpected Journey, Gandalf imparts wisdom to a flustered Bilbo:

The world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there.

When I look back at the previous two years, it’s quite staggering to me just how far I’ve come in that space of time. Nearly two-years-ago I was a temporary agency worker at a warehouse factory a couple of days away (although I was unaware of it at the time) of being “let go” (or “laid off”, or whatever terminology you want to use) as my contract was nearing its end. I remember driving home on my last day thinking, “Now what?” and wondering where my life was going (if anywhere). If you had told me back then that in two years time I would be studying for a degree and possibly on the road to a summer in the US of A, I probably wouldn’t have believed you – it’s funny how there are times in life when (like Bilbo Baggins) you find yourself in the most unexpected of places – places where you want to be, or perhaps places where you don’t want to be (indeed, what’s quite bizarre is that I drive along a same section of road to University each morning as I did driving to my place of work two/three years ago – little did I think, or know, two or three years ago that in two or three years time I would be driving along that same road but for a different destination).

The next couple of months will bring about quite a bit of change. In May, my sister will get married and (as far as I’m aware) will move out with her husband-to-be into their new house, ushering in a new chapter in their lives (and hopefully an exciting one). I will be honest in saying that, recently, I have thought about how much longer I want to stay at home living with my parents – I will probably still be living with them for the foreseeable future (unfortunate for them!) but with one of my siblings married and moved out, and my other sibling nearly at the same point, I do sometimes wonder about my future at home; will I still want to live here for, or in, the next couple of years (or less)? About two years ago, one of my cousins moved to Australia. Would I want to undertake a similar journey, albeit to a different place? I don’t know.

I probably wont have much free time between now and May/June so this will possibly (if not probably) be my last post for quite some time although, who knows, I may be writing my next one somewhere in a foreign land…

It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.

Of Gods and Men

Posted in Atheism, Christianity, God, Life, Religion, Science, Theology with tags , on July 20, 2012 by James McConnell

Do not be afraid of being free thinkers! If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all religion. You will find science not antagonistic but helpful to religion.

Lord Kelvin

About two-years-ago, Professor Stephen Hawking co-authored a book entitled, ‘The Grand Design‘ to much media attention. I, like others, bought and read the book to find out what the hustle-and-bustle was about. To be honest, I thought that while the book was (and is) interesting it is by no means revolutionary (or, indeed, that it discussed anything that hadn’t been said before) – after I read it, I read Hawking’s earlier book, ‘A Brief History of Time‘ which I did find very interesting and overall much better. Perhaps the biggest talking-point, and controversy, surrounding the ‘The Grand Design’ was Hawking’s statement:

It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.

In ‘The Grand Design’, Hawking further explains:

Many people through the ages have attributed to God the beauty and complexity of nature that in their time seemed to have no scientific explanation. But just as Darwin and [Alfred Russel] Wallace explained how the apparently miraculous design of living forms could appear without intervention by a supreme being, the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.

Chapter 7, ‘The Apparent Miracle’

In the past few weeks, controversy has arose regarding the inclusion of “Creationism” (or, rather, its viewpoint) into the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre in Northern Ireland. On the one hand, there are those who believe that it is a valid viewpoint on the origins of the universe; on the other hand, there are those who believe that it is unscientific and unfit for a museum of nature. When thinking about the issue, I can’t help but think back to my time in the Natural History Museum in London, a few years ago, in which I spent an hour or two looking around with my parents. On my time there, I wrote the following:

Throughout the museum, there is a wealth of fossils and exhibitions on Evolution – Evolution is talked about as fact – I don’t remember reading anything about God, Creationism or “Intelligent Design”. Great Britain is fast becoming a secular country (if anything, it is a secular country).

With the debate at the Giant’s Causeway kicking off, I have turned once more this past week or two to my own thoughts on the issue. It is sometimes all-too-easy, I think, for those of us in Northern Ireland to be cynical about the debate and, with a sigh, brush the whole affair off as “typical Northern Ireland”. Certainly, much of Northern Ireland is deeply Christian (and Conservative, Evangelical Christian at that) but, in fairness, such debates have also arisen in The United States of America (with the likes of the “Creation Museum“, although such museums don’t exist in Northern Ireland – at least, not as-of-now). Indeed, some are puzzled as to why such debates are still happening in the 21st Century – surely these squabbles only echo of by-gone days? Days when Mankind didn’t know as much about Nature as He does now? Why do some elements of society still pander to religious lobbyists?

Admittedly, I think that if you browse around any mainstream museum of natural history, not just that of the Giant’s Causeway, you will find zero mention of God and/or Genesis Chapter One – if you do, it will probably be portrayed in a historical context and not taken as scientific fact (e.g. this is what people believed many years ago). So why such fierce controversy? Are those of a religious/faith persuasion less knowledgeable in science and how nature works than their “heathen” counterparts? Why do Evangelical Christians not picket outside every natural history museum and demand the inclusion of Creationism/Intelligent Design? Indeed, is there an issue in Northern Ireland whereby many people are extraordinarily ignorant on matters of science? And, even if faith-based sectors of society do have knowledge of science (however small or large), do they twist it to fit their theological beliefs (or dance around elements of science that seem to clash with their theology)?

Many people in Northern Ireland are brought up, from an early age, learning the Bible – indeed, many can quote Bible verses off-by-heart – even myself – most of us know, for instance, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” or, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.”. Our culture, at least in the Protestant tradition, is very much grounded in teaching and preaching the Bible to children – many are sent to various Christian organisations from an early age, as I was, whether it be Sunday School, Children’s Church, Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, Christian Endeavour, Youth Fellowship or Holiday Bible Club (or all of them – with the exception of one of the Brigades). Even if we aren’t well-steeped in Bible knowledge, chances are we’ll know the quoted verses, or can even tell the stories – there are even billboards with said verses on them. Yet, how many of us in Northern Ireland can quote a line out of Charles Darwin’s, ‘The Origin of Species’? How many of us can explain Quantum Mechanics and wave-particle duality? Could we explain the process of osmosis so that a child could understand it? How far, or short, does our scientific knowledge, and imagination, stretch? Do we care more about sin than science?

Unfortunately, I think science education on a formal level is quite diluted. For GCSE Biology, I had (at least in my view) a boring and uninspiring teacher who, no pun intended, seemed to butcher his subject. As such, I never really developed an interest in it. For my first year of GCSE Chemistry, I had a teacher who, while a bit more lively and interesting than my Biology teacher, didn’t instill any interest in Chemistry in me or my fellow classmates (my teacher for second year of GCSE Chemistry explained the subject better). My teacher for both years of GCSE Physics, however, was superb and, to this day, is somebody I have admired – not just for taking an active interest in how I did in the subject but also for the way he taught it. Indeed, to be honest, I often wish that I had taken-up Physics for A-Level but I often thought my Maths skills weren’t quite up to the challenge.

Maybe as teenagers (or even adults) we are stumped as to what the real-life applications, or implications, of what we learn in science are. Are people drawn more towards theology because it’s easier to understand? Because it doesn’t require the use of formulae and major thinking? Certainly, there were times in science classes (even those of Physics) when what I was being taught seemed abstract. I think it’s only really been in the past four or five years that I’ve truly appreciated and acknowledged the real-life implications of (for example) Physics: lasers are used in surgery, Blu-Ray players, games consoles and even for fighting cancers, the use of quantum mechanics is employed in computers, and even concepts such as force and gravity are used in developing cars (whether in terms of safety or speed – or both).

Perhaps the biggest Physics-related news came recently when a particle with similar properties to that of the Higgs Boson had been discovered at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider):

The Higgs boson’s role is to give the particles that make up atoms their mass. Without this mass, they would zip around the cosmos, unable to bind together to form the atoms that make stars and planets – and people.

Theory has it that as the universe cooled after the Big Bang, an invisible force known as the Higgs field formed.

This field permeates the cosmos and is made up of countless numbers of tiny particles – or Higgs bosons. As other particles pass through it, they pick up mass.

Daily Mail

While the scientists said they still needed to do more tests for conclusive proof but were confident the particle detected was that of the Higgs Boson, for many, the announcement was the final nail in the coffin of religion and faith and only asserted Nietzsche‘s statement that God is indeed dead (and buried). The whole affair has made me wonder: have we reached the point, or are reaching the point, where we can explain everything purely through scientific, natural means? Has the idea of a God who loves us, cares for us and is willing to save us from eternal damnation been made redundant? Like old pieces of technology or furniture, have we too thrown God (or the idea of deities) onto the scrap heap of history and embraced the newest upgrades of science and naturalism? Instead of Katherine Hankey’s words:

Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.

will we soon say, “Tell me about science and its achievements, of the Universe and its Laws”?

I think, to some, to live in a purely scientific world – to have a purely scientific viewpoint on life – is, in some way, mechanical and, ironically, devoid of life – as if to be locked in a jailcell. Perhaps some think that to take a purely scientific viewpoint on life is to become ensnared by reductionism – the idea that everything can be explained through natural means – the reason you love and feel joy, sorrow, happiness or anger is because of various neurological and chemical events in your body and brain.

One idea that has floated around the “Physics world” is that of a “TOE”,  a Theory of Everything – a theory that will one day explain every natural phenomena in our universe, from stars to microscopic bacteria in the ground (although, some think that a one, individual theory can’t explain everything – that instead, the TOE consists of lots of theories, each connected to another to form a whole – maybe more of a foot than a toe…).

I admit that a part of me thinks that, one day, science possibly will be able to explain everything that happens in the universe – how it works and why it works. Certainly, science has come leaps-and-bounds even in the past one hundred years – a man has been set on the moon, a particle collider has been built and cancers that were untreatable even two decades ago are slowly being defeated. Of course, it would be naïve to say that such progress happens overnight – scientific progress for Mankind sometimes comes more in the form of small footsteps than giant leaps.

With the many advances in science and scientific knowledge, what will become of religion and faith? We may not have all the answers now, but perhaps future generations will. Will there be a day when we, or future generations, will open a Bible and say to each other, “Did you know people used to believe this?”. Will people look back with puzzlement at Christianity in the same way we look back at Egyptian beliefs in gods and sailing to the afterlife? Will Cathedrals and church meeting places go the same way as the pyramids? Will a tour guide point to a cross at the front of a building and tell the quizzical crowd that people used to believe that a man was God Incarnate, that he died on a Roman cross thousands of years ago, that he came back to life and soon after ascended into Heaven? Or will people retain a belief in a God but in a deistic fashion (God is out there somewhere but he’s not interested in us)?

Is “Creationism” a genuine scientific viewpoint or is it pseudo-science? Is it disguised as real science but, at its core, is ultimately theological? In his book, ‘Rocks of Ages‘, the late Stephen Jay Gould writes:

As a matter of fact, not a necessity of logic, the activists of the Creationist movement against the teaching of evolution have been young-earth fundamentalists who believe that the Bible must be literally true, that the earth cannot be more than ten thousand years old, and that God created all species, separately and ex nihilo in six days of twenty-four hours. These people then display a form of ultimate hubris (or maybe just simple ignorance) in equating these marginal and long-discredited factual claims with the entire domain of “religion.”

Defending NOMA from Both Sides Now: The Struggle Against Modern Creationism

Whether Creationism states that the world is less than ten-thousand years old and was made in six, twenty-four hour days, or whether it states that the world is millions of years old and that the days were longer than twenty-four hours, the main tenet behind it is: God created the world and everything in it.

Personally, I do not view the Bible as a science textbook. If I want to find out about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I do not open 1 John. If I want to learn how particles work, I don’t head to Hosea. Or, if I want to know what would happen if I were to enter a black-hole, I don’t pore over Revelation to find the answer. Certainly, there are events in the Bible that are of a scientific nature, or interest: one of them being the length of the supposed “Creation days”. Mainstream science tells us that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, quite a far cry from the Young Earth Creationist figure of just under ten thousand years old – scientists use techniques such as carbon dating to gain an understanding of just how old rocks are (although the age may be more of an estimate than a definite figure). Again in ‘Rocks of Ages’, Stephen Jay Gould comments about the relationship between nature and scripture and the length of the supposed “days”:

The natural world cannot contradict scripture (for God, as author of both, cannot speak against himself). So – and now we come to the key point – if some contradiction seems to emerge between a well-validated scientific result and a conventional reading of scripture, then we had better reconsider our exegesis, for the natural world does not lie, but words can convey many meanings, some allegorical or metaphorical. (If science clearly indicates an ancient world, then the “days” of creation must represent periods longer than twenty-four hours.)

A Tale of Two Thomases

As a child, I was fascinated (perhaps like many small boys) by dinosaurs. They were breathtaking creatures – some had sharp wits (and sharp claws), some were enormous in size and had awesome strength, and some were small but incredibly agile. I remember I was subscribed to a series of magazines charting the history of various dinosaurs – in some of the issues, parts were available to build a model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and Stegosaurus, both of which glowed in the dark (for the record, they were cool). Not only that, I watched a BBC series entitled, ‘Walking With Dinosaurs‘ (I even had the series on VHS), read the accompanying book and watched movies like ‘Jurassic Park‘. Dinosaurs, I was told, roamed the earth millions of years ago – fossils of them had been discovered in places such as America, Asia, Africa, Oceania and even Europe.

To be honest, at the time, I didn’t think about how dinosaurs and humans co-existed (if, indeed, they did) – the closest I saw of the relationship between Man and dinosaur was that of T-Rex stomping around a park and wrecking San Diego. How could dinosaurs and humans co-exist millions of years ago when humans were never shown alongside the dinosaurs in documentaries or in the magazines (apart from size comparisons)? Did both species have a major fall-out?

Now, I come to that “e” word: evolution. When most people think of evolution, they think of Charles Darwin and his work, ‘The Origin of Species‘ (the full title is much longer). As an idea, evolution did not start with Darwin – if anything, it existed as far back as the Ancient Greeks. Darwin, however, was perhaps (if not was) the first person in “modern” times to give a detailed description of the idea, undertaking years of research and presenting his findings. In its simplest form (the simplest form I could find!), evolution is:

The central idea…that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor, just as you and your cousins share a common grandmother.

Through the process of descent with modification, the common ancestor of life on Earth gave rise to the fantastic diversity that we see documented in the fossil record and around us today. Evolution means that we’re all distant cousins: humans and oak trees, hummingbirds and whales.

Understanding Evolution

I think that is an extraordinary thought: that humans and oak trees are distant cousins. Yet, at the same time, it sounds bizarre: how can humans be related, biologically, to trees? When we think of relations, we think of them in terms of same species. I am biologically related to my parents and siblings. I have uncles, aunts, cousins and a grandmother (of course, I also had grandfathers and another grandmother – unfortunately, I have never had the privilege of having or meeting them in life – much to my despair as I would have loved to have met them – they died before I was born). They, in turn, have (or had) mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins – and they in turn had mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins – and so on. The presence of literal trees in the family tree is non-existent (or so it would seem) – so too are chimpanzees (again, or so it would seem!). According to a 2005 study, however, humans share 96% of the same DNA as chimpanzees:

Because chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, the chimp genome is the most useful key to understanding human biology and evolution, next to the human genome itself. The breakthrough will aid scientists in their mission to learn what sets us apart from other animals.

National Geographic

Of course, humans are humans, and chimpanzees are chimpanzees – while there are similarities, there are also differences but perhaps the same concept applies in human families: you are biologically related to your mother and father – you have DNA from both parents, resulting (as is very often the case) in similar appearances and even personalities. At the same time, though, you are different – if anything, you are neither fully your mother nor fully your father – rather, you are a blend of the two; a cocktail, as such (although, you may be more like one than the other). You may even have traits of your grandparents – again, probably because of their relation to your respective parents (I was told once I am similar to my grandfather – my mother’s father).

Even though Human intellect exceeds that of most animals’ (some might argue all), people still have an uncomfortable feeling being told that they are related to apes and chimpanzees – if anything, it is seen as an insult; a taboo – people like to believe that they are cleaner and more civilized than apes and chimpanzees. Yet, apes, chimpanzees and humans exhibit the same type of social behaviour and experience similar social encounters:

Most non-human primate communities are more or less closed to contact with members of other communities…As a result, social interactions between members of different troops are usually very rare, especially for females. Chimpanzees are a notable exception.  When chimpanzees from different troops come together, there is often an exciting, friendly encounter lasting several hours, following which, some of the adult females switch groups.  Apparently, they are seeking new mates.  Occasionally, however, contact between communities of the comparatively unpredictable chimpanzees will develop into genocidal violence.

Source: http://anthro.palomar.edu/behavior/behave_2.htm

In perhaps what seems like a sharp deviation, I want to return to Hawking’s words:

…the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.

The idea of a multiverse has been one that has often intrigued me. Simply put, it is the idea that multiple universes exist alongside our own. Some diagrams portray these “universes” as being stacked on top of each other, like layers. Science-fiction (or not-so-science-fiction) may show us a spacecraft zooming through a wormhole, exiting one universe only to enter another. What these “universes” are like (or could be like) remains in the realm of speculation: their laws could be exactly the same as our universe’s or they could be entirely different. Again, in ‘The Grand Design’, it’s stated that:

While some of those universes are similar to ours, most are very different. They aren’t just different in details, such as whether Elvis really did die young or whether turnips are a dessert food, but rather they differ even in their apparent laws of nature. In fact, many universes exist with many different sets of physical laws. Some people make a great mystery of this idea, sometimes called the multiverse concept, but these are just different expressions of the Feynman sum over histories.

Choosing Our Universe

Some believe, however, that the multiverse idea is flawed. In an article for the New York Times, physicist Paul Davies writes:

Under [the Big Bang] theory, if you took a God’s-eye view of the multiverse, you would see big bangs aplenty generating a tangled melee of universes enveloped in a superstructure of frenetically inflating space. Though individual universes may live and die, the multiverse is forever…

Extreme multiverse explanations are therefore reminiscent of theological discussions. Indeed, invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as ad hoc as invoking an unseen Creator. The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith.

At the same time, the multiverse theory also explains too much. Appealing to everything in general to explain something in particular is really no explanation at all. To a scientist, it is just as unsatisfying as simply declaring, ”God made it that way!”

A Brief History of the Multiverse

I somewhat deviate from Mr. Davies in that I don’t think the idea of a multiverse exists exclusively to explain the features of our own universe. To me, it is a genuine interest – are there other universes and can we use wormholes to reach them (if wormholes exist)? I am all-too-willing to accept that our universe may indeed be the only universe in existence but I suppose the boy in me hopes that there are other universes to visit and explore (perhaps even mimicking the story of ‘E.T.‘).

I’m not entirely sure if the multiverse theory can explain the fine-tuning of our universe – just that other universes could exist. Let’s assume that multiple universes do exist and that we inhabit one of them – some of the universes are fine-tuned, others are not. How does such an outcome prove, or even disprove, the existence of a Creator God? Even-so, while our planet may be “fine-tuned” to create and support most sentient, biological life, does that mean that the rest of our universe is “fine-tuned”? It doesn’t seem that way. Though it may feel comfy, even Earth is hazardous – earthquakes and famines devastate animals and people. Go into space and even deadlier things await – raging storms, freezing and boiling temperatures – such places are devoid of life (at least, sentient life) and very few, if indeed any, support the growth of flora and fauna. Granted, given time (say thousands, if not millions of years) such places could become fine-tuned to support life.

If multiple universes exist, and not all have the same laws of nature, could it be that by travelling from one universe to another we undertake a form of time travel? Could time slow down, or speed up? Indeed, if not all universes have the same laws of nature, could it be that we may never reach another universe? Could it be that as we pass through the wormhole the laws of physics change to the point where it’s impossible to go any further? If it’s hard for us to make sense of our own world, let alone the universe it is travelling in, it is even harder for us to process the idea of multiple universes.

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I live in the countryside. Quite often, I go for a walk along the road I live on. Last week walking, I was wearing a t-shirt with the words “New York” printed across it. When I glanced down and saw the words, it made me think about my “relationship” with the surrounding area, and the countryside as a whole. I’ve very often been of the mentality that I am, at heart, a country boy. Tractors frequently travel along the road, sheep and cattle graze in the fields and, in winter, the scenery truly is that of a wonderland. Magnificent as New York City is (I visited it quite a few years ago), there is something about the countryside that just resonates with me – perhaps it’s why I have such an interest in the natural world.

Perhaps we feel the need to give somebody, or something, credit for the perceived magnificence and beauty of not only earth but the universe in which it spins – like giving thanks to our mothers for bearing us, giving birth to us and, ultimately, giving us life.

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I know that many of these topics are controversial but, for me, this post (like so many before it) has been a humble exploration of existence – a journey, no doubt, that will last for some time…

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.

Satellite 22…The First Frontier.

Posted in Blogging, God, Life, Society with tags , , on May 22, 2012 by James McConnell

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach…

“The Land of Shadow”

The Return of the King

This is my first Blog post of 2012, and my first since June 2011. I apologise for the eleven month silence. I will admit that the silence mainly stemmed from simply not having anything interesting to write about (and largely, truth be told, out of a lack of desire to sit in front of a screen and type). As I logged once more into my WordPress account, the desire to write a post rekindled. I’ll not say that this is the rebirth of multiple, daily posts, but hopefully it will whet any appetite for words.

In my last post, I wrote about my job in a local bicycle warehouse factory. Eleven months later, I have to report that I am no longer working there. My contract ended near the end of January. My time ending at the warehouse was quite bizarre – if anything, it happened in a flash. Quite simply, I got a call on my mobile phone in the early afternoon from the Recruitment Agency I worked for – quite literally about three quarters of an hour into the start of my shift – the woman on the other end told me that my contract had been ended and that I was to return my fob to the bicycle company – no two weeks notice, no letter. Myself, my manager and two supervisors in the department I worked in went into a small room and had a meeting – that was that, I returned my fob and left. I haven’t been back at the time of writing although I believe we parted on good terms.

Looking back at my time in the warehouse is itself an odd experience. On the one hand, it seems like a lifetime ago – as if it happened on another world – on the other hand, it seems like yesterday as I can sharply remember the people and place.

Just slightly under a month later, my dad told me that he had seen an advert on the Internet about a Prince’s Trust twelve-week course soon starting at a local college in Ballymena and had enquired about it. Two days later, I had an informal meeting with the course leader. The day after, I had a two-hour induction with the rest of the group – mostly people in their late teens. I remember walking into the classroom and as I entered I saw a semi-circle of people sitting on chairs – a few chairs were empty but were soon filled. We did various ice-breaker activities which continued on to the following week.

I must say, at first I was sceptical of the course – I was going in to a place on my own, not knowing a single person there. About three months later, I know everyone on the course (although a few have left for different reasons) – I have even given a few a lift in my car to-and-fro the college (they live in the village near my home) – people whom, I believe, I have developed friendships with. Over the weeks, we have been on a five-day residential (where I did things for the first time, such as rock climbing, canoeing, archery and bouldering), undertaken a community project in town, did work experience in various places and undertook a Team Challenge (spending time with physically and mentally disadvantaged people). While it will be nice to finish the course in time for Summer (it’s due to finish this week but may extend into next week), I will admit that I will be sad when the course ends – the people I’ve met and spent time with have been some of the most incredible people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting – they have their own personalities, stories, interests and idiosyncrasies.

I have recently been thinking about the past two years. Whilst browsing on Facebook a few days ago, I saw pictures of those on their last day in Sixth Form in Grammar School (“last day” is a somewhat unofficial term – I remember being told I was officially a Sixth Form pupil until the end of the school year). I remember, two-years-ago, being in that same position – on my “last day”, I remember going to the beach to celebrate before Study Leave with the thought of having to sit down, pull over the books and revise lingering in my mind. In August, when the results came out, I didn’t reach University. I had applied to study Philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast but didn’t reach it. Did I feel disappointed? I did (my grades weren’t straight A* but they weren’t terrible either – at least, in my opinion). Did I feel left out of the “University experience” when all my friends and most of my peers reached University (albeit not the same one)? You bet.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to sound bitter or spiteful – I wish those well who are currently studying at University (where-ever they may be). Even-so, a part of me wishes I had went. Truth be told, I wasn’t terribly fussed on Queen’s – my sisters studied at it and I know quite a few others who did as well (I even did work experience in the History and Anthropology Department in The McClay Library) but, as lovely as it looked and as rich its history, it was never really somewhere I desired to be (a good friend of mine – of whom I’ve been friends with for about sixteen/seventeen years – studied Physics with Mathematics at Queen’s before deciding towards the end of the first academic year to drop out of it – what amazed me even more was the fact that he was (and probably still is) extremely competent at Science and Mathematics – truth be told, I’m still not sure why he dropped out – of course, such a decision was entirely his – he is now working in Blood Transfusion in Belfast). If anything, for a long time I had my sights set on the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. I had a look at the prospectus and website and thought that the place looked majestic – another plus was that its Philosophy course ranked higher on UCAS than Queen’s’ in terms of student satisfaction (it may have changed now, though, I haven’t checked in a while).

I will admit that I have felt quite restless these past two years – maybe even frustrated at times. It’s not that things haven’t happened or even “worked out” – it’s that I’ve rarely felt a sense of contentment or belonging. When I was in Sixth Form, I felt like I belonged there – I didn’t have to be there but I wanted to. Even-so, doing my A-Levels gave me a goal; an objective. Ever since that part of my life ended, I feel as if I’ve been wandering a desert, not quite knowing what to do or where to go. I can’t help but wonder if I’m like the Joker:

Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just…do things.

Many people will say that you should aim to do what makes you happy in life and, to certain degree, I believe that. Of course, there are times when you can’t be fussy and just have to knuckle down and take things as they come. I will be brutally honest: I rarely felt a sense of belonging in my old job at the warehouse – sure, technically I was part of a “team” but the nature of my work felt so disjointed from others and what they did. At break time and lunch time, the vast majority of those on my shift had a quick five minute drink or munch before spending the remainder of the time outside smoking. As a result, I never really felt as if I knew my fellow co-workers (I’m not a smoker and the smoke from cigarettes sickens me – literally). I can’t remember exactly how many in the department were on my shift – perhaps twenty or more – but I’d wager that I only got to know about two or three of them reasonably well. I never even really believed that I knew my supervisor.

Now, with the end of the Prince’s Trust course fast approaching, I can’t help but turn my thoughts once more to what I’m going to do after it. A part of me has thought about re-entering “formal” education. Admittedly, I don’t know where I would go or what I would study. On the one hand, I would want it to lead to a career or to a job. On the other hand, I would want to do something I am interested in.

I think a big sentiment in society is that you study in order to get a good job. Engineering, Medicine, Social work, Accounting, IT and even the sciences, such as Physics, are all considered relevant in practical life and mostly in high demand by employers, the market and even Joe Bloggs on the street. English Literature, History, Philosophy, Politics, Theology, Archaeology, Geography, Psychology and Music (to name a few) are often considered “waster subjects”. While I believe such subjects are hearty endeavours, have value in-and-of themselves (culturally or otherwise) and aren’t entirely “waster subjects”, I think one has to admit that, realistically, there isn’t much demand in the job market for someone holding a degree in Archaeology, English Literature or Philosophy. Sure, it’s perhaps fun excavating a Roman burial site, studying the poetry of William Shakespeare, or pondering the application of biological determinism with the concept of free will but is any of that, really, going to land you a job and, more-so, a job specialising in those areas? My sister, for instance, completed a degree in Geography two-years-ago – she is now working in a children’s nursery (as far as I’m aware, she still intends to teach formally at some stage) – great as a degree in Geography is, how applicable is it for working in a children’s nursery? I’d wager not much (my sister worked with children quite a few times before, through church and baby-sitting).

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that if you’re studying English Literature, History, Geography or any other such subject that you are doomed after you graduate (or that you’re doomed if you already have). Even in IT it (no pun intended) is hard to get employment but, again, I think it is especially hard to find work specialising in the Humanities (for the record, I loved Religious Studies at A-Level – it was by far my favourite subject and the one I did best at; not necessarily because I was super-smart at it but because I found it incredibly interesting – especially the Philosophy and Ethics aspect).

Over two months from now, I will be turning twenty-two years of age. I often felt last year that I wasn’t going anywhere, not making any progress in life. I had a job but it was by no means where I wanted to be (physically and metaphorically) – saying that, it was something. This year, I admit, has so far been going quite better – not perfectly, truth be told, but I definitely feel more content now than in 2011 – perhaps I’ve learned more about acceptance.

In the centre in which I undertook the Community Project for the Prince’s Trust, a person wrote on one of the walls (with permission!) Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

I sometimes wonder if we are torn between what we want to do in life and what we think we should do in life. It may sound strange, but are we sometimes hesitant to do, or try to do, that which we have a real passion for? Do we hold back because we can’t help shake off the feeling that it’s the wrong thing to do – personally or because of social beliefs? Even-so, can we always “know the difference”? Know whether or not something can or can’t be changed (and, if it can, to change it)?

Contrary to some beliefs, Twitter can be a source of inspiration. One quote I recently read on it came from Sylvia Plath:

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

I think we self-doubt, or self-question, many things: do I stay in this job or do I leave it for something else? Am I prepared to spend my life with this person, live with them and perhaps even start a family with them? If I move there, will I be happy or will I miss home? Odd as it may sound, self-doubt, or self-questioning, can sometimes be a good trait to exercise. It can help you examine whether or not you truly have a passion for what you do or if making decision A would lead you to regret it for the rest of your life.

On the kitchen counter at home sat a small Bible devotional booklet for March, April and May of this year. Procrastinating, I picked it up and flicked through it to Friday 18th May. Most of what I read seemed to echo clearly to me – it was as if I had been guided to the words on that one page. The segment was entitled, “Not What I Planned” and was based on Psalm 37:1-8:

This isn’t the way I expected my life to be. I wanted to marry at 19, have a half dozen children, and settle into life as a wife and mother. Instead I went to work, married in my forties, and never had children. For a number of years I was hopeful that Psalm 37:4 might be for me a God guaranteed promise: “He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

Yet God doesn’t always “bring it to pass” (v.5), and unmet desires stir up occasional sadness. Like mine, your life may have turned out differently than you planned.

In Winter, driving home after evening-shift at the warehouse was sometimes a harrowing experience. I remember being shrouded in fog one night – the fog was so thick it was difficult even to see the light from the front of my car. As I got closer to home, the fog largely subsided with patches of it lingering here-and-there. Cliché as it sounds, that is what life sometimes feels like – one moment you are lost in “fog”, the next you are in the clear, or vice-versa. I did, however, have guidance on my way home in the fog – the reflective studs on the road acted as beacons to me – a hope that, if I follow them, my journey home will be easier and safer (though I may feel uneasy).

I don’t know where my life is going – where I will be six months from now, two months from now or even one month from now – the feeling of uncertainty still very much hangs over me. Yet, as the other cliché saying goes, sometimes life is about the journey, not the destination…

It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.

Ursula Le Guin

Sing for Salvation

Posted in Life, Society with tags , , on June 13, 2011 by James McConnell

Your eyes are not deceiving you, dear reader, it is indeed I, returned to the Blogging realm once more…

Fantasy-esque narrative aside, I decided I would write a short update since it’s been quite a while since my last post. In some respects, much has and has not happened in my life since then. Towards the end of October, my eldest sister got married and moved into a new house with her husband. In mid-November, I started a part-time job (which became full-time about four-months-ago) and towards the end of December, I became a fully qualified car driver (getting my first car one-week-ago). To be honest, I wish I could say I’ve been sailing the seas, or taking to the skies, but I’m afraid I can’t.

At the moment, I am working in a bicycle warehouse/factory (the company sells bicycle and non-bicycle components as well as full-spec bicycles). My job currently is that of replenisher – in other words, I refill boxes in the warehouse with stock that customers have returned (provided the stock is in “resell-able” condition). Perhaps cynically, I have often viewed my job simply as, “Putting things into boxes” and (grandiose aside) that is, essentially, what my job entails. It is a job I have been doing for quite a few months. To be honest, at times it’s a pleasant job – it’s not “heavy” when it comes to pressure – in fact, if anything, it’s quite a laid-back job (that’s not to say that I’m lazy but that the job, at least in my opinion, is not mentally burdensome). However, saying that, while the job is not burdensome it is, more-often-than-not, boring. The work is so mundane that there are many times I find myself drifting away into other thought (I even heard one supervisor in another department describe my job to his workers as, “boring as Hell”; quite a contrast to Mark Twain who said, “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company”!).

The reason I got the job was simple: one day while in town my Mum walked past a recruitment agency, went in, told the people about me and a few days later I then visited them for an “interview”. I am “employed” at the bicycle company as a temporary agency worker; in a sense, I do and I don’t work for the company: I do in the sense that I work in their facilities and wear company uniform; I don’t in the sense that my wages are ultimately paid (and determined) by the recruitment agency. When I first entered the job, I worked three nights a week – three and a half hours each night. After a few months, that was then extended to full-time. While I have appreciated the job (and, in many respects, I still do appreciate it) it is by no means what I want to do with my life.

I suppose, like many people, I do my job purely because I “have to” – I have to do something with my life at the moment and I need some means of financial income and, while the job may not be my ideal job, it is something in a time when it’s hard to come by anything. A part of me doubts that I’m the only one who thinks that and, from my experience working with others, many people view their job purely as a financial anchor. In a way, I can understand the mentality behind such thinking: it is important to have a stable financial income because, let’s face it, money is required in order to buy even the essentials of life: most food, water, medicine and clothes are not free (although some may believe that they should be free because they are “essential” to sustaining human life).

Saying that, however, I find it somewhat sad that many people (including myself, I’ll admit) do their jobs purely out of financial considerations. Are we really slaves to our jobs? Do we all grudgingly walk in to work five days a week thinking to ourselves, “Back to this hell-hole”? I understand that we all have our ups-and-downs; days when we feel on-top-of-the-world and days when we feel down-in-the-dumps but are we forever in a vicious cycle of viewing our jobs with disdain? I will fully admit that when I started my job, I was genuinely thrilled and excited about it. At the time, I had gone through quite a few weeks (if not months) of unemployment (the situation of many people) – looking back, I think my excitement was ultimately due to the fact that, simply, I could now say to others that I had a job (albeit a part-time one).

Now, about seven-months-later, resentment towards my job has very much set in (I must stress that I resent my job, not my co-workers; my co-workers are wonderful and a pleasure to work with). I honestly can’t help but think that my job is a dead-end job. Indeed, it strikes me as the type of job one could only do for a couple of months before moving on – there doesn’t seem to be anything more to the job than what there already is. Even-so, I am starting to have doubts about the longevity of my stay at the company. Perhaps every Temporary Worker (or “Temps”, as we are so-often called) has doubts of one sort or another over the security of their job (even if it’s just that: temporary). I’ve even tried to convince myself that my feelings of resentment are only mood-swings but, alas, I can’t bring myself to believe such a conclusion for the feelings towards my job remain constant.

I’m not trying to be smug, nor am I suggesting that I’m “too good” for the job, but I honestly can’t help but think that I am grossly over-qualified for my job. Even-so, academic qualifications aside, I think the job is too little of a challenge for me.

I will fully admit that I have strongly considered leaving my job. Indeed, I am considering leaving my job. I am very tempted to throw in the towel and walk out. So then, what’s making me hold on to my job? Firstly, the fact that I have to pay off my car and its insurance. Secondly, the fact that it’s hard in the current economic climate to find any sort of sustainable job and, thirdly, I don’t want to disappoint friends and family by giving up my job, despite my unhappiness with it (perhaps that’s an odd reason but it’s nevertheless one I have).

I honestly don’t know what to do at the moment. Quite frankly, I feel frustrated, unhappy and stuck. My enthusiasm and passion for my job is gone and while I have sincerely tried to be positive and to “look on the bright side”, I can’t bring myself to do so now.

I am hoping a resolution occurs soon…

The Human Code

Posted in Atheism, Christianity, Church, God, Life, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science, Society, Theology with tags , on October 22, 2010 by James McConnell

I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.

[The Beatles are] more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.

John Lennon

One of my favourite television programmes is that of “The Universe” on the History Channel (if your television is HD, I recommend watching it on History HD). In one episode, a computer animation was shown comparing the size of Earth to that of our Sun, the size of our Sun to the size of even larger stars, and the size of larger stars to the size of, well, even larger stars…It was like big fish eating smaller fish, or a series of matryoshkas. Watching the segment made me feel very small but it’s also something which staggers me.

We live on a tiny planet in one galaxy out of millions (if not billions) of other galaxies, which themselves could (and, in my opinion, probably do) harvest some sort of life. What makes us think we are of any great significance or worth in the cosmos? Why should we think that our little piece of cosmic dust has any great position in the grand scheme of things? Most Human Beings don’t reach past eighty or ninety-years-old and yet there are stars, planets and galaxies which have lasted for thousands of years (indeed, you don’t even have to go into Outer Space – there are trees on Earth which have lasted for hundreds of years).

I have been thinking about how we, as Human Beings, measure success, or what gives us meaning and purpose in life. What makes, or what is, a successful person? The answer, no doubt, is different for everyone. Some people find success in their career or business and the revenue they generate from it; others find it in marrying the love of their life and starting a family with that person; some find it in achieving well academically and still others find success in simply tidying the garage or nailing the perfect recipe for a cake. To many people, success is what “floats your boat” – what makes you happy in life.

Success, for some people, may even be the answer to the following question:

  • What does it mean to be “Human”?

To some people, being Human means having a special “place” in the cosmos. To others, being Human means having a unique genetic code, or biological blueprint. In a post I wrote about two-years-ago, I said:

For some people, Life is just one of those things that we just happen to be a part of – that we’re just forms of Matter wandering about and that we create the meaning to our own existence. For others, it’s a belief in a supernatural God or gods who made us and who have a plan for us and our lives; and still for others, there is no meaning or purpose to Life and there is no such thing as reality.

Summer is now over and Autumn has arrived. While Autumn and Winter can be very cold, I often find that Nature displays its greatest wonders at such times. I am often awe-struck by the gold and red of the leaves and the snow as it descends onto the the Earth (although, what is nice for one may be nasty for another: snow may be nice to watch while beside a roaring fire but it’s maybe not so nice if you have to drive in it or work in it. Sometimes too much of something can be a bad thing and snow, in vast amounts, can be deadly).

My epiphany towards Autumn and Winter can, I think, be summed up in one of my favourite poems by Robert Frost entitled, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there’s some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The Book of Ecclesiastes, much like some of Frost’s poetry, can be read as a depressing book and, in many regards, such a statement is true (although I would call it more sombre than depressing). However, what fascinates me about the book, and why it is one of my favourites of the Bible, is that it’s realistic – a sombre take on life (not that the other books of the Bible aren’t realistic – it’s just that Ecclesiastes seems to have a particular Human quality to it). The writer, in my mind, certainly has a “here today, gone tomorrow” mentality – he acknowledges that life is a fleeting thing – here one minute, gone the next:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build…

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no-one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3 v 1-3, 11

Reading through the chapter, what also intrigues me is how the writer, in a sense, puts Humans on the same level as animals (at least, with regards to mortality):

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: as one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; the human race has no advantage over animals.

Ecclesiastes 3 v 19

What I’ve highlighted in bold is often seen as the anti-thesis of Human thought. We like to think that we have multiple advantages over animals – we like to think that we are vastly superior and can outwit them, whether it be in speed, strength or mental capabilities (a cheetah can run faster than a professional athlete sprinter). Indeed, many Theists like to think that Humans are more special than animals because they were made personally by God. However, I don’t think the writer, in this case, is referring to speed, strength, mental prowess or even the idea of a personal God creating Humans – if anything, he is stating the fact that Humans, like animals, suffer from mortality – we may be superior to animals in our mental, scientific and engineering capabilities but, like animals, we are still affected by Death.

Some people plan their lives out in military fashion – they will plan what they hope to do next year or in ten years time (such as: be married before reaching thirty-years-old or travel the world before reaching fifty-years-old). While I don’t think it’s particularly wrong to plan ahead, I do think that the future is somewhat obscure. When we think of the future, we think of ten years from now, or fifty years from now, not a day from now or a week from now. Indeed, the “future” is not limited to tomorrow – the future is thirty minutes away, fifteen minutes away and even sixty seconds away. When you started reading this Blog post is now in the past.

History is often, if not always, outlined in a finite time-scale. Historical events, whether they be somebody’s birth or a battle, are given positions on the time-scale; but not just any old position – they are set in a particular order in relation to each other. Using a “line”, we can trace (or represent) the history of Man right back to the Beginning of Time (or recorded history).

All of us are accustomed with finite Time. We measure Time with our clocks and we live in days, weeks, months and years (months being associated with different seasons, or drastic changes in climate). In the West, most people begin their year in January and end it in December. So, most of us associate Time with some kind of structure. What makes the concept of Eternity interesting (or confusing) is that it’s structureless – there is no “A to B” in Eternity – no “Beginning and End”. Such a lack of linearity throws us off guard when we then begin to “imagine” what Eternity must be like. In some regards, we will never fully be able to “imagine” Eternity until we break out of the cycle of linearity (a feat which may be impossible).

In a finite time system, things grow, become older, start to decay and then finally die (or wear away) – in other words, numerous changes take place. Even though there is no Beginning and End in Eternity, does that mean that things, or people, don’t age? To age is to imply that there are “Start” and “Finish” dates. I am not the same age I was ten-years-ago, because months and years have passed since then. Even-so, I have aged biologically (maybe “aged” isn’t the right word. Maybe “developed” or “changed” would be better). To most of us, we associate old age with wrinkles and losing our physical vigour; to most of us, that is a sign that we are nearing the end of our biological life (that’s generally true if the person in question has been healthy throughout their life and has not been involved in, say, major accidents which have severely altered their body for the worse).

Rose of Sharon

Posted in Christianity, Church, God, Life, Love, Morality, Music, Religion, Society, Theology with tags , on September 7, 2010 by James McConnell

My dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.

Song of Songs 2 v 14

When it comes to movies, I can generally watch anything from action-packed thrillers, drama and comedies to fantasy and sci-fi. One genre I’m not a big fan of is that of Romantic Comedy. The reason I don’t particularly like Romantic Comedies is that, to me, they are generally over-blown, sensualist and grossly unrealistic in their portrayal of love. Granted, those in themselves may be attractive qualities for some people. I, however, don’t find them appealing.

Yet, there is sometimes a feeling amongst people that love and relationships are picturesque- some people, in a sense, “paint” their perfect picture of what love “looks like”, or how they want to be “in love”. Indeed, if I was to ask most people, “What is Love?” the answers I would receive would be something like, “It’s a magical feeling”, “It’s hard to describe” or even “You don’t need to describe it”. Love is viewed as something outside the realms of Human explanation. It’s viewed as “magical”.

I am often intrigued by how people describe love. For instance, words like “cold” and “heartless” are attributed to those who are considered to be “emotionless”, or lacking any sort of emotional euphoria. Likewise, love is often associated with heat, warmth and “snugness”- love is seen as a “cosy” feeling-  many people have the picturesque image of a couple sitting in front of a roaring fire on a winter’s night drinking wine. If somebody rejects that image of love as superficial and unrealistic, they are seen to be “cold”, having “extinguished” the emotion (they might even be seen to be like the cold winter weather itself).

Very often, the image of the heart is used to symbolise love and it is a very common image: there are two rounded tops which curve round to join each other at the bottom, forming a tip. Most people, however, don’t stop and ask: Why the heart? The “heart” in love is, perhaps unsurprisingly, closely related to that of the Human heart (when people draw a “heart” it is vastly different in its design to that of a real human heart). But why do we not use the image of a liver, a kidney or a brain to symbolise love? What’s so special and unique about the heart?

In my opinion, the heart is often used as an image because it is the “lifeblood” of the body- it is the engine, or the fuel, which powers everything else (a bit like a car- it will only start, generally, if there is fuel in the tank and the electrics work). Likewise, love is viewed as something which “makes the world go round”- it is a fundamental aspect of life, or so it is thought- without it, the world (in this case, Human Beings) would chug to a halt.

I suppose I should clarify before going any further that the “love” I am discussing in this post is  predominately that of a romantic, intimate nature. That’s not to say that other types of “love”  or relationships (friendships, familial etc) aren’t or can’t be “intimate” (or passionate) but that, for the sake of simplicity, I am mostly using “love” in the context of the Greek word “eros”, meaning the love between two “lovers”.

Many people believe in the idea of “love at first sight” which, if I must be honest, I don’t really believe is true. What I do think is true, and perhaps what the phrase should really mean, is the idea of desire at first sight. When a man is sitting in a cafe drinking his tea, glances up from his newspaper and sees a woman enter, the first thing he’ll take notice of (usually) is how she looks (and no doubt a woman would do likewise if a man walked in). It is somewhat in our nature to be attracted to those we deem aesthetically beautiful.

Physicist Albert Einstein once said:

Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love? Put your hand on a stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with that special girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.

The interesting thing about Western society when it comes to relationships is that people usually don’t question the means by which couples are “paired up”. For example, in the Western world, it is generally seen to be the man’s “job” of asking a woman out on a date (and she can either refuse or accept his offer). Unlike other cultures, in which the families of the man and the woman formally discuss the relationship, Western civilisation doesn’t sit down at a negotiating table- a man asks a woman out on a date (or vice-versa), they get to know each other and can then determine their suitability (or non-suitability) based on how the date went (or after a number of dates)- there is no formal “board-meeting” discussion of the relationship (at least, not at such an early stage).

An issue which often crops up among Christians is that of whether or not it is OK for a Christian to date (or marry) a non-Christian. I have heard many say that it isn’t; that the two cannot be reconciled. This approach, to me, seems to be overly exclusive. Indeed, the Apostle Paul states in Corinthians:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

1 Corinthians 7 v 12-14

Some may argue that Paul’s words were only for the culture at the time and are no longer applicable in the modern sense. Indeed, some might even argue that because those were Paul’s own words (“I, not the Lord”) we should not pay too much heed to them. When Paul was writing to the Corinthians, there was much immorality taking place. What was Paul’s solution? A man and a woman were to marry:

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am.

1 Corinthians  7 v 1-7

Even though Paul says that he is giving a concession and not a command for people to marry, does it not still seem like a man and a woman would be marrying more out of a sense of duty than out of love if the only reason they were doing so was to save themselves from immorality? I would, however, agree with Paul in that it is good for a man not to marry. However, while it may be good for a man (and a woman) not to marry, is it good for a man (or a woman) to remain single? There is a difference, I believe, between being “unmarried” and being “single”. You can be unmarried but not be single- that is, you can be unmarried but still be in a relationship with another person.