Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Mice, the Universe and Everything

"The highest prime number coalesced quietly in a corner, and hid itself away for ever".

A line grabbed from the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and quite a beautiful line. I'm reading the book again, and hoping the Retreat may be over before I have to start on the fourth book in the trilogy. As Martin Joseph nearly sai, when I read So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish it makes me cry. Though Adams' genius still flashes through, it's nothing like the gleeful, surreal anarchy of the first couple of books.

The books are a masterpiece of cynism, in some respects. The Ultimate Answer is found - but what good is an answer without its question? We are humans because we constantly question everything - the world, each other, ourselves. The child's "why...?" comes back as the question to ever answer. What is matter made of? Molecules. What are molecules made up? Atoms. What are atoms made of? Protons, neutrons and electtrons. What are protons made of? 3 quarks, apparently. But what is a quark made of? Soft cheese? As Adams suggests, if we ever get the answer to the great question the whole Universe may be replaced by something even less likely.

Now bear with me here. I don't think this is heresy. But it does require a slightly different view of the atonement - one I've mentioned in the past without being drummed out of the Federation of Folksy Churches. And it's to do with God's Final Message to His Creation.

You may recall that they take Marvin, who is now many times older than the universe due to his endless time-travel, to see God's Final Message to His Creation. Carved thirty foot high, on the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains. The message is: "We apologise for the inconvenience." It's the last thing Marvin sees before he expires, an android whose pessimistic view of life, the Universe and everything has been justified.

Now, I'd like, if I may, to argue that this is one way of seeing the Cross. A common evangelical atonement theory sees the Cross as God punishing sinful human beings - but doing so vicariously, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, perfect human and Second Person of the Triune God.

But if we forget that model for a moment - maybe look more towards the theories of the Atonement that involve solidarity, a view where God comes down to join us - whatever "down" means - then there's maybe this other model. One where God says - "I know this is all a mess. Quite a large, cosmic mess. And I know that you'll blame yourselves - and, let's face it, you're not perfect. But then I knew this was all going to happen, but thought it would be worth it in the end.

And this may be the cross on which history hangs. Something vital's changed, because I'm in this with you. But it's not all suddenly going to get better because of this.  But it will in the end, it will in the end. And in the meantime:



  1. I have a sneaky suspicion that Sydney Carter had a strong point when he wrote this little ditty: http://sarah.wibsite.com/2005/03/26/thoughts_on_a_good_day/ I find myself often quoting it.

    We apologise for the inconvenience.

  2. I have this theory that it is not by sticking steadfastly to what we think we know that our faith grows but when our perspective shifts. (The Anglo-Saxon notion of giedd/gidd) I had such a moment the other day when coincidently I read in the Gospel of Thomas (21a),

    Mary said to Jesus, "Whom are Your disciples like?"
    He said, "They are like children who have settled in a field
    which is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will
    say, 'Let us have back our field.' They (will) undress in their
    presence in order to let them have back their field and give it
    back to them.

    at the same time I read in Herzog about the 'expendables' of Jesus' day; the children whose parents couldn't afford to keep them who might find work for some of the year as itinerant day labourers but having done their bit for the landowners were moved on. The image of the disciples being like the homeless children who lost what little they had was in stark contrast to the abominable 'prosperity doctrine.'

  3. I'm not sure whether you have ever hitch hiked literally. If you do, it can be a lottery. The range of people who pick up hitchhikers range from the clearly innocent (not fearing for their own safety) to the seriously deluded (believing that they are invincible drivers).

    I think that the way some drive reflects how they live and what they believe.

    Fast and furious = Angry, atheist, no idea of who made them and frustrated that nobody can prove it to them.

    Safe and steady = Religious soft conservative. Content with the biblical explanations for all of life, unchallenging and satisfied with their lot.

    Making good progress safely = Religious liberal. Able to discern that the bible isn't literal, and able to interpret it's meaning in a way that is inoffensive and doesn't rock the boat to much, unless it involves gender or sexuality (than they get the hump).

    Erratic, risk taking, accident prone = Religious risk taker, experimenter, moderniser, not afraid of taking risks with the Gospel message, fresh expressions exponent, disciple. (Could also be a cyclist :)).

    Plodder, middle lane hogger = Religious traditionalist. believes in safety in what is, resents change, likes things as they are and will defend the status quo because if it was good enough for their parents and grand parents, why change it?

    Road Rager = Religious right wing conservative, describe themselves as orthodox to hide creationist tendencies, have huge angst over anything that threatens their view of the world.

  4. As usual - I don't seem to fit anywhere, but then again I haven't owned or operated a car for years. Or a bike, for even longer. And I'm used to sort of partly fitting into different categories.

    I did hitch-hike in the distant past. My most vivid memory was the time I was hitch-hiking with a female friend, and I suspected a certain ride was offered by the kind of guy who took females on one-way trips into the wilderness, and she disagreed but I won and we waited for another ride.

  5. I once picked up a hitch-hiker carrying a gun (unusual in the UK). A nice chap but he was having difficulties getting lifts.

  6. Don't talk to me about hitch-hiking.

    It once took me four days to hitch-hike from Saginaw. And that poor little dog we tried to ride from Pittsburgh got a broken back.


Drop a thoughtful pebble in the comments bowl