Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bernard Lovell on the limits of science

Sir Bernard Lovell, inspirational founder of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, was realistic about how far his subject did and didn't reach:

"I am no more surprised or distressed at the limitation of science when faced with this great problem of creation that I am at the limitation of the spectroscope in describing the radiance of a sunset or at the theory of counterpoint in describing the beauty of a fugue" (This was in one of his Reith Lectures)

He was a church organist for 40 years as well as a Physics prof, writer and scientific entrepreneur. I met him a few years ago, shook his hand and had the pleasure (for me anyway) of telling him how he'd inspired me as a boy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Oscar Wilde on Jesus

Have just finished reading De Profundis, written by Wilde in Reading Goal and an enlightening, if predictably unorthox meditation on Christ. Like all Wilde's works, it's available free.

Wilde does say that:

I need not tell you that to me reformations in morals are as meaningless and vulgar as Reformations in theology


... there were Christians before Christ. For that we should be grateful. The unfortunate thing is that there have been none since.

So he's unlikely to be asked to share his story in a Billy Graham crusade. But having got that out of the way, Wilde's genius and brokenness is worth a read. Such a beautiful writer.

On his own ruin

I must say to myself that I ruined myself, and that nobody great or small can be ruined except by his own hand ... Terrible as was what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more terrible still.

I became the spendthrift of my own genius.

Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion.

I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop.

I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and I did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.

On suffering    

Now it seems to me that love of some kind is the only possible explanation of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there is in the world.

Out of sorrow have the worlds been built, and at the birth of a child or a star there is pain.  

If the world has indeed, as I have said, been built of sorrow, it has been built by the hands of love, because in no other way could the soul of man,  for whom the world was made, reach the full stature of its perfection. 

On Christ

There is still something to me almost incredible in the idea of a young Galilean peasant imagining that he could bear on his own shoulders the burden of the entire world; all that had already been done and suffered, and all that was yet to be done and suffered ... and not merely imagining this but actually achieving it, so that at the present moment all who come in contact with his personality, even though they neither bow to his altar nor kneel before his priest, in some way find that the ugliness of their sin is taken away and the beauty of their sorrow revealed to them. 

His miracles seems to be as exquisite as the coming of spring, and quite as natural. 

He was the first person who ever said to people that they should live 'flower-like lives' ... He took children as the type of what people should try to become. 

The conversion of a publican into a Pharisee would not have seemed to him a great achievement

Christ was not merely the supreme individualist, but he was the first individualist in history. People have tried to make him out an ordinary philanthropist, or ranked him as an altruist with the scientific
and sentimental. But he was really neither one or the other. Pity he has, of course, for the poor ... but he has far more pity for the rich, for the hard hedonists, for those who waste their freedom in becoming slaves to things ... Riches and pleasure seemed to him to be really greater tragedies than poverty or sorrow. 

Out of the Carpenter's shop at Nazareth had come a personality infinitely greater than any made by myth or legend.

On the gospels

Of late I have been studying with diligence the four prose poems about Christ. At Christmas I managed to get hold a Greek Testament, and every morning, after I had cleaned my cell and polished my tins, I read a little of the Gospels, a dozen verses taken by chance anywhere. It is a delightful way of opening the day. Everyone, even in a turbulent, ill-disciplined life, should do the same ... When one returns to the Greek, it is like going into a garden of lillies out of some narrow and dark house.

With a width and wonder of imagination that fill one almost with awe, he took the entire world of the inarticulate, the voiceless world of pain, as his kingdom, and made of himself its eternal mouthpiece.

On the power of love

When I was brought from my prison to the Court of Bankruptcy, between two policemen, ___ waited in the long dreary corridor that, before the whole crowd, whom an action so sweet and simple hushed into silence, he might gravely raise his hat to me, as, handcuffed and with bowed head, I passed him by. Men have gone to heaven for smaller things that that.

Everyone is worthy of love, except him who thinks that he is. Love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling.