Computers, and why past levels of service cannot be maintained

There appears to be some evidence that once, like me, you’re over forty, your brain begins to deteriorate, though not at the same rate as your eyes, ears, reflexes, knees and hips.  I can vouch for it.  In the last few months there seems to have been a dramatic rise in the number of things I’m unable to understand.  When I was young (at the age of six, for example) they were no problem.  But now I’m old, they’re a real puzzle.

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What a pity, having a child like this!

‘What a pity it is, a young couple like you having a child like this!  Do you want to put her in a home?’

Such, forty-three years ago, were the words of a paediatrician meeting for the first time the parents of a Down’s syndrome child.  It was only by accident, and only gradually, they had discovered that their new baby was different.  The day they left the hospital the nurse who accompanied them to the car had parted with the words, ‘’If you need help in any way, don’t hesitate to call us.’  The tone of voice, they had thought, was odd, even ominous.  Then a friend mentioned to another friend how sad it was about Annie Mary’s baby, and so the story spread, until one day yet another friend called to express her sympathy.

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Brian Wilson and the Free Press

Most of the pieces posted on this blog began life as pieces in my ‘Footnotes’ column in the West Highland Free Press.  The whole world now knows that that column is no more; and thanks to Brian Wilson, they also know the reason why.  Via a phone-call from the Editor, the paper’s owners (its staff) put me on a warning.  I had crossed a line, and there must be no repeat.  There was little point in writing if I couldn’t say what I thought, and so, with only as much hesitation as was decent, I gave it up.

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North African migrants and the future of Europe

The flow of migrants from North Africa into southern Europe is no new thing.  It has been going on for decades, but now it’s become the stuff of tragedy as thousands cram into tiny vessels scarcely fit for a mill-pond and head off across two hundred miles of treacherous sea.

Europe is suddenly caught in a dilemma.  Will it rage against illegal immigrants, or weep over the loss of thousands of lives?   But behind the dilemma there is also guilt.  For centuries we Europeans shamelessly took advantage of freedom of movement to turn up unbidden and unwelcome on other shores, killing native inhabitants, destroying their culture and plundering their treasures.

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The Cry of Dereliction

‘And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’

Up to this point the narrative of the crucifixion has focused on the physical sufferings of Jesus: the flogging, the crown of thorns, and his immolation on the cross.  Six hours have now passed since the nails were driven home.  The crowd have jeered, darkness has covered the land, and now, suddenly, after a long silence, comes this anguished cry from the depths of the Saviour’s soul.

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Defending jihadists

 

Britain’s Muslims have us all living on a knife-edge, desperately trying to find a compromise between saying it as we see it on the one hand, and avoiding offence to the followers of the Prophet on the other.  The BBC, clearly terrified of being accused of bias, seems to assign every terrorist-related story to a Muslim member of staff, conveying the impression that at least half the population are of this persuasion; and whether appearing on screen or before a Parliamentary Committee every Muslim family has to be accompanied by a lawyer of their own faith, presumably to intimidate interviewers (and send out signals to their co-religionists).

It gladdened the heart, then, to hear Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, tell Muslims to stop apologising for jihadists.  It was an appropriate response to those who, a few days before, had been blaming the security services for turning that nice boy, Mohammed Emwazi, into the brutal executioner, Jihadi John.  The police and MI5 clearly had good grounds for keeping him under surveillance and, with hindsight, the only complaint must be that they did not harass him enough.  In any case, could any personal grievance justify a man gloating on camera as he hacks-off an aid-worker’s head with a bread-knife?  This is a man whom every self-respecting Muslim will disown without hesitation or qualification.

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Scottish theologians and the doctrine of the church (1): Presbyterianism

The area which above all others captured the attention of Scotland’s Reformed theologians was the doctrine of the church.  This was especially true of the 17th century, but the 19th century also produced a voluminous literature, including James MacPherson’s splendid overview, The Doctrine of the Church in Scottish Theology.  It is here, too, that Scottish theology achieves its greatest international significance.  Calvinism as a world movement has two great branches, the Dutch and the Scottish, the former represented by the Dutch Reformed family, the latter by the Presbyterian.  Today, the Presbyterian family is thoroughly established in North America,Australia,New Zealand, Africa,Korea,Japan and indeed wherever the gospel has been carried by the missionary advance of the last two centuries.  Inevitably, the children no longer cling to their mother’s apron-strings, yet all acknowledge that their roots are in the Scottish Reformation and that they inherited their principles, more or less complete, from their Scoto-Irish spiritual forebears.

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The cross: God’s altar

Every believer has some theology of the atonement.  Faith, after all, is trust in a crucified Saviour, and without some understanding such faith is impossible.  Faith knows from the beginning who died on the cross, and it knows, too, why he died.  He died for our sins.

But faith can never be content with such elementary knowledge.  It wants to live its whole life at the foot of the cross, seeking with every passing day to understand it better.

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Is Allah God?

Many centuries have passed since there was any meaningful dialogue between Muslims and Christians, mainly because the two religions are like chalk and cheese.  Christianity is a profoundly theological faith: Islam, like Judaism, is a way of life.  Jews have the Torah, Muslims have Sharia, but while both appear to build on the Old Testament, the two sets of laws have diverged widely.  There is no parallel in Judaism to Islam’s attitudes towards women, nor would Judaism tolerate the thousand-lash floggings which besmirch the name of Saudi Arabia; something we should stop condoning on the principle, ‘It’s a sovereign state, and that’s their way.’  In Verwoerd’s South Africa, apartheid was their way, and the world responded with crippling sanctions.  Why go pussy-footing around Saudi Arabia?

Anyway, as I was going to say, because Islam is first and foremost a way of life it has no detailed theology of, for example, sin and salvation; and where it does venture into theology it is usually only to deny Christian beliefs.

Which is not to say but that there are things we seem to agree on, not least with regard to Jesus.  Muslims agree that he was born of a virgin, that he performed wondrous miracles of healing, that he raised the dead, and that he was a great prophet: indeed, next to Mohammed, the very greatest.

Yet when all is said and done, Islamic theology is much more negative than positive.  It’s a theology of denial, and the most remarkable of its denials is that Christ was never crucified.  God, it is claimed, would never have allowed such a fate to befall a great prophet.  Instead, he was taken up to heaven, and some other man was crucified in his place (some have suggested it was Judas Iscariot).

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Seasonal greetings and Christian values

In their recent Seasonal Messages the leaders of all our main political parties called in one way or another for a return to Christian values.  It wasn’t always clear whether these values included belief in a deity, but the party-leaders were unanimous about charity.  Perhaps they would also want to include humility?  This would be a fine thing.  After all, it was of this grace that Augustine said that it was the first thing in Christianity, and the second thing, and the third thing; and if our leaders espouse it we are left with an alluring picture of Messrs Cameron, Milliband and Clegg standing outside No. 10 each saying to the other, ‘After you!’ (with a wistful Mr. Salmond looking on).

But humility comes at a price.  Thinking others better than yourself and putting their interests before your own doesn’t come to any of us naturally, and least of all to politicians.  Humility is not an act, but an attitude of mind.  It is the willingness to be nothing, and it’s no guarantee of a Nobel Peace Prize.  In fact, the only man who ever really exemplified it ended up being crucified, and that wasn’t just by the press.

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