A tale of two epitaphs: The haunting of Port Arthur tells a bigger Australian story than it seeks to…

We’re on holidays in Tasmania. It’s stunning. We’ve been to snow fringed lakes, and stunning bays, and we’re now enjoying historic Hobart. Yesterday, en route to Hobart, we spent some time in Port Arthur at the world heritage listed historic site that is the best preserved remnant of Australia’s convict history; it was a prison settlement, and like most historical sites the place itself, and its architecture, tells a story that functions as a backdrop to the stories of lives lived and lost in our nation’s past.

Port Arthur’s historical site, of course, occupies a more recent place in the Australian story and our national psyche. In 1996 it was the site of Australia’s last shooting massacre, when a young man named Martin Bryant entered the historic site and sprayed staff and visitors with bullets, taking 35 lives and leaving 23 people wounded. This shooting led to a significant change to Australia’s gun laws, and left an indelible mark on the historic site; where there’s now a moving tribute to those who were killed or wounded in the massacre, and to those brave people who rushed to the aid of the victims. It’s a solemn monument to a significant moment in our national story.

What fascinated me more than the conditions of the prisoners, government officers, and settlers in the historic site was the prominent space given to Christianity in the lives of both the convicts and the establishment. The church that met on the hill above the settlement hosted services attended by 1,100 people per Sunday. The building that hosted these gatherings was, from 1836, a grand, convict-built, sandstone structure in prime position on the hill; a prominent and unmissable reminder of the place of Christianity in the lives (and attempted reform) of those sent to the colony, a constant visible presence reminding those living in the community of the inherent dignity and value of all human life; a reminder it appears at least some of those in charge of life in the prisons took on board (according to the records quoted in signage on the site).

The parsonage — the home of the protestant minister who ran services at the church — made for interesting visiting and reading. It told the story of three of the chaplains to the community — the first, Rev Durham, was staunchly anti-Catholic, but also advocated for better treatment of prisoners, and for the church to be responsible for education in the community, and a letter from one of the convicts claimed that he’d won the respect of those he was sent to minister to — the convicts. The second chaplain, Reverend George Eastman, had a classic minister’s family, with kids who apparently ran amok, disrupting all sorts of things happening around the community; he too was held in high esteem in the community, but he died on site, and one of the signs in the parsonage particularly struck me, it quotes his epitaph. The words on his grave stone seemed to me to be great words for a preacher of the Gospel to aspire to, but also told the story of the role of the church in a settlement where death was common, and the church did indeed play a prominent role in helping us face our mortality; or rather to offer hope beyond death. The Port Arthur site includes a small island in the bay, the Isle of the Dead, which functioned as the cemetery.

“Long and earnestly the pastor laboured to bring souls to Christ, and oft on his calm isle proclaimed to mourning groups the Christian’s cheering hope. The joyful resurrection morn and Glorious immortality. He being dead yet speaketh. Hebrew X1.4” — Rev. George Eastman’s epitaph.

What stunning words. This man’s ministry to others in the face of death spoke from beyond the grave. A good kind of haunting. The kind that leads to hope; a testimony to glorious immortality for any who put their faith in Jesus. The best we Christians have to offer society; and perhaps the reason the church was so prominent in the early life of this settlement, and other parts of colonial Australia. The Hebrews quote is from a chapter of the Bible that speaks of faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. — Hebrews 11:1-4

What a testimony to this man’s ministry and the place of the church in the colony. To a church operating as a city on a hill; a light in the darkness; a voice of hope beyond death. A position reinforced by the environment; a story told by this historic site.

But the story doesn’t end there… because the story of Port Arthur’s historic site is a haunting one; and perhaps more than anything else it is haunted by the loss of a voice like this, or a church like this. And perhaps here there is something of the story of our nation; a parallel haunting story.

The pastor who replaced Rev. Eastman, Rev Haywood, arrived to a settlement in decline; the prison was closing, and to top things off, he started to believe that the parsonage was haunted by ghosts; perhaps Eastman’s. He moved out of the house, then left the settlement in 1877 when the prison closed. The parsonage became the post office. Christianity was moving away from the centre of the community. 7 years later the church building caught fire, just the outer walls remain; a haunting but powerful monument to the place of religion in a site littered with buildings in similar state of disrepair; none are quite so grandly designed or constructed as this building though.

Next to the old church is a much smaller chapel style building, St Davids, which still functions as an Anglican church to this day. When it was commissioned in 1927, the local paper wrote: it’s “a pretty little building, erected in a prominent position in the township in the shadows of the ruins of the old church. It is a welcome addition to the buildings of the township” (the page of the paper available at that link has an interesting little report on a church service at Davey Street Methodist where the address was given by miss Barbara Storey — which tells two fascinating stories about the church in 1927, one being that sermons were summarised in the city’s newspaper, the other being about women preaching not being particularly newsworthy). Prior to the construction of St David’s (in the 50 year gap between 1877 and 1927) services had been conducted in Port Arthur’s town hall, the old Asylum. Now this quaint little building runs regular services in the shadow of a grand, but skeletal, church building that was the town’s most prominent structure; it looks like it could comfortably seat 40 people; it’s a haunting story about the place of the church in Australia; but not the only part of the site that tells this haunting story. Where once there was a grand building, serving 1,100 people per Sunday with the hope of the resurrection, and helping people confront death, now there is this quaint building — that once made the newspaper — providing a handful of tourists, and perhaps some locals, that same message.

The church still has a place in Port Arthur, it’s still kicking along, but it is part of an historic site; a tourist attraction, a relic of an Australia past; representing something every bit as ghostly as the other stories of the past you’re confronted with in your walk around the site, and offering something about as plausible to the average Aussie punter as Rev. Haywood’s ghost sightings.

This wasn’t the most haunting part of our tour of Port Arthur for me. I’m more into ancient history and recent history than the history of colonial Australia; and I can remember exactly where I was, as a 13 year old kid, when I first learned about the Port Arthur shooting. It was a Sunday. I was at youth group, sitting on the stage steps inside the Presbyterian Church building in Maclean, and some of my friends were talking about it. It’s one of those news stories where you remember where you first hear it… It left an indelible mark on my memory; a haunting. Even.

The memorial garden and ‘Pool of Peace’ are a stirring reminder of this moment in our history; I saw a bloke probably a couple of years older than me, sitting quietly and contemplatively on the corner of the pool for a few minutes, perhaps, as I was, pondering the fragility of human life; being confronted by the spectre of death; haunted, still, by the events of 21 years ago. It’s hard to know what to say in response to death, which is why our mortality and the fragility of life is confronting, perhaps it is why the original settlement buried its dead on an island, a boat trip away from the day to day reality; the water providing a buffer between the mundane and its inevitable end; with the church and the ministry of somebody like Rev. Eastman helping to bridge that gap, and providing the comforting picture of “glorious immortality” — the early settlers seemed to grasp that being confronted by death without being comforted by immortality is something more than haunting; more than ghostly; it is ghastly.

But the memorial, in the main, reminds us of the haunting Aussie story; what we’ve lost because we’ve lost the prominent place of people like Rev. Eastman, and the church has gone from being a prominent visual part of life in our community, to having a small presence in the shadows. So. The ‘Pool of Peace’ offers a thoroughly secular response to the events of 1996; haunting words engraved next to the pool and on its edges, another epitaph, in stark contrast to the words on Eastman’s gravestone:

“Death has taken its toll

Some pain knows no release

But the knowledge of brave compassion

Shines like a pool of peace.

May we who come to this garden

Cherish life for the sake of those who died

Cherish compassion for the sake of those who gave aid

Cherish peace for the sake of those in pain.”

These are poetic words. They aren’t without a sort of limited hope, and in some ways they are words that allow the victims of Port Arthur to do what Rev. Eastman does; to keep speaking; to speak of the cost of evil, and the pain and grief that comes through death. You can’t help but be moved by that garden, these words, and the still waters of the pool; tucked into a part of a site that tells a bigger story of Australian life.

Somehow Eastman’s testimony, his epitaph, stands in stark relief to these words though, and somehow this is where the church might still have a role to play in Australia, even if it is to keep us feeling haunted by ghosts of a past we’ve lost, a place we once had… with a message of ‘cheering hope’ that comforts us in our own ‘isle of the dead’, that comforts us as we stand beside graves, or on sites where death has touched us, or haunted us.

“Long and earnestly the pastor laboured to bring souls to Christ, and oft on his calm isle proclaimed to mourning groups the Christian’s cheering hope. The joyful resurrection morn and Glorious immortality. He being dead yet speaketh. Hebrew X1.4” — Rev. George Eastman’s epitaph.

The church is not yet dead; even if it is starting to feel like a bit of a ghost story, or something that haunts our society rather than comforts it. And there’s a small monument to this in the memorial garden too; and perhaps the brightest moment of our trip came from this monument, this sculpture of the cross with the names of those who lost their lives engraved on a plaque, tucked back in the shadows; behind the ‘pool of peace’; a reminder of the prince of peace, the one whose resurrection secures our glorious immortality; the one who spoke life in the beginning, but who also spoke from beyond the grave.

As we rounded the corner, through a tall hedge, into the monument, there were a couple of kids playing underneath this cross. One, a young girl, stretched out her arms and yelled out, breaking the stillness — her voice rippling across the pool — “Mummy! Mummy! I’m dying on the cross like Jesus”… the man sitting peacefully on the edge of the pool looked up, shocked at this breach of the peace, the girl’s mum hushed her, and beckoned her back to her side.

I smiled. I couldn’t help myself. As I caught the eyes of the sombre fountain sitter. He wasn’t smiling, though his eyes were, a little. As we walked up to the inscriptions on the edge of the pool, I heard this girl explaining the Jesus story to her sister. “They killed Jesus on a cross like that, then they put him in a tomb… and then…”

And then.

Haunting.

Cheering hope. Resurrection. Glorious immortality. He being living yet speaketh.

Even in Australia.

10 Tips for winning an election from Cicero Jr.

Marcus Tullius Cicero is one of my heroes. He was also pretty influential on Augustine, in my favourite primary source text from my time at college (outside the Bible) – On Christian Teaching, and, I’d argue, on Paul’s approach to preaching and rhetoric in Corinth.

cicero change poster

Image Credit: Cicero, Change, made with ObamiconMe

He was a pretty interesting guy – rising from relatively common stock to be one of the most powerful men in the Roman Republic. He was elected Consul in 64BC. During the campaign his younger brother wrote him a little handbook for electoral success called Commentariolum Petitionis. It’s been translated into a nice little book called How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians. It had some timeless tips for political success that election watchers will recognise have played out in elections since the dawn of democracy.

One of the most accurate maxims in the little treatise is: “This shows that people are moved more by appearances than reality, though I realize this course is difficult to for someone like you who is a follower of the philosopher Plato.”

Here are ten tips Cicero’s younger brother sends to help Cicero clarify his thoughts about the campaign at hand.

1. Build a wide base of vocal ambassadors…

Cicero was a lawyer who won lots of cases, it’s suggested he remind his clients what they owe him, find people who like you, find people who will advocate for you – get them to talk about you. This is first century BC political advertising.

Don’t forget about all the people you have successfully defended in court, clients from a wide variety of social backgrounds. And, of course, remember the special interest groups that back you. Finally, make good use of the young people who admire you and want to learn from you, in addition to all the faithful friends who are daily at your side.”

“Running for office can be divided into two kinds of activity: securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public. You gain the goodwill of friends through kindness, favors, old connections, availability, and natural charm. But in an election you need to think of friendship in broader terms than in everyday life. For a candidate, a friend is anyone who shows you goodwill or seeks out your company. But don’t neglect those who are your friends in the traditional sense through family ties or social connection. These you must continue to carefully cultivate.”

Ambassadors and advocates to blow your trumpet for you are increasingly vital in the web 2.0 world, and in a world that is increasingly cynical about the things people say about themselves.

“You must always think about publicity. I’ve been talking about this throughout my whole letter, but it is vital that you use all of your assets to spread the word about your campaign to the widest possible audience. Your ability as a public speaker is key, as is the support of the business community and those who carry out public contracts.”

“You should work with diligence to secure supporters from a wide variety of backgrounds.”

“Seek out men everywhere who will represent you as if they themselves where running for office.”

“It will help your campaign tremendously to have the enthusiasm and energy of young people on your side to canvass voters, gain supporters, spread news, and make you look good.”

“Voters will judge you on what sort of crowd you draw both in quality and numbers. The three types of followers are those who greet you at home, those who escort you down to the Forum, and those who accompany you wherever you go”

“You need to win these voters to your side so that you can fill your house with supporters every morning, hold them to you by promises of your protection, and send them away more enthusiastic about your cause than when they came so that more and more people hear good things about you.”

2. Communicate well. Always

Cicero had built his reputation as a speaker, and his brother told him to use every speaking opportunity as though his career depended on it – because it did.

“It is your unmatched skill as a speaker that draws the Roman people to you and keeps them on your side.”

“Since you are such an excellent communicator and your reputation has been built on this fact, you should approach every speaking engagement as if your entire future depended on that single event.”

This is especially true in the era of campaigning where every slip of the tongue hits YouTube, or becomes a meme.

Communicating clearly, and relevantly, will help win people over.

“The third class of supporters are those who show goodwill because of a personal attachment they believe they have made with you. Encourage this by adapting your message to fit the particular circumstances of each and showing abundant goodwill to them in return. Show them that the more they work for your election the closer your bond to them will be.”

3. Promise everything to anybody (but don’t worry about keeping them)

We can blame the Ciceros, or perhaps Cotta, for “core promises” and “non-core promises”…

“Remember Cotta, that master of campaigning, who said that he would promise everything to anyone, unless some clear obligation prevented him, but only lived up to those promises that benefited him.

He seldom refused anyone, for he said that often a person he made a promise to would end up not needing him or that he himself would have more time available than he thought he would to help.

After all, if a politician made only promises he was sure he could keep, he wouldn’t have many friends. Events are always happening that you didn’t expect or not happening that you did expect. Broken promises are often lost in a cloud of changing circumstances so that anger against you will be minimal.”

4. Keep your friends close, and try to get your enemies closer

Cicero’s little brother reminds him that most trouble – especially damaging rumours, begin at home. So tells him to be on his guard. Then he gives him some advice for winning over his critics.

“Do not overlook your family and those closely connected with you. Make sure they all are behind you and want you to succeed. This includes your tribe, your neighbors, your clients, your former slaves, and even your servants. For almost every destructive rumor that makes its way to the public begins among family and friends.”

“There are three kinds of people who will stand against you: those you have harmed, those who dislike you for no good reason, and those who are close friends of your opponents.

For those you have harmed by standing up for a friend against them, be gracious and apologetic, reminding them you were only defending someone you had strong ties to and that you would do the same for them if they were your friend. For those who don’t like you without good cause, try to win them over by being kind to them or doing them a favor or by showing concern for them. As for the last group who are friends of your rivals, you can use the same techniques, proving your benevolence even to those who are your enemies.”

“I assure you that there is nobody, except perhaps ardent supporters of your opponents, who cannot be won over to your side with hard work and proper favors. But this will only work if a man sees that you value his support, that you are sincere, that you can do something for him, and that the relationship will extend beyond election day.”

5. Remember what the goal is

“Always remember what city this is, what office it is you seek, and who you are. Every day as you go down to the Forum, you should say to yourself: “I am an outsider. I want to be a consul. This is Rome.””

This serves as a good reminder of what you’re doing – but also a nice principle for keeping focused, saying no to things, and framing your narrative.

6. Be valuable to people: Give of yourself. To everybody. And listen.

People will vote for you if they think you’re interested in their well being, and if you are giving them something of value. This remains the foundational premise of any positive political advertising.

“Work to maintain the goodwill of these groups by giving them helpful advice and asking them for their counsel in return.”

“Another way to show you are generous is to be available day and night to those who need you. Keep the doors of your house open, of course, but also open your face and expression, for these are the window to the soul.”

“There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people. You can win uncommitted voters to your side by doing them even small favors. So much more so all those you have greatly helped, who must be made to understand that if they don’t support you now they will lose all public respect. But do go to them in person and let them know that if they back you in this election you will be in their debt.”

7. Remember names. Remember people. Actually care

Remembering names won’t guarantee that people will like you – but it’s part of showing you care.

“…nothing impresses an average voter more than having a candidate remember him, so work every day to recall names and faces.”

“Look at Antonius—how can the man establish friendships when he can’t even remember anyone’s name? Can there be anything sillier than for a candidate to think a person he doesn’t know will support him?”

“Small-town men and country folk will want to be your friends if you take the trouble to learn their names—but they are not fools. They will only support you if they believe they have something to gain.

But with any class of people, it isn’t enough that you merely call them by name and develop a superficial friendship. You must actually be their friend.”

8. Say nice things about people… except your opponent

Saying nice things about people, in a winsome way, wins them over.

“You have excellent manners and are always courteous, but you can be rather stiff at times. You desperately need to learn the art of flattery—a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office.”

What you say about people when they’re out of earshot counts too… here’s what he says about powerful people who drop in to visit each morning (but might visit other people).

“Mention your gratitude for their visit whenever you see them and tell their friends that you noticed their presence as well, for the friends will repeat your words to them.”

Finally, as regards the Roman masses, be sure to put on a good show. Dignified, yes, but full of the color and spectacle that appeals so much to crowds. It also wouldn’t hurt to remind them of what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.”

9. Maintain your integrity (or the appearance of integrity)

This comes back to ethos – which is one of the areas I think Paul borrows from Cicero. Character counts (though apparently broken promises are irrelevant to character).

“Our city is a cesspool of humanity, a place of deceit, plots, and vice of every imaginable kind. Anywhere you turn you will see arrogance, stubbornness, malevolence, pride, and hatred. Amid such a swirl of evil, it takes a remarkable man with sound judgment and great skill to avoid stumbling, gossip, and betrayal. How many men could maintain their integrity while adapting themselves to various ways of behaving, speaking, and feeling? In such a chaotic world, you must stick to the path you have chosen.”

10. Give people hope..

This comes down to framing a narrative not about you, not about the people who are voting for you, but about the future – yours, and theirs, together.

“The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you.”

“There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment…As for those who you have inspired with hope—a zealous and devoted group—you must make them to believe that you will always be there to help them. Let them know that you are grateful for their loyalty and that you are keenly aware of and appreciate what each of them is doing for you.”

I assure you that there is nobody, except perhaps ardent supporters of your opponents, who cannot be won over to your side with hard work and proper favors. But this will only work if a man sees that you value his support, that you are sincere, that you can do something for him, and that the relationship will extend beyond election day.

There you have it. 10 tips from almost 2,100 years ago that were just as relevant for the 2012 US Presidential race as they were back then.

Anti-Mario Propaganda: Maybe he’s not so Super after all

Video games are a victor’s history. We never think of life from the perspective of the poor goombas Mario squishes. How would you like it if a fat plumber jumped on your head?

What Bowser and his mercenary army needs is better PR. And the best type of PR is propaganda. Fro Design have had a go at producing some anti-Mario propaganda posters, and I have to say, my eyes have been opened.

Lord of the Rings as a loser’s history

The task of writing history goes to the victors – so we can be sure Lord of the Rings is full of pro-Gandalf bias and pretty much dismiss anything it says about hobbits, wizards or elves. They’re the real bad guys. The invaders and the oppressors of Middle Earth. What you’ve read is just propaganda. So here’s the alternative history – written by a Russian named Kirill Eskov, this guy named ymarkov wrote an English translation (here’s a PDF).

Ring-Wraiths
Image Credit: Flickr
Here’s an excerpt.

“Should our reader be minimally acquainted with analysis of major military campaigns and examine the map of Middle Earth, he would easily ascertain that all actions of both new coalitions (Mordor-Isengard and Gondor-Rohan) were dictated by merciless strategic logic, undergirded by Mordor’s dread of being cut off from its food sources. Through Gandalf’s efforts the center of Middle Earth turned into a highly unstable geopolitical “sandwich” with Mordor and Isengard the bread and Gondor and Rohan the bacon. Most ironic was the fact that the Mordor coalition, which wanted nothing but the preservation of the status quo, was in an ideal position for an offensive war (whereby it could immediately force its opponents to fight on two fronts), but in a highly unfavorable one for a defensive war (when the united opponents could conduct a blitzkrieg, crushing foes one by one).”

Salon.com has a review of the book.

The elves are the bad guys. Gandalf is basically Hitler. Here’s some more from the book.

“To make a long story short: the situation was highly unfavorable, but we have managed, at the cost of all those sacrifices, to shield the Mordorian civilization, and it had made it out of the crib. Another fifty, maybe seventy years, and you would have completed the industrial revolution, and then no one would’ve been able to touch you. From that point on the Elves would’ve dwelled quietly in their Enchanted Forests, not getting in anyone’s way, while the rest of Middle Earth would’ve by and large gotten onto your path. And so, realizing that they were about to lose the contest, the wizards of the White Council decided on a monstrous move: to unleash a war of total destruction against Mordor, to involve the Elves directly, and to pay them with the Mirror.”

“They paid the Elves with the Mirror?!”

“Yes. It was absolute madness; the head of the White Council himself, Saruman, a foresighted and prudent man, fought this plan to the last, and quit the Council when it was adopted after all. The Council is now headed by Gandalf, the architect of the ‘final solution to the Mordorian problem.’”

“Wait, which Saruman is that? The king of Isengard?”

“The same. He formed a temporary alliance with us, since he understood right away what those games with the denizens of the Enchanted Forests mean to Middle Earth. He used to warn the White Council for the longest time: ‘Using the Elves in our struggle against Mordor is akin to burning down the house to get rid of roaches.’ And that’s exactly how it came out. Mordor lies in ruins, and the Mirror is in Lórien, with the Elvish Queen Galadriel; soon the Elves will brush the White Council away like crumbs off the table and rule Middle Earth as they see fit.”

John Dickson on the Bible’s place in history

Brilliant. Use this next time you’re talking to an idiot atheist about the historicity of Jesus and the New Testament.

John Dickson is a top class Bible teacher and historian – taken seriously in both spheres. In fact, the only reason I don’t take him seriously sometimes is that he still includes “musician” in his bio – even though his days in the band “In the Silence” are long gone. It’s Bonoesque. But his stuff is still worth reading.

“The so-called religious nature of Christian writings in no way diminishes their value as historical sources. Historians take the Christian agenda into account when they analyze the New Testament, just as they take the imperial bias into account when studying Tacitus or the Jewish bias when reading Josephus. But historians do not place the New Testament in a special category called “religious literature.” Indeed, in Australia’s largest public university ancient history department (Macquarie) you will find undergraduate and postgraduate courses like “The New Testament in Its Times” and “The Historical Jesus.””

Good article on the Gospel Coalition. Read it.

The Beginners Guide to Taking Over the World – the early years

A short history of World Domination

Before setting out on your quest to take over the world, it’s important to understand the history of world domination. There are those from the dusty pages of history whose examples we should follow as we seek to bring the world under our control, and those whose mistakes we should learn from.

The Early Years

A long time ago, in a planet not very far away, a planet so like our own that if you were to assume that it was our own you would in fact be correct, there lived many ancient civilisations. Civilisations that even thousands of years ago were locked in heated conflict, fighting for control. Admittedly their views of control were quite different to ours and involved the eradication of all opposition, but at heart their goal was the same.

Early historical manuscripts deal mainly with the areas in and around what is now known as the Middle East. The super powers of the day, Egypt, Babylon, Israel and Assyria along with others who came and went, traded blows for many hundreds of years. It would appear that success in these times was, as is the case today, largely attributed to superior weaponry and manpower. However, in some cases, particularly in the case of Israel, it appeared that having a deity in your corner added some clout to the claims of human kings. Kings David and Solomon certainly would not have achieved the military successes attributed to them without the help of a higher power.

Many dynasties were also created on the back of a strong economy, it is important not to underestimate the value of material wealth in attempting to establish oneself as a superpower.

The reigns of early global authorities are also marked by a propensity to erect large statues in honour of either the ruler of the day or to mark the empire’s achievements. In fact the recognised “seven wonders of the ancient world” more often than not were built in recognition of a world power. It seems silly that so much manpower was wasted on the construction of these wonders. It’s similar to the high-powered company executive spending excessive amounts on a new vehicle that will simply gather dust in a corporate car park. Only the seven wonders do have some sort of lasting appeal whereas the executive will no doubt replace their car every few years. Wasting resources is not the best way to go about taking over the world. Many rulers found their rule rapidly concluding after their “wonder” had been completed. It’s probably a good idea to keep your rule as low key as possible until you are sure there is no opposition. Erecting 33m tall bronze statues like the Colossus of Rhodes is a sure-fire way to get noticed by other would be rulers.

It is worth noting, that arguably the greatest empire the world has ever seen, the great empire of Rome, erected very few large monuments that did not serve some greater purpose. It helped Rome’s cause that generally the purpose of their constructed monoliths like the Colosseum was to advance the empire’s power. The Colosseum in particular was a great method of controlling the Roman populace. Provide entertainment to the masses and they’ll love you for it. That could almost be a quote from a famous Roman ruler, however since it hasn’t been recorded in any of the annals of history you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The Roman Empire was not based on an entertained, happy, and supportive populace alone. Their rule was made possible by those two pillars of empire building – superior weaponry and well trained, numerous, armed forces. These coupled, or tripled, with a strong economy were enough to enable an enduring campaign of world conquest.

Throughout history empires have risen, and fallen, on the strength of their emperor, or ruler. While weapons may be important, an army without a leader is like, well, an unorganised, leaderless army. Lacking direction and resolve.
The diagram below expresses the importance of a leader in any world conquest.

graph

Once upon a time…

Fairy Tales and fantasies have been the staple fictional diet of children for many years. I caught the Brothers Grimm flick in one of my rare moments sitting in front of the TV without watching sport (including wrestling) the other day. The Brothers Grimm were a couple of oddball German professors who spent their time collecting and documenting folk tales and fairy stories for the amusement of the masses. The movie suggests the Grimms were always pursuing these tales in the hope of striking some truth – when in fact they were collecting stories for the entertainment of children.

It seems to me that Titanic director James Cameron is a modern day Grimm. Cameron who made his name directing the “true story” of a sinking ship is currently promoting his latest project – a documentary – on the discovery of the coffin of Jesus Christ. Fact and fiction are difficult to disentangle – particularly through the filters of history and science. Cameron was quick to jump on the Dan Brown bandwagon fueling speculation that Jesus had a family with Mary Magdalene based on fragments of the gnostic gospels.

In my discussions the other day on philosophy, religion and the meaning of life I argued with some intellectual atheists (which is almost a contradiction in terms – intellectually it’s much safer to be agnostic) that my faith hinges not on the science behind the bible but its historicity. There’s an old question meant to encourage liberal theological thought – “If the bones of Jesus were discovered – would this change your faith?” The politically correct answer to that question is “no” – the theologically correct answer is of course yes. The resurrection of Jesus is of fundamental importance to orthodox Christian belief. The Christian faith depends on its historical credentials. Authenticating “history” is an incredibly difficult task – we need to analyse what we read with archeological findings and historical context. The fact is, we really can’t be sure about what happened hundreds of years ago – let alone thousands. We weren’t there to see it, feel it, hear it, smell it, or touch it. Whenever we’re told of something that happened outside our “experience” it should be questioned, poked, prodded and examined. One of my favourite novelists, Robert Rankin wrote a book called the Witches of Chiswick about a powerful group of witches who decided to completely rewrite history at the turn of the 19th century. This idea is clearly fiction – or is it? We can’t afford to rule out every theory or every piece of documented history simply because we weren’t there. Context is king. When considering a claim it’s important to consider motives, underlying social factors… all these tests need to be applied not just to the bible but to every crackpot theory that comes up questioning its veracity. When it comes to the bible – the disciples and early leaders of the church were prepared to die pretty horrible deaths (not just your run of the mill death but you know, being burned alive or eaten by lions) for their beliefs – I’d like to see James Cameron put his money where his mouth is at this point. Neither Buddha or Muhammad – founders of two of the other “great” (numerically) religions of the world were forced to die for their convictions and nobody is out there in public questioning the historicity of their lives. It’s hard to find a genuinely accepted religion where the founder has received material benefit from their teaching (Scientologists and Mormons are no exceptions to this rule). So it strikes me that the assessment of the Israeli archaeologist who investigated the original discovery is probably worth listening to…

“It’s a beautiful story but without any proof whatsoever.”


Although I guess Christianity’s critics would say the same thing…