Faith, in the World of machines

Unless chaos breaks into our existence, it is all but impossible to conceive of the degree of control we assume we have over our lives. So many dimensions of our Modern existence – dominated as it is by machines – give us the illusory sense of all but total control, to the point where those one or two things which we seem unable to control, often in the arena of personal relationships, assume a dimension which consumes our waking hours, and troubles our dreams.

For the myth we live with is that our lives are what we make of them. Not only do we assume we have the capacity to choose and to choose well, it is possible to have ‘the life we’ve always dreamed of’, and indeed that nothing or no one ought stand in our way as we strive towards the realisation of Our Dream.

We are lulled into this first by our extraordinary monetary wealth. ( From time to time I ponder the difference between my own extraordinarily wealthy existence and that even of my parents, a mere 50 years ago. Of how my father who had for the times a reasonably paid job, wondered about whether he ought to spend a few pennies on the evening newspaper. Of our first car that was so broken that it nearly brought my own life to a premature end – I could go on) Money comes with the false promise of control. After all we use it to buy things without let or hindrance. It gives us a large degree of mastery which we may well internalise as a sense of control over our very existence. I get what I pay for. And then again we work and live with machines which by and large do what we ask them to do – we have even developed this to the level of machines which we verbally command; ‘Alexa . . .!’.

And then we have the machines – which are dependable to an extraordinary degree, witnessed by the stories of their infrequent failures. Aeroplanes fly millions and millions of miles without falling from the sky, ‘the blue screen of death’ is now a very rare visitor to our on demand, on screen our existence.

Of course few of us have everything we truly want. Relationships break up, people get very ill – perhaps we ourselves, our bodies age, friends die unexpectedly, and so we howl ‘It isn’t meant to be like this!! and demand our own version of the cosmic ‘Alexa’ comes to our rescue to put our lives back on the tracks we have decided to follow. Of course this cosmic servant may only be our ideological opponents, but someone or something ‘should get this sorted’

Any sense of not being in control is to a large degree foreign to us, so regal have we become in so much of our existence, surrounding ourselves with uncosciously selected friends who tell us how right we are to want what we want, and to rail when we do not have it. ‘Leaves on the line’ of our lives MUST be cleared – ‘how could we allow such things to happen in the C21′ – the world of machines’

This world is a world in which faith is all but erased. Back in the C18 folk used to talk of ‘the god of the gaps’ – and in those days there was rampant TB, life expectancy was about half of what it is today, death in childbirth was a tragic commonplace, there was no ‘safety net’. Now the gaps are comparatively speaking microscopically small. We live in the bubble of life on our own terms, and God has all but departed the scene except as a theological problem when life does not deliver on time and in accordance with the agreed Terms and Conditions. And Gratitude?


The Idea that things aren’t meant to work out in the way our small imaginations had supposed, is offensive to us ‘This must never happen to you!’, precisely because, conditioned by existence in the world of wealth and machines, we assume that we are in charge of our own destiny. And it is quite possible that the LORD says to us ‘so be it’, and we are given over to our desires in a world stripped of Grace, not recognising that we are not our own . . .

I was drawn to think this through the realisation that I live with this illusion myself. That it is at times all but impossible to hear the voice which says, ‘one thing you lack . . . let go of that which around which you have shaped your own life story, and follow me’. ‘Follow me into places and circumstances you cannot even dream of for they do not dwell in your own unenlightened imagination ‘lit’ only by the feeble flame of your own fires, the things you tell yourself you know’

But our sense of control, our terror of not being in control nails us to an ever narrowing mountain ledge over what seems to us to be a chasm of bottomless darkness, terrified of losing our grip, as our hands tire and weaken . . .

Jesus offers us a Life that is Alien to us. It is a Life that is not our own. It is a Life that we can scarce imagine. We are terrified of it, for our lives are too small in its Majestic Scope, and our eyes are unaccustomed to its Light. It is a Life of which we are not the Author, and over which we have no control, for their is no compulsion in Love . . .

The Skip . . .


Approaching Church this morning I am confronted by ‘Progress’ – The Story has moved on. Amidst that which once formed us, Trees and Temple, stands the New Ikon of our Age, the very Goal of Progress! Our New Improved version of Heaven . . . The Skip!

Yesterday I had to endure once more what is one of the more Soul destructive of happenings, the visit of a Technician.  Soul destroying for it further wrote my own capacities, my own agency out of the picture. That is, there was once something which I could do myself, but now, thanks to Progress, I find myself unable to do. (Not I must add due to the increasing crankiness of my joints – for all of us, increasing age means a decline in our physical capacity, and thus physical agency in the world).

The Technician is the great Manifestation of Progress, for his appearing reminds us that Progressively we lack meaningful agency in the world of  Progress. He comes to put us in our place as passive consumers of things. This is a frequent occurrence in these blessed days of Consumer bliss. I now no longer can fix my own car, even bicycle gears are getting ‘a but tricky’. For things have Progressed – which obviously means that they are better, no? Change a plug??!! Why? When we have moulded plugs which are so bound to their ephemeral consumables, that even they, which used to be removed before disposal, now go happily to that place of oblivion.

And so it was that having done what I could, moved our electric cooker away from the wall, I stood back helpless as thanks to Progress, a task which I would have once readily done myself, replaced a faulty element, was done by the new High Priest of our age –  The Technician. (Of course this being Progress, he is a Technician only in a very narrow field, for Progress demands many things and no Thing must be allowed to remain as it is, but be refined to a plane where only those high priests of each individual Craft might be admitted – the rest pay to watch the show)

Increasingly unusually, there was a gleam of light in the visit, a sign that ‘The Old Things’ had not entirely been forgotten. Apparently The Technician could obtain a new element!! and, what is more, at a cost less than a replacement cooker . . . or at least he thought so . . .  So for a time, the cooker (by now an almost prehistoric 5 years old  – what ARE we thinking hoping that it might be repaired???) was spared from that Modern Nirvana, The Skip, even if that were not to be the case for the element.

Along the way we spoke of the ridiculousness of it all (after all ‘I have a degree!’ in that sort of stuff, and indeed used to teach it), before he pulled out his ‘phone’ to photograph a thermostat, which was playing up. Together we marvelled at the picture quality, before the fateful words ‘of course the latest one has an even better camera!’

This brought to mind the wise words of my Biology teacher, Don Passey, and earnest youngish teacher – who told us that the joke of HiFi (remember that?) was that when you were old enough to pay enough for decent sound quality, your hearing had already deteriorated to a degree by which you were unable to tell the difference between that and HiFi half the price. As I looked at the photograph of the Thermostat, (an Image at which I suppose even Michelangelo would have marvelled . . .) I must admit to thinking ‘I’m not sure I’d be able to tell . . . but I suppose it must be worth having?’

I gather that Progress now is becoming more explicit in its goal, hence the new prophetically named iPhone ‘Ex’. This most expensive ever (read ‘for the time being’), has sold out almost overnight. At the Cutting edge of Progress, iPhone ‘Eyeye Exes’ will start to gather dust. Like the elderly in rest homes – or as one Aged Care ‘Manager’ once named them, ‘End of Life facilities’ – they will be forgotten and wait their turn ‘to Pass’, to The Skip . . .

The myth of Progress is probably the most destructive we have ever known. It hides itself in many guises, some of them Religious, but all religious. Out of the ‘planet’ everything is dug, and then Progresses to end up in a hole in the ground – Everything. Phone, element, agency, person, Skipped as we Progress ourselves to The New, The Improved!

Why, even the Skip comes with doors nowadays, to ease our passing . . .


Psalm 72 – The true King

From my morning office

Captivated by Psalm 72 – how the true King is acknowledged by all the nations because he defends the needy and crushes the oppressor, because he shall deliver the poor, because he shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, because their blood is dear in his sight.

This year the Sunday Gospel is predominantly taken from Luke where this theme of the True King who does justice to the poor is most clear. From the announcement of Jubilee in Nazareth, the declaration that all the land and wealth the rich had amassed would be redistributed – to the blessings and woes, on the poor for theirs is the Kingdom, against the rich for they have already eaten well – to the parable which makes this most plain, that of Dives and Lazarus – Luke reveals the coming Messianic King foretold in Psalm 72

To Be

What we need is a form of life which is completely pointless . . . Rather than serve some utilitarian purpose or earnest metaphysical end, it is a delight in itself. Ot needs no justification beyond its own existence.In this sense the meaning of life is interestingly close to meaninglessness. Religious believers who find this version of the meaning of life a little too laid-back for comfort should remind themselves that God, too, is his own end, ground, origin, reason and self-delight, and that only by living this way can human beings be said to share his life.

Terry Eagleton, The Meaning of Life: A very short introduction (Oxford 2007), pp. 100-1. Quoted in ‘Take the Plunge’: Timothy Radcliffe