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Showing posts from June, 2018

Be more like Batman

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ opponent Glaucon recounts the tale of a Lydian shepherd called Gyges, who steals a ring from the finger of a corpse he finds in a cave. It turns out to be magical, and gives Gyges the power of invisibility - which he uses to seduce the beautiful queen of Lydia, kill the king and usurp his throne. The parallel to Tolkien is obvious, though in this case the ring itself does not corrupt. The point that Plato’s character is making is that, given the ability to get away with injustice, everybody will. Justice is maintained only by the fear of getting caught.
Socrates has none of this. He argues that the person who abuses the ring of Gyges is not in control of himself, but is a slave to his appetites. The just man makes the rational decision not to use the ring and so remains truly free and happy.
There is something of the story of Adam and Eve to this: given the choice to conform to God’s loving will for them or to take the forbidden fruit, they put their o…

How a British welcome should be

This Saturday, hundreds of pilgrims will go to a small city north of London to watch giant puppets perform the story of the man whose name it now bears. In Roman times, the city was called Verulamium, and under the rule of Emperor Domitian, to be a Christian there was a capital offence.  One day, a citizen there heard a knock at the door. Outside was a bedraggled foreigner wearing the black robe of a Christian priest. The man ushered him inside to protect him.  Over the next few days, the priest told him all about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - and his chance to share in eternal life.  The next time the door knocked, there were soldiers outside. Instantly, the man donned the priest’s robe and ran outside, distracting the squad while the priest escaped. He was caught instead of the priest. Some say that this priest, Amphibalus, fled to Lichfield and was martyred here, though this may not be true.  Recognised as the Roman citizen he was, the man was given a second chance: …

S. Barnabas: "The Encourager." What's your superhero nickname?

Today, as I write on 11 June, is the Feast of the Apostle S Barnabas: not his real name, which was the rather more ordinary (but still entirely lovely) “Joseph.” You would be forgiven for thinking that he was given a nickname because there were already too many Josephs on the scene: Jesus’s foster father (actually, already dead by then) and Joseph of Arimathea, to name but two. Actually, though, Barnabas earned his noble moniker, which translates roughly as “the Encourager.” Proclaimed in a  suitably stentorian tone, this does make him sound something like a Marvel superhero.  Why the Encourager? Partly, I suspect, because it was he who encouraged the Apostles to accept into their number a certain Saul, better known to us as Paul, who had been a fanatical persecutor of Christians before his miraculous conversion. Also, certainly, because he was a great encourager of people to join the Christian movement, a great evangelist of the Gospel. Like Paul, he travelled far and wide encouragi…