Category Archives: Philosophy/Theology

Everything Is Permitted?

via Daily Prompt: Permit


A quote is a quote is a quote, or maybe not. Vladimir Bartol included the words “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” in his well known novel Alamut. Many would know this to be central to the video game series Assassin’s Creed” and the creators borrowed this phrase from Bartol.

William Burrows borrowed it from Bartol and included it in his novel “Naked Lunch.” Batol’s phrase echoes Dostoevsky’s phrase in his earlier novel “The Brothers Karamazov” where the character Ivan Karamazov states: “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” And this in turn is an echo of St. Paul’s theological reflection in his first letter to the people in the church in Corinth where he says: “You have the right to do anything, you say, but not everything is beneficial.”

For St. Paul and Dostoevsky the question is – do we need God/a god for ethical living? Which the two resolve in the affirmative. For Bartol (who sets his novel in 11th century Persia, and is a thinly veiled criticism of fascism and Mussolini), it is a statement that there is no ultimate truth (and perhaps, albeit, no god). Burrows follows a similar line in Naked Lunch in which totaltitarian forces are jostling for control. It is a disjointed book, presenting a disjointed world in which ethics is a moot point, and nothing can be trusted.

For me the question resolves easily. Nothing is true is unsustainable, it fails in that some things can be true (laws of nature, physics, law of gravity etc.). It is true for me at the level that there is no political utopia. There is no ultimate truth, because life is experienced as relational not as principle, so truth is variously understood through experience. God may be a question more than an ultimate truth for many, but as Dostoevsky makes clear, for some God/a god is one way of creating an ethical community.

For me St. Paul nails it by saying everything is permitted, but not everything is beneficial. This is the personal side of it, the ethical relational issue up front. The self must be considerd in the context of ethically living in community, where there are responsibilities as well as rights. In short it can be summed up as the non-harming principle, or as loving your neighbour.

So, nothing is true, but my neighbour is true, so not everything is permitted, or, not everything is beneficial. My neighbour, sister, brother, all living things, are true, and I must account for my behaviour towards them. Not everything is beneficial, but love is beneficial for all.



Filed under history, life, Philosophy/Theology, politics

You Can’t Say That!

via Daily Prompt: Stifle



I wonder that we’ve ever really had true free speech. George Orwell’s experience in Spain (1936) was such that he portrayed both left and right as having stifled free speech in his novel, Animal Farm. Every form of totalitarian government has stifled free speech, but in recent times even liberal democracies have resorted to enacting laws that limit free speech.

In an interview in 2012 (The Telelgraph, October 18, 2012), Rowan Atkinson (aka Blackadder, Mr. Bean) tilted at the law in England – The Public Order Act. Atkinson criticised the “Creeping culture of censoriousness” and went on to point out that we have entered a time when it has become dangerous to protest. In other words we are losing our basic rights to speak out. He was not speaking in favour (as some tend to confuse free speech with the right to vilify and slander) of the right to say anything, especialy hate speech, but that we have gone too far, curtailing even basic free speech.

Atkinson claims that in trying to outlaw insult, because insult is difficult to define, we end up prosecuting one the basis of insult, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism, or even stating an alternative view to the status quo (the subversive, Orwell speaks directly to this in his novel 1984). In reality, in stifling free speech we end up with repression.

Many have paid for speaking out, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who criticised Joseph Stalin, was sent to labour camps by Stalin. Umberto Eco wrote in the ‘Name of the Rose’ (later a movie starring Sean Connery) how the Vatican maintained a list of books to be destroyed, how the church didn’t like criticism of the institution. The leaders of the French Revolution brutally repressed criticism. Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Castro, Pinochet, Mao, Idi Armin, Robert Mugabe, all loathed and tried to regulate criticism. In recent times Donald Trump has complained about free speech (which is ironic). Kim Jong-un carries on a tradition of repressing poitical criticism in North korea.

The English philosopher John Stuart Mill commented (‘On Liberty’ 1859, Penguin, pp 83 -84)  that we should not employ censorship because this would prevent people from making up their own minds (horror of horrors). Interesting thought, Mill clearly wasn’t frightened of public free speech, and he believed free speech wouldn’t cause the collapse of society nor descend to harm or hate. But there are worrying signs that liberal democracies are moving towards control of free speech by creating laws where criticism of government becomes an offence!

No one likes criticism, but surely that is no reason to be petulant and defensive and hide behind laws? Sometimes we need to push back, sometimes others need to push back against us. Criticism can sharpen us,  it can energise us, help us to refine our view, and help us to grow. Let’s not fear each other, but instead let’s embrace the idea that society, and in particular, people’s views, are not homogenous, and we won’t all agree, and we won’t like all that we hear and read about ourselves. Instead, let’s embrace the difference, let’s hold to the value of free speech.



Filed under community, history, life, Philosophy/Theology, politics


Privilege used to have a general meaning, that you had achieved a right by education, promotion, or sheer hard work. There was a clear pathway, others could see how you got there, and it generally revolved around integrity. But privilege was also connected to a process through community of some description. To be a leader meant that others knew you, knew you had integrity, knew you were for real. In education, especially tertiary, one must be constantly in dialogue and in research and writing, peer reviewed, and of those who worked hard it was that they had rubbed shoulders with many and got their hands dirty in the area or topic they were passionate about.

I’m not American, but I’m concerned that America has descended to privilege those not entitled to be. Take the case of the current president of the U.S. Donald Trump, a business celebrity who appears to be incapable of being a state-like leader. Of course there are a number of theories as to how he got elected:

  • Tough talk in a time of weak talk.
  • Promises to the disappearing middle-class.
  • Playing the race fear card.
  • Tough talk on defence.
  • Rhetoric: Make America Great Again
  • Crass talk: playing up the larikin male.
  • Religious manipulation: playing up to conservative Christians.
  • Not being Hilary: the backlash on privilege factor.
  • Voter participation was low.

And they’re just a few. I think tick all would apply. It says to me that, irrespective of who he is, Trump didn’t get there by hard work, education, or promotion. In my view, he has no integrity because he is clearly manipulative rather than consistent or open. Part of his getting there was his public persona, so he has traded on his celebrity status (if you’re thinking about Ronald Reagan, no matter your view of him, at least he got involved in state politics and worked at it).

Then comes the #Me Too campaign, an important step forward for victims of sexual abuse (and shameful for leaders, entertainers and others privileged by power). And up pops Oprah Winfrey. Now I quite like some of her interviews and some of her book recommendations, however, I really wonder if her Golden Globe moment (and I loved her speech) wasn’t with a view to self privilege, I have questioned if this was a deleiberate act (and maybe it was selfless). And I wonder that those Democrats who decried the nomination of Trump as shallow because he was a celebrity, are now being hyocritical by suggesting the nomination of Oprah to run for president.

My own view is that both Trump and Oprah are being privileged by status, power and money, neither are really political nor really connected to the real process of legislative leadership.

And it is my view that Trump and Oprah are constructs in the public mind, they are who the public want (need?) them to be, when more than likely, they are not anything like that nor capable of being like that (who is?). In the hands of poltical parties they are a product that can be marketed and thus consumed. My fave actor is Juliette Binoche, but while I love her work and some of her opinions, I wouldn’t want her to be president or prime minister simply based on my fascination for her as an actor. Same goes for the really wealthy, for example; Bill Gates, Warren Buffet. It leaves me thinking that celebrity is privileged not just by status and wealth, but also by liminance – that they evoke in us a warmth, a fondness, a feeling not unlike falling in love.

Privileging a leader is also about gain, those who privilege want to be privileged, a never ending sychophantic cycle.

So where is the integrity in leadership? And who will speak for those not privileged (including our friends – nature)? Who will set aside privilege in order to lead?



Filed under community, Philosophy/Theology, politics

Carved Salt

via Daily Prompt: Carve



One of the places we visited in Poland was the famous salt mine at Wieliczka. The tour of the mine was certainly worth it. There were many highlights along the tour. One in particular was this carved scene – The Last Supper – found in a stunning chapel where there were many other religious carvings. If you look at the right of the photo you will also see a pilar, part of the elaborate, carved architecture throughout the chapel. It still grabs my attention, to think it was carved from salt. Salt of course gets more than a couple of mentions in the Bible, and is used as a metaphor for spiritual vitality in the New Testament. We came home with a grinder of salt from the mine for our culinary vitality, which we have jealously guarded and measured out, more for sentimental reasons. We have salt lakes here that yield edible salt, but after that tour of the mine, and seeing the beautiful architecture and art carved in the walls and ceiling, salt is not the same.



Filed under art, history, Philosophy/Theology, Spirituality

Who do you Judge?

I read “The Shack” years ago, and more recently re-read it as part of a book/study group. I recently watched the movie, which I thought encapsulated the book really well, in fact better than the book in some ways. It is a story, an allegory of sorts, of human meets the trinity in the midst of tragedy and grief. But whether or not you hold to the christian faith (and if you do, it is refreshing because it breaks down racial and cultural stereotypes that have been distorted and politicised) it doesn’t matter because (for me) teh penultiamte scene is the scene where Mack meets Wisdom (Sophia) and she calls him on blame, projection, and judging. Mack is consumed by grief, anger, and blames God for the death of his daughter. His consuming feelings are destroying his relationships. this excerpt from the movie is powerful in that we are confronted with our desire yet incapability of true judgement. From a Buddhist perspective, it would lean to non-harming and non-attachment.

The point is, we all tend to judge, we all blame, but can we step aside from this? Forgiveness doesn’t bring back the dead or undo the negatives in our lives, but Wisdom asserts that we can transform, simply through forgiveness, which doesn’t change events in the past, but sure gives positive opportunity to move on into the future. This is a must for every justice system, every community group, every family, every individual. Restorative Justice, at its core,  is founded on this principle. When we let go of the bile and hate, when we realise we cannot get better by punishing others or getting revenge, then there is an inner tranformation, which is also lived and shared outwardly. Forgiveness isn’t giving a free kick to someone who has wronged us, it is letting ourselves off the hook of anger and hate, it unblocks us and sets us free to live. I’ll let you know when I’ve perfected the art of not judging, but for now I’m in training.

(Video: Youtube, The Shack, Judgement)



Filed under Alt-Religion, community, life, Philosophy/Theology, Restorative Justice, Spirituality

Funnel Of Love

via Daily Prompt: Funnel

I love C.S. Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia, among many offerings). Lewis published “The Four Loves” in 1958, from a set of radio talks. I encountered the work in the 1980s, and was captivated by the idea that love is not singular.

In short, and by way of a summary, Lewis' the Four Loves are:
Storge (στοργη) - the empathy bond, the love that comes through familial or family love.
Philia (φιλια) - the love between friends, companionship.
Eros (ερως) - Being in love, desiring the one, rather than the many. Sexual love.
Agape (αγαπη) - Unconditional love, natural love, God love, community love.

But what Lewis arives at is that love is not selfish. We must love ourselves if we are to even begin to love others, but that is not selfish in a negative sense, it is positive in a healthy, integrating and mature sense. Self love is the begining of love.

Gary Chapman picks this up and progresses it with his wonderful work “The Five Love Languages”, which is now a major best seller. Chapman believes that we all have a primary love charism, or love language (Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service), and if we understand our love language we will understand those we are intimate with on any level much better.

Carl Jung said: “Where Love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking.” And Abraham Maslow ranked love as the third level of the hierarchy of needs.

The risk they all point to is obsessive love, posession of the other. And the risk of a negative, selfish love – it’s all about me!

But what captivates my desire, my imagination, my hope for the world, is that as we seek and engage all forms of love, that there is that one shred, that chink of light, the moment of possibility of community. That with all our flaws, with all our selfish ways, with all ME in the mix, community is possible and real. In that sense, in our most imperfect self, we’re still a funnel of, or for, love. For me that is hope for the world. Love is not singular!




Filed under community, life, Philosophy/Theology, Spirituality

My Allergies

via Daily Prompt: Allergic

I have an allergic reaction to Penecillin, and peanuts aren’t my true friend either. But I have more serious allergies than those.


I'm allergic to:
All negative isms
Environmental destruction
The appalling treatment of refugees 
Non-defensive violence
Sexual assault
Child abuse
Animal abuse
Domestic violence
Religious intolerance/fundamentalism
Decisions without consultation
Most politicians who are party bound
"The Good Old Days"
And in general - stupidity (as I define it, of course).

Because I have these allergies, I’d ask you to leave these at the door when you visit. 🙂



Filed under life, Philosophy/Theology, politics