Sunday, 2 August 2015

Agnosticism is the combination of science and God (Documentary)

Apologies, I can't find the original name for this documentary but it really combines good arguments for the combination of science and god.


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

How Is Religious Extremism Represented In The Films Four Lions And Red State?

I thought I would share parts of my thesis on here, full thesis is linked to here. Maybe some people could find it useful and help any of you in your research. Also any feed back would be greatly appreciated. 


In July 2012 a fourteen minute video entitled  Innocence of Muslims (Nakoula:2012) was uploaded to YouTube. The relatively low-budget film was poorly dubbed in Arabic with what were regarded as anti-Islamic slurs, causing a global controversy resulting in the death of 75 people. It also prompted a wide variety of responses from different governments; Pakistani minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour offered a reward for the death of the film’s producer and the American Government requested YouTube assess whether the video could be removed from their site.  Critics noted that the video was constructed to be inflammatory that it emphasised that films are ‘still associated with an idea- the idea of America’s global power and prestige’ (Guardian, 2010). Ironically, across the Atlantic the Westboro Baptist church continued to use the funerals (and subsequent news coverage) of soldiers that died fighting in wars against a religiously motivated force in the Middle East as a platform to promote homophobia and their  fundamentalist beliefs. What I found interesting was it appeared that an ideological war was being waged using the media and it had a lot to do with religion.  
The rebuttal to this cross media warfare came in the form of film. In particular Four Lions (Chris Morris, 2010) presented a refreshing break from the constant barrage of anti-Islamic rhetoric (Labidi,2010) this proved a controversial film because of its light-hearted approach to home grown terrorism and its aims of deconstructing fear. Kevin Smiths appeared to do the opposite, exploring the evolution of American Christian Fundamentalism to extremism in Red State (Kevin Smith, 2011).  As social commentary these films express a need to engage in discourse about religious extremism that might otherwise be left to the one dimensional news portrayal.
This thesis uses a semiotic analysis of the two afore mentioned films to argue that religious extremism is represented in film with relation to factual media representations and as such provides a varied portrayal.
The first chapter positions the research within the context of representation, religion in film and controversial film and satire, the reason for this is the lack of primary research done specifically in religious extremism and more so in direct representation of religious people (extreme or not) within in film.
The second chapter addresses methodological approach outlining the uses and limitations of a semiotic analysis and how the use of Barthes deconstruction of myth and the film language of Christian Metz has been utilized in this research. It indicates and explores previous research that has used a similar method to analyse film and highlights the uses and limitations of semiotic analysis.
After examining the background theory I present the findings of a semiotic analysis of Four Lions. It is broken down into three sub chapters regarding iconography, rhetorical devices and the deconstruction of otherness. Here the use of Barthes construction of myth table is used analyse the visual and audible association that link Muslims with terrorism; the following sections address how the director Morris challenges the rhetoric developed by news sensationalism in a social realist setting.
The forth chapter presents the findings of RedState using the analysis method outline above. It initially outlines the case for the films relation to the WestBoro Baptists church.  Referring again to Barthes method, it assess the link between demographic and fundamentalism. It concludes that Smith has used generic horror conventions and stereotypes to reinforce rural America and its practice of religious fundamentalism as an alien and backward practice that has the ability (as experienced in the film) to use the Bible as a foundation for exacting ‘justified’ murder. Again the research suggests these references are laced with intertextuality to real world representations portrayed in the news.
The fifth chapter is a comparison of the findings on the two films; comparing and contrasting the noted successes or failures. This chapter also expands on the other issues touched upon in the films. Namely that both films comment on wider socio-political issues suggesting that religious extremism is not a singular or isolated event in our society but part of a bigger chain of events.
To conclude, I suggest that religious extremism is an area that needs to be represented in film and in particular in satire. Outlined in the films I analysed, is not a black and white subject area and representations are complex. Furthermore the research in this area, although limited, is developing. A round up on the literature on religion in film and its practical uses and finally it addresses my own conclusive opinion.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

I believe in God

2 Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

It's been a long time since I posted on here. A lot has happened in a few months for me as I am sure it has for you all.  I've had some shocking things happen, a lot of hard times, a lot of good times too and I am currently going through one of the roughest phases in my life. But before all of that, a few months back I was on cloud nine I had uttered the words 'life is good' and how swiftly that blanket of warmth was pulled away from me. It's ironic to me, but then life isn't some happy ball we cling onto until we come to the end of the hill, life includes suffering for all of us in one way or another and I was angry at God for my suffering before I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and the positives that came out of it.

In fact this idea of suffering is what draws me to God in particular Jesus teachings and not away from it. I know the gore and fixation on bodily suffering is one of the things that is often ridiculed or highlighted by non Christians but for me, this makes perfect sense as does Jesus and his role in it all.

Perhaps I have always believed in God, and my battles with him have been long and drawn out but my conclusion subconsciously has always been the same - I felt angry at a God I was pretending to think didn't exist. It is paradoxical to me.

Believing in God does't mean I magically have all the answers to those hard to answer questions.  I don't know why there is severe poverty, or children born with diseases, I don't know why some people seem to have it all and others suffer their whole lives. Nor do I know why natural disasters occur but what I do know is that believing in God doesn't give you all those answers, but it doesn't change the fact that I believe God exists.

You might think that because I'm in a dark place  (which I am but know I will get out of)  that this is why I now cling to God. But God has given me joy when life was fulfilling and I thanked him for my joy. God gave me reassurance when I was uncertain.  God was peace in a tranquil church in Cornwall, which brought together my hurting family. God gave me a few hours relief from constant anxiety, God gave me a focus and a vision, he didn't end my problems he just gave me a reason to tackle them.  God brought me here when I feel so low, with no energy, no passion for life, God brought me here and said 'write'.  I feel now what I didn't feel before, and why religion must be faith based.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Film Review: Horns- Iconography over substance

Newsflash Jesus saves! Well crosses do anyway But from what exactly? Evil, yourself, mass hallucinations?

With an intriguing trailer, a slightly dystopian backdrop of a washed out logging town and the surreal character of known of Ignatious Parish, or Ig as he known to his friends, who awakes hungover one morning to find horns growing out of his head, this film did not turn out to be what I expected.

Somewhere beneath it all there was a moralistic tale, interwoven with not so subtle Christian ideology. It started great and ended flatly. Predicatble from the beginning and repetitive by the end. I'm sorry I really wanted to like this, and in parts I did, but the worn out whodunnit drama over took the fantasy and I began to see why they called it Horns as that was all that separated it's plot from that of a Lifetime movie.

The rundown:

The whole town suspects Ig of killing his childhood sweetheart Merrin, played by Juno Temple. She first caught Ig's eye in church, bouncing the light off her cross to send him messages in morse code.  Merrin is the ethereal and pure Eve like figure, her murder turns the town against Ig, and Ig, so desperate to prove his innocence somehow invokes a certain amount of helpful evil. His horns have the ability to make people confess there worse thoughts with a humorous honesty that Ig uses to try and get to the bottom of his true loves murder.

The outcome:

What I learnt from this film is people do bad things, good people do some bad things, theres a little devil in all of us, but crosses protect us from evil, even if that evil is ourselves?

I don't know. Go see it for yourselves, there is plenty of beautiful cinematography, great acting, some interesting biblical references and really funny moments. But do not expect to be enlightened… you literally finish the film where you began.

Verdict: 6/10

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Good or Bad: ' The church is on the brink of extinction' claims former Archbishop

Former Archbishop George Carey
 The former Archbishop George Carey has warned that the Church Of England is 'on the brink of extinction.' as he addressed an audience at the Shropshire Churches Conference. His concerns are that within a generation the Church could become obsolete  in the United Kingdom, as ministers and Church leaders have failed to introduce youth into its parishes and amount of people that consider themselves Christian has declined by 10% in as many years.  Not to mention Christianity has seen a loss of support from the courts, legislation and the government who can no longer support all Christian causes because of a wider mixed religious and secular society, including the introduction of same sex marriage.  Read full article.

Is this a good or bad thing?

This news is met with mixed response on the internet, many who see that the Church is dying because people no longer believe and that is a good thing, why try to uphold an institution that supports something people no longer believe in? The Church can no longer instil people with fear and thus retain its congregation like it may have done in the past. However some feel that this exposes that people have lost a sense of morality and spiritual fulfilment, and on the extreme end :that the country now worships the gods of money and possession. This argument has been had several times in several different formats, the arguments are that being religious does not make you good, being secular does not make you bad, therefore the Church is not necessary to instil morality.  However, I have said on several occasions, despite not being Christian, I feel the Church offers a genuine service that secular society has yet to replace. The church is valuable and whether you believe in god or not, the Church should be seen  as a positive aspect of our community.

Members meet up in All Saints Church,  Gosforth UK
Firstly, people believe that a dwindling church  means that religion will soon become extinct in the UK are not viewing the whole picture. Christianity, in particular,will remain in this country  for centuries to come. Numbers may dwindle but it will still be seen as the main religion of our country. The difference is however, that with the removal of Christianity from state schools and from our everyday life, Christianity becomes a genuine choice.  It can not offend those who don't believe because as the church becomes smaller so does it's power and the power of the Church is something people have always disliked.  In most cases the issue with Christianity is its indoctrination, but as I have outlined, despite recent reports on proselytizing in schools, evangelism in the UK is marginal. You have to opt in to evangelism, again, you make the choice.

I can understand a Christians frustration at viewing the country they live in as losing a sense of god or trying to reject it, but the way of life we have upheld for many years is garnered towards equality, tolerance, scientific progression and even when society secular or other wise doesn't necessarily deliver on our beliefs we still uphold them, it is still at our core. Religion has become of the face of the opposition to this innate desire and that is why I think so many will not be displeased to here that the Church is on the brink of extinction. In s
hort, people are moving forward and feel the church is not.

So why then, after all that, do I still think the church is positive and important part of our community. Not only does church bring people together, it gives people a chance, those who have really hit rock bottom find comfort. Its no joke that people are born again, people that were a shell of them selves become saved and I don't mean that in a religious sense although I'm sure that happens as well, but people that would otherwise not be here are still with us because the church is a place of refuge. It's not just a story that saves people, it is the socialising, the events, and the belonging. The church offers an ongoing program of support in all aspects of peoples lives because belief fills people with the desire to help, not monetary incentive.  You don't have to sign up for a church you can just walk in and receive help, the program never ends and extends way passed just the aspect of your life you struggled with. I have known people who have tried to take their own lives or been caught up in drug addiction and the church has changed them.  Now, I know there are voluntary services that can provide people with help but where these may have worked for some and failed for others the church has succeeded and vice versa. So why celebrate the removal of this service?   Does it matter that religion is part of their recovery? I don't know. It's not for me to say, I am not them, I have only seen and heard the changes. So while I know its not the only place that changes lives, it is a place that does and should remain open.

Also even on the less extreme side of things, the church offers  companionship to people and a sense of community. Something that atheists are tapping into now with things like 'Athiest-mega churches' but currently these are far and few between and I suspect something of a novelty ( find more about secular meet ups here). However yes maybe it could grow, but for now I do feel sad that this support network that does a lot of good for people could be removed and hope that it isn't as long as religion remains a choice then I have no problem with that choice being available.

Read more:

Religion in modern Britian Ten recent conflicts

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

George Bush and the people trying to force the second coming.

Recently I signed up for a book called The Messianic Bible. In my ignorance, I just assumed that this was a sect of Jews that believed in Jesus is the messiah and thought nothing of it. Interested to read more I signed up for a copy and was informed it wasn't yet ready for print but when it was I would receive one. Then I began to get weekly emails that were very much to do with the people of Isreal. I realised this was perhaps a lot more politically and religiously inclined than I had first thought. Then I see an article called George W. Bush to Raise Money for Group That Converts Jews to Bring About Second Coming of Christ you can read that here.
George. W. Bush is due to attend the MJBI in Texas

The article talks about George Bush and his affiliation with a group that as the title suggests ' converts Jews to bring about the second coming' and that group would just so happen to be The Messianic Jewish Bible Institute. So whats all the fuss about? Well, ex president and war criminal Bush is due to speak at an event held by The Messianic Jewish Bible Institute with the end game to raise money for the foundation. But the MJBI as they'll be known from now on, is not viewed favorably by the Jewish community, who find the attempts at converting Jews as insensitive and a direct display of disrespect for the Jewish covenant.  The MBJI state their vision is ' to bring Jewish people into a personal relationship of faith with Yeshua the Messiah, knowing their acceptance will eventually mean life from the dead (Romans 11:15)' Source

Why is it such a problem?

Commentary Magazine warned that ' it must be understood that the visceral distaste that the overwhelming majority of Jews have for the Messianics is not to be taken lightly.'  Source
MJBI want Jews to accept Yeshua as Messiah
So it's no wonder George Bushes scheduled attendance at the conference in Texas.  The internet had a mixed response as the story spread across blogs and online news site a like, the consensus is not as black and white as you think given the above comment. There was a somewhat balanced debate, with some Jewish commentators saying they were not bothered by the MJBI but generally his planned attendance was met with disdain, including that off Anti-defamation league director  Abraham Foxman. He stated he knew Bush was a lover of Israel and it's people and wouldn't embrace the ideology of the MJBI but wished he wouldn't attend all the same.  The bulk of the problem is that the MJBI and messianic Jews in general believe they are saving Jews by trying to get them to acknowledge Jesus as messiah and Savior, even if it goes against Jewish scripture it is the MJBI that is trying its best to theologically back up the claim, hence the production of the Messianic Bible.  The problem arrises for most Jews is that by trying to get Jews to accept Christ they are no longer Jews, the major difference between Christians and Jews theologically is the belief in Jesus as Messiah and so by introducing this doctrine they are actually creating Christians and not as the MJBI believes, Jews that believe in Jesus for there can not be such thing. 

Writing for the Jewish Journal, Rob Eshman states:

For Jews, there is no Father and Son; there is no Trinity: there is only Unity. One. That is a mindset with vast implications for how Jews see the world and behave in it. God is ineffable, certainly not a man, and God’s power lies precisely in that mystery. We accept that the biggest piece of the puzzle is left unsolved — that missing piece is the engine of our spiritual journey. It makes us, as individuals and as a People, inquisitive, skeptical of authority, relatively tolerant, empathetic — for if God is One, we’re all in this together — and eternally dissatisfied. That’s why when we start believing in Jesus as God, we stop being Jewish — not just in name, but deep down, in our souls

Why would it bring about the second coming?

Artist depiction of the 'second coming.'
The MJBI make it clear there aims are to fulfil the requirement for the return of Jesus Christ.
According to the New Testament there are a number of events that need to happen before the return of Jesus Christ including wars, false prophets, hatred for Christianity. However a lot of it centers around the Jews, their displacement and return to Israel and also their accepting of Jesus as lord. 

Many Bible verses seem to support the claim or are often used to do so.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem.... Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Mathew 23 :37-39)

"Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved."  (Romans 11: 25-26)

You can read more about that here:

While I agree with the nature of the argument from Jews against the Messianic Jewish movement I do struggle to see how it differs to that of other religious proselytizing. Is it any different form Christian and Islamic missionary work, or preachers on street corners? We are always free to reject their ideas as they are always free to have them. So while I understand the issue I feel it runs deeper than theology and irks at the structure of Jewish customs and culture which is strong and has a long history, but it shouldn't seek to silence those that threaten it, it should merely ignore it.