18 December was the day Avatar was released in South Africa. 18 December was also the day of the Copenhagen accord.

Today I finally came around to reading the reports of Copenhagen. And I finally came around to watching Avatar. A sad concurrency of events.

Yes, Avatar is good. It might be one of those movies which will take me quite some time to work through. It presents a weird and magically wonderful world with effects which few, if anyone, have ever been able do. In combining this with the total over-romanticization of primal cultures, it reminds me of the 1999 Hallmark mini-series of Journey to the Center of the Earth (which I haven’t seen in 8 years or so, but I remember finding really brilliant at the time).

Avatar portrays this beautifully wonderful world of perfect pantheism (although they mess up this theological concept a bit with typical popular western theological ideas, but that will have to be left for another post), where everything is connected, and everything is in balance. It’s an Eden environment, where humanoids feel nature, care for nature, name the animals.

The movie is a blatant critique of colonialism, of the disconnect with nature brought about by our technocratic society, of the destruction of the earth by humans, of the disregard of everything sacred. And dare I say that the general reaction to this critique is positive. For many, the fantastic fantasy world of Pandora point to what we know, on a deep level, to be right, and true. Peace. Harmony. With all of creation. Living a simple lifestyle. Caring for the environment. Yes, all this and more, the beautiful world of Pandora is what we want. But we want to keep it fantasy.

Almost as if we need the fantasy of the possible life in harmony with nature, to keep our technocratic militaristic consumerist world alive. As if we know that as soon as the hope of peace and harmony disappear, we’ll die. So we keep the fantasy alive, so that we can continue our destruction. Because as soon as we walk out of Avatar, we continue our Christmas shopping, buying more than we need, and more than the earth can sustain. We go back to our lives in security villages and kept safe by large armies that keep the possibility of a society where the masses are living in absolute poverty alive. And not only do we shrug at a climate deal which screams against everything that Avatar has been fighting for, we kind of know that we are not willing to change our own lifestyles to be in harmony with our mother earth.

As the days after Copenhagen pass, the reaction of sadness, and sometimes madness, is heard over and over again. Yes, the thoughtful recognize the difficulties that the conversations faces, the thoughtful know that a first step in the right direction has been made. But the reality is that we are making decisions to safe our own asses. We have heard that gaia (to use Lovelock’s language) is going to make it difficult for humans, and we are willing to keep to the limits which was set so that our own comforts aren’t threatened. But harmony with the earth isn’t even on the table. Actually going above and beyond what the economy and human survival require isn’t even considered. A world where the human species is connected with everything around it is kept for the fantasy world of Pandora.

dreaming of the stars

June 3, 2009

I’m going to leave the deep theological contemplations of this blog to persue my childhood dream for a while. Sci-fi!

I don’t know where I became a sci-fi fan. My mother and father never had any appreciation for it at all. But I, I dreamt of the stars by the time I was 8, by the time I was 11 or 12, I walked through the library shelfs, digging for every Sci-fi book I could find. It made me who I was. When I hit High School a new world opened for me, the world of Arthur C Clark, Gentry Lee, Ben Bova and Kim Stanley Robinson – I hit the “adult shelf”. And all through this, there was Star Trek.

Lots of critique can be brought against Star Trek. The fact that aliens from all over the Galaxy all have similar looks is among these. I mean, why has the whole galaxy developed to have a similar head, arms, legs design? And what has always bothered me the most of Star Trek, is the fact that this vast story always play out on such a small area. The main deck of the Enterprise and a few other scences, with the minimum ammount of characters involved (I mean really, you don’t send the captain or first officer into hand-to-hand combat, but Star Trek always does).

Everything said, their is a lightness when watching Star Trek. It invites a small kid to dream, it invites adults to dream. To dream of a world of warp speed and stars, or inter-galactic diplomatic relationships and the Federation, of a future that can be different, whatever that might mean (just not a future without war). And dreaming is important. The theologian need to be able to dream, to create dreams for people, where they can dream of possibilities, the possibility that things might change, that people might live by love.

So hey, you theologians, go read some good sci-fi, just dream a little!

Mars, a new world order

April 19, 2008

I recieved this link from my flatmate yesterday. He obviously know what stirrs my passion! I discovered the works of Kim Stanley Robinson at about age 16, while searching through the library shelfs for anything that remotely resembled science fiction (at that stage I was actually reading Arthur C Clark). Today I’ll sometimes jokingly refer to the Mars Trilogy as my “second Bible”, because of the major influence these books have had on my thinking.

In the Mars Trilogy Robinson create a Martian society which provide a sharp critique on human society. Or actually, it is the underground society on Mars which provide the alternative for how human societies work. It was especially on economy that Robinson influenced me, but also culture, and how our cultures might develop in the future.

The Mars Society website is down right now, so I can’t check it up, but Handré, my flatmate, said that Robinson was one of the directors or something of the Mars Society. What I like about the Mars Society, and maybe it was the influence of Robinson on them as well, is that they are talking much more than technology. They are already discussion what the world order on this new world might look like. How the economy, politics, civilation and culture might work itself out when Mars gets settled

I’ve been a sci-fi fan all my life, since I can remember. I don’t know why, neither of my parents has ever been very fond of the genre, my brother two years younger haven’t made much of it (I have indoctrinated my little brother, 7 years younger than me, with this however). I never had friends that fond of the genre until getting to university. But we always had an interest in technology, and at age 7/8 I started looking at the stars, I was reading the parts in encyclopedias on the planets since I could read. My parents had an important influence in getting me interested in these things, told me all about the Apollo program ever since I could listen, but never knew that rather than becoming a scientist, I would end up reading stories about astronauts.

I remember looking for every sci-fi book I could find in the junior section of the library. And when moving to the adult section at age 15/16, I discovered a whole new world of sci-fi. A big part of this world was Arthur C Clark, he eventually led me to Stephen Baxter while at university. But the best I’ve ever read remains the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

I’ve been blessed with awesome friends, both while in high school, and also at university. This has been people who challenged by thoughts, with whom I could dream up rockets, planes, programs, robots. Discuss whatever was going on. At university conversations turned to politics, economics, and especially poverty. But at some point in the past year or two, I can’t remember when or how it happened. We started discussing ecology and global warming. This was some time before an inconvenient truth, and before everyone around us was discussing it.

The last few months more and more people are discussing this, we’ve seen the coming to light of two popular documentaries (here and here) which are shaking the world, and a number of books. But still many of us have the feeling that nothing is going to change, since it’s still a selected intellectual group of people taking part in the conversation.

However, I belief sci-fi can help us with this. Already in the past sci-fi writers have touched on the topic of ecological disaster in the future, the Mars Trilogy was one, and also global warming (although not on global warming, see the recent Sunstorm by Clark and Baxter for how the human race react when the temperature of the earth rise at a tremendous rate).

The point at which I think these writers can help us, is by capturing the imagination of the public. Documentaries will never be able to do that. But stories and movies, they are able to capture imagination. By addressing questions like the following:
– How will ecological friendly living look like in the future, and thus, what can it look like today?
– What will happen if a worst case scenario happens?
– What will happen if we do nothing?
– What will communities look like in a post-warm, over-crowded earth, not only technologically, but also sociologically?

This and other questions can be addressed in stories in a way which will probably find a much wider appeal, especially if put into film, and help to grab the imagination of all the people of the earth. But still, even if doing this, the question of poor communities remain

I just read Is google Evil? in Popular Mechanics, March 2007, and the largest part of A Head for Detail in Popular Mechanics, May 2007. And I read The Light of Other Days a few days ago. So, put these together, and you’ll realize that we will have to develop a whole new way of thinking about ethics.

I’m using Engineering Ethics, and although published in 2005, this book is totally incapable of helping us sort out the ethical questions brought forth by these articles. Something like privacy has been a generally accepted norm for all of mankind. You had the right to have secrets. Yeah, we said that honesty should be a key moral value, but still, you had the power over what others know and do not know.

How would our ethics look if everyone can know everything that anyone has ever put on the internet about you? It was unacceptable to dig in someone else’s file cabinet. But is it unacceptable to run a google search about them, and gain the same information that way? All of us get the opportunity to start over, not because people give us the opportunity, but because we decide to take it. High School kids decide to go to far-off universities, so that no one will know them, so that they can start over. But for how long? People end of bad relationships, decide to start over. But who of us haven’t ran a search on people we love. Why, we do it just for the heck of it, not to catch them out or anything. But already you won’t only find your loved ones on a list showing all the names of people attended a conference, but how about on the blog of some x-boyfriend freak telling you about all the things she wished she could just forget about. I think I’m just scratching the surface here.

May we put together profiles of people, that will give us a better picture about all their dark secrets than we could have gotten by just getting to know them the “normal” way? Yes, you pastors. What if google leaked your search info. What if everyone would find out 10 years from now that at one stage in your life you ran searches for porn? Leak your surf history? No longer you that decide to store those nasty magazines (don’t get me wrong, I’m TOTALLY against porn) under your bed, with no one knowing about it. No way, someone else hold the key now.

What if, and in many churches this might even be worse, your church council would find out that you are thinking about theological questions which is “out of line”? They might find out that you’ve searched for that new book which is supposed to be herecy, or visited the website of that certain theological group which ask questions that’s not allowed. How will we develop an ethic which will give people the necessary categories (there must be a better word, please help me) which will guide them through this? And this is but the beginning! The challenge ying ahead of us might not be that our memories get erased, like in Men in Black or Heroes, but that what happened never get erased, that anyone can know!

We’ll be needing a whole new ethics in while. I realized that a few weeks ago at the synod. The question about homosexuality is just the beginning. I think we might get through the next synod (2010) without having some serous medical ethics question to worry about, but I believe that will be the last one for many decades. Genetic engineering is coming up. Will you “fix up” your “potentially incorrect” children?

a changing God?

May 15, 2007

I received a SMS a few days ago from a friend who is 17, and asking the question whether God decided everything beforehand, or whether sometimes God decide stuff on number 99. I thought I’d maybe give some thoughts here, then anyone who want to can give their take on this.
The thoughts I’m giving here was developed from my own struggle with trying to understand God. It might not be a very good discussion on any particular part of scripture, but this is simply the way I’m thinking about this right now.
Firstly, I think we should admit the fact that we can never really talk about God, making final claims about who God is, and how God works or how he doesn’t work. Even making final claims about whether we can ask questions like “who” or “how” when talking about God remains a mystery to me. Someone said a few days ago that the word “God” is just something we use to talk about something much bigger, which we won’t ever completely understand. Kind of reminds of the use of the Hebrew word Yahweh don’t you think, for those with a knowledge of Hebrew.
OK, so that being said, some things I would take into consideration. Thinking that God made every decision beforehand, somewhere in the past, assumes a linear view of time. It assumes a view where time moves laniary from point A to point B in time, from beginning to end. It assumes that God is then caught up in this same view of time. But what if time works differently? In Space, Stephen Baxter plays around with the idea of a certain creature that experience time in reverse order. Meaning that for them the end is the beginning, and the beginning the end. What if we broaden the idea of a God being omnipresent to not only include space, but also time. God being omnipresent in time, and therefore not having a beginning and an end, not making certain decisions at the beginning which would only come into being at the end. This might just be playing around with some philosophy, but what if? And I’m not so sure that this isn’t in keeping with Biblical theology.
And what about the relational aspect of God? If we take the idea of God in relation to people, whether as a whole or with people as individuals, seriously, what would happen. Will it still be a relationship if it’s only a one-way influence, if God can influence the ways of man, but man cannot influence what God do? And if we take the autonomy of people seriously, won’t God sometimes react to that which they did, sometimes “making decisions” influences by what people did? Again, I think this might be Biblical as well, I think we have enough stories of where God changed his mind because of people.
The Bible seems to give us freedom to be in a real relation with God, even differing from God at times, struggling with God, being mad at God, challenging God, in through all this living with God through everything.
But then again, I think our talk about God would always be in process, I won’t be comfortable with making a final decision with how God works. But thinking in this way kind of helped me to live life.
Any thoughts?

the light of other days

April 26, 2007

I’ve been reading The light of other days by Arthur C. Clark and Stephen Baxter these past few days. In the not-to-distant future, the third decade of this century, wormhole technology gets to the point where it can be used as a viewpoint to any other place on earth, without leaving a trace, called a Wormcam. Privacy becomes a thing of the past.

However, since space and time can be seen on the same level as space-time, it doesn’t take long to before this technology can be used to view any point in history, and as the technology progress, further and further back. It changes the face of detective work, suddenly cheating on your spouse cannot be hidden any longer. And the myths of history gets tested. The Titanic, Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Crusades…

As I have said previously, Clark has a way of touching on the topic of religion and spirituality from time to time. This time is no exception. Through one of these Wormcams the history of Moses gets looked into, but little remains of this mythical figure, rather, the myth turns out to be a combination of a lot of different people.

Then Clark turns to Jesus, and spends a whole chapter on the life of Jesus. In the story, 12000 people get together, each studying one day in the life of Jesus, to compile a history of the life of Jesus. And it turns out to be different from the account of the four evangelists. Some core doctrines get questioned, some new insights appear. In a very interesting way the last moments on the cross becomes forever hidden from human eyes. And the resurrection is not discussed.

It seems that Clark did he’s research better than, for example, Dan Brown. Many of the things he wrote touch on research and reconstructions made in the academic world. Obviously Clark do not have access to Wormcam technology, and what he present us with is no objective view of history (if ever that would exist, a question that keeps on being asked in the book), but simply another possible interpretation (again this word we are busy discussing). But what if…

In studies in History, Ancient Languages and Cultures, Archeology, Theology etc many times claims have been made that the historical reality might not be equal to that found in the Bible. What if ever we find some kind of Wormcam, a way to look into past, just to find out that things have been different than we thought? What if…

Was the Bible ever intended to be read as literally historically correct? Or was the intention to present us with a way to understand our world, God, and God’s work in this world. By using history, myths, sometimes a combination of the two. By creating theology, not history, although it’s theology created in the context of history.