Computers are actually pretty simple. We’re sitting here on a bench in this café. Let’s assume that you understood only the most rudimentary of directions and you asked how to find the rest room. I would have to describe it to you in very specific and precise instructions. I might say, “Scoot sideways two meters off the bench. Stand erect. Lift left foot. Bend left knee until it is horizontal. Extend left foot and shift weight 300 centimeters forward…” and on and on. If you could interpret all those instructions 100 times faster than any other person in this café, you would appear to be a magician: You could run over and grab a milk shake and bring it back and set it on the table and snap your fingers, and I’d think you made the milk shake appear, because it was so fast relative to my perception. That’s exactly what a computer does. It takes these very, very simple-minded instructions — “Go fetch a number, add it to this number, put the result there, perceive if it’s greater than this other number” — but executes them at a rate of, let’s say, 1,000,000 per second. At 1,000,000 per second, the results appear to be magic.
Sometimes we also had interesting discussions about the church and the development of the human race. Perhaps it’s going too far to call them discussions, because he would begin explaining his ideas when some question or remark from one of us had set them off, and we just listened. He was not a member of any church, and thought the Christian religions were outdated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them. The laws of nature were his religion. He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbour and your enemy. ‘Science isn’t yet clear about the origins of humanity,’ he once said. ‘We are probably the highest stage of development of some mammal which developed from reptiles and moved on to human beings, perhaps by way of the apes. We are a part of creation and children of nature, and the same laws apply to us as to all living creatures. And in nature the law of the struggle for survival has reigned from the first. Everything incapable of life, everything weak is eliminated. Only mankind and above all the church have made it their aim to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind.
The logic of porn is the logic of masturbation, where a drive that should lead a man out into the world towards the creative and self-transcending reality of relating to a woman and bringing children into the world is replaced by a selfish self-satisfaction that makes no demands upon him, which is sterile and impotent, and terminates ultimately upon himself. … The logic of porn and homosexual relations both render sex impotent and sterile, collapsing sex into little more than the stimulation of genitals and other erogenous zones for persons who end up trapped in the prison of the self. Our society is homosexualized as it reduces sex to a matter of self-stimulation and achievement of pleasure. Porn has normalized this view of sex for the society more generally. People don’t get pregnant in porn. All sex is sterile, a fruitless commerce of sexual fluids.
The dynamics of the cross of Jesus are closer to those of comedy than tragedy. Both tragedy and comedy turn on the deep contradiction and discrepancies between the world as it is and the world as we humans wish that it would be — in other words, on present aspects of the world that are incongruous or ludicrous, and that defy the best pretensions of humanity. But whereas tragedy only reminds us of the iron bars of the prison of reality from which not one of us can ever escape, comedy shows a way to break out. In comedy, the pratfall and the setback are not the end, and in the Christian faith even death, the ultimate setback, is not the end. Because of the cross and the resurrection there is always a way out. Which means of course that when the contradictions are subverted and reality is turned right way up, the outcome can be gratitude, joy and hope, rather than pity and fear. Needless to say, the dynamic of the resurrection and a God who cannot be buried for long is the dynamic of a child’s jack-in-the-box writ large in golden cosmic letters.
Almost all the world’s greatest philosophers and poets have faced up to the paradox and incongruities that confront us when we consider ourselves and our humanity. From Psalm 8 to Shakespeare’s great soliloquy in Hamlet, many of the world’s most beautiful and profound reflections have focused on the paradox of man and woman. As part of humanity, we humans are so small and so great, so strong and so weak. We rise so high and we sink so low. We are body and we are spirit. We are mortal and we are immortal. We have a grandeur and we have a pathos. Sometimes our little lives seem like a momentary fleck on the heaving ocean, yet we are all always the center of our own universe while we live, and together as humanity we are the most powerful and influential creatures in the whole animal kingdom. We can see things as they are; we also know the way things ought to be, and sometimes the difference makes us laugh and sometimes it makes us cry. What other beings in the universe are like us in these ways? What explains this paradox and these incongruities, and even more, how can we hope to reconcile them in a way that makes life meaningful?
The hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too … More than this, they were right in the fact that the plastic culture – modern man, the mechanistic worldview in university textbooks and in practice, the total threat of the machine, the establishment technology, the bourgeois upper middle class – is poor in its sensitivity to nature… As a utopian group, the counterculture understands something very real, both as to the culture as a culture, but also as to the poverty of modern man’s concept of nature and the way the machine is eating up nature on every side.
The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false. It is sobering, too, to find huge and frightening errors constantly repeated; lessons painfully learnt forgotten in the space of a generation; and the accumulated wisdom of the past heedlessly ignored in every society, and at all times.
Could we not explain in this way [mutation] how from two individuals alone the multiplication of the most dissimilar species might have resulted? Their origin would be owing only to certain fortuitous products [chance], in which the elementary particles failed to retain the order they possessed in the father and mother animals; each degree of error would have created a new species; and by dint of repeated divergences there would have come about the infinite diversity of animals that we see today; which will perhaps still increase with time, but to which the passage of centuries will perhaps bring only imperceptible additions.
Let me make a general observation — the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. … I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to “succeed” — and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions for the future.
Others are missing the point, just as administrators sorely missed the point back in the 1980s when pain became the “fifth vital sign.” In medicine, vital signs are treated quite differently from symptoms. Since pain has no objective measure like the rest of the vital signs do — like temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure — doctors naturally resisted. They faced litigation and bureaucratic intimidation for undertreating pain.