How to Install PythonMagick on Mac OS X

I’ve been having a bit of a headache trying to install PythonMagick (the Python bindings for ImageMagick) on Mac OS X Snow Leopard, so having eventually had a modicum of success I thought I’d post my adventures here.

Problems Building From Source

But first, let me outline the problems I was having. Initially I tried building ImageMagick from source. That meant first downloading and installing Boost, which again I tried doing from source (1.46.1). When it became time to install the Boost::Python module, I tried following the instructions in the documentation:

$ cd libs/python/example/quickstart/
$ bjam toolset=darwin --verbose-test test

However, I’d find it would get so far and then just hang – I left it for about 24 hours with no progress. If I hit Ctrl-C and then tried again, it just sits there saying this:

...patience...
...patience...
...found 1603 targets...
...updating 8 targets...

Problems Using MacPorts

Since I couldn’t get very far that route, I decided to try the MacPorts approach, which makes installing these kinds of things very straightforward.

Again, first I had to try and install Boost, with the Python module enabled:

$ sudo port install boost +python26

So far, so good! That installed the package “boost @1.46.1_0+python26″. Next was to install ImageMagick:

$ sudo port install ImageMagick

Again, nice and smooth! That installed “ImageMagick @6.6.8-1_0+q16″. Now came the hard part: building PythonMagick. I used v0.9.3 since that seemed the latest version compatible with Python 2.x. The first step is to configure it. Reading around it became clear that I needed to specify the MacPorts include and library directories, like so:

$ ./configure --prefix=/opt/local CPPFLAGS=-I/opt/local/include LDFLAGS=-L/opt/local/lib

But no matter what I tried, I kept getting the message “checking whether the Boost::Python library is available… no”. Eventually I figured out that you can get more information by reading the config.log file. I was getting all sorts of error messages like this:

configure:14953: checking whether the Boost::Python library is available
configure:14983: g++ -c -g -O2 -I/opt/local/include conftest.cpp >&5
In file included from /opt/local/include/boost/python/detail/prefix.hpp:13,
from /opt/local/include/boost/python/module.hpp:8,
from conftest.cpp:23:
/opt/local/include/boost/python/detail/wrap_python.hpp:50:23: error: pyconfig.h: No such file or directory
/opt/local/include/boost/python/detail/wrap_python.hpp:75:24: error: patchlevel.h: No such file or directory
/opt/local/include/boost/python/detail/wrap_python.hpp:78:2: error: #error Python 2.2 or higher is required for this version of Boost.Python.
/opt/local/include/boost/python/detail/wrap_python.hpp:142:21: error: Python.h: No such file or directory

These pyconfig.h and Python.h files and so on are usually installed with the Python development package, but supposedly MacPorts just installs everything all together under /opt/local/include/python2.6, so I wondered what was going on. But somebody put me on to a good way to find out where MacPorts has put stuff:

$ port contents python26 | grep pyconfig.h

That revealed that the include files were being installed in /opt/local/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/include/python2.6. So let’s try the configure again with that new information:

$ ./configure --prefix=/opt/local CPPFLAGS="-I/opt/local/include -I/opt/local/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/include/python2.6" LDFLAGS=-L/opt/local/lib

Success! All seems to have worked this time – it picked up Boost::Python and no more errors showed up (I have secretly skipped a step where I installed the MacPorts python_select package to make sure that it was definitely using Python 2.6, but hopefully you can figure that one out on your own).

Building PythonMagick

But alas, not so easy. Next I had to actually compile the thing. And of course, it failed:

$ make
_Image.cpp: In function 'void Export_pyste_src_Image()':
_Image.cpp:89: error: address of overloaded function with no contextual type information
_Image.cpp:90: error: address of overloaded function with no contextual type information
_Image.cpp:97: error: address of overloaded function with no contextual type information
_Image.cpp:114: error: address of overloaded function with no contextual type information
... and many more such errors ...

It would seem that the ImageMagick API has changed a little, but thankfully the PythonMagick guys have patched that in the latest version. So I had to download PythonMagick 0.9.5 and copy the following files from it into the ‘pythonmagick_src’ directory of 0.9.3:

  • _Image.cpp
  • _DrawableDashArray.cpp
  • _DrawableMiterLimit.cpp
  • _DrawableViewbox.cpp
  • _Geometry.cpp

Installing PythonMagick

With that done, it then compiled quite nicely. So I run ‘sudo make install’, but then when I actually try and load it into Python, I get this error:

>>> import PythonMagick
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "", line 1, in 
File "PythonMagick/__init__.py", line 1, in 
import _PythonMagick
ImportError: No module named _PythonMagick

Hmm… So close! Yet so far away. Okay, well maybe I should just try adding the path where the module is installed to my Python path:

>>> import sys
>>> sys.path.append('/opt/local/lib/python2.6/site-packages')
>>> import PythonMagick
Fatal Python error: Interpreter not initialized (version mismatch?)
Abort trap

D’oh! Well, a quick look at the crash log revealed that it was now trying to use the version of the Boost libraries that I’d manually installed from source from ‘/usr/local/lib’ (rather than the MacPorts version in /opt/local/lib) so I deleted the unwanted versions and tried again. Then I got this error:

>>> import PythonMagick
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "", line 1, in 
File "/opt/local/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/lib/python2.6/PythonMagick/__init__.py", line 1, in 
import _PythonMagick
ImportError: dlopen(/opt/local/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/lib/python2.6/PythonMagick/_PythonMagick.so, 2): Library not loaded: libboost_python.dylib
Referenced from: /opt/local/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/lib/python2.6/PythonMagick/_PythonMagick.so
Reason: image not found

Well that one’s obvious: I needed to add the MacPorts directory to my library path:

$ export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/opt/local/lib
$ export DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH=/opt/local/lib

That gets me a little further:

>>> import PythonMagick
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "", line 1, in 
File "/opt/local/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/lib/python2.6/PythonMagick/__init__.py", line 1, in 
import _PythonMagick
ImportError: dlopen(/opt/local/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.6/lib/python2.6/PythonMagick/_PythonMagick.so, 2): Symbol not found: __cg_jpeg_resync_to_restart
Referenced from: /System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/ImageIO.framework/Versions/A/ImageIO
Expected in: /opt/local/lib/libjpeg.8.dylib
in /System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/ImageIO.framework/Versions/A/ImageIO

A bit of searching on Google eventually turned up this page that involves an egregious hack relying on case-insensitivity in Mac OS X:

sudo ln -sf
/System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/ImageIO.framework/Versions/A/Resources/libPng.dylib /opt/local/lib/libpng.dylib
sudo ln -sf
/System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/ImageIO.framework/Versions/A/Resources/libTIFF.dylib /opt/local/lib/libtiff.dylib
sudo ln -sf
/System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/ImageIO.framework/Versions/A/Resources/libJPEG.dylib /opt/local/lib/libjpeg.dylib

Still…. it seems to work, and I can now import PythonMagick into Python! Now I just need to test it.

Why We Can Know That God Exists

Why Jesus is my Hero #9 of 52

Life in a Closed World

Imagine that you’d lived your whole life inside a well-lit room without windows. There’s a door in one wall, but it has remained locked your entire life, and there appears to be no key to it. Your whole experience has been lived out inside this room. From time to time you speculate about what’s outside the room – is there even an outside? A storybook you used to enjoy talked about these things called ‘trees’ and the ‘sky’, and they sound great – but you have no idea if they really exist or if it’s just fantasy. And what on earth do they really look like? All you have is a kind of cartoon representation of them. Are there other people outside the room? How many? What are they like? These are important questions, but whatever answers you can come up with are mere speculation – you simply cannot see beyond the four walls of the room in which you live.

In many ways that’s a fair picture of our musings about the divine. We live within this physical world of what we can see and touch, and though we might speculate about a spiritual world beyond, our inability to see it means we can never really be certain. As long as that door remains locked, agnosticism about life ‘outside the room’ is the perfectly logical state of mind – any claims I might make about “knowing the truth” is sheer arrogance.

Why Agnosticism Is No Longer a Tenable Position

But now imagine somebody bursts through the door – a man who has seen the outside world and lived in it his whole life, and who knows exactly what’s out there. That totally transforms things, doesn’t it? You might still have plenty of questions about this man’s trustworthiness – is he telling you the truth? Is he a reliable witness to the world outside? But now the debate is centred on this man and his character – the possibility for knowledge now exists in a way that it never did before. If the man could prove that he came from outside – if he brought with him a bunch of flowers, say – then to refuse to believe him and to sit down on the floor in a huff and never discover the wonders of the outside world, well that would be a real tragedy, wouldn’t it?

The Apostle Paul claimed that we have had just such an eye-opening opportunity in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Previously it made perfect sense to be uncertain about the existence of God and exactly what he’s like – we could make guesses but we could never be certain. But Paul says that in Jesus, God has broken into his world, he’s become visible and taken on flesh and blood. He’s told us what’s “outside the room”, what God is like. And he invites us to come and know him for ourselves. He puts it like this:

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31, emphasis mine)

Why Christianity Is Easy to Disprove

As far as I’m aware, Christianity is the only religion in the world that can be easily disproved: all you have to do – all the authorities at the time of Jesus would have had to have done – would be to find Jesus’ body, and we can all pack our bags and go home. Christianity is rooted in a falsifiable historical event – the resurrection of a man from the dead. That’s something that either did happen or did not happen. And if it did – well then that changes everything. It means we can know the truth for certain – we can know that God exist.

Some people would dismiss all this talk as complete nonsense – obviously people don’t rise from the dead, so to say it’s a “historical event” that really happened makes me a loon. But that’s a logical fallacy. Of course dead people usually stay dead. Of course it would be absolutely extraordinary if even one man in the entire history of the world failed to stay dead. But in the highly unlikely event that Jesus did rise from the dead, then we have to revise our understanding of the world: maybe there is life beyond death after all.

There are still plenty of important questions to be asked, like did he rise from the dead? Even if he did, can we trust what he tells us about God – is this man Jesus a reliable witness? But the debate is now centered around the person of Jesus, it’s no longer mere speculation in the abstract. To refuse to engage with the question of Jesus’ identity now would be desperately tragic.

The Urgency of the Question

And it’s a particularly important and urgent question to investigate, because of what Paul tells us: God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed. There’s a day of judgement coming, and how we’ve responded to Jesus is going to be top of the agenda. Don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend we can never know whether God exists. If Jesus is who he says he is then we absolutely can.

Jesus is the man who shows us that God exists, and that’s why he’s my hero.

Way More Than An Angel

Why Jesus is my Hero #8 of 52

Just how special is Jesus? Was he just a man – a good teacher, an all round nice guy, someone with some pretty smart things to say? Was he something more than that – a kind of heavenly being, some form of angel sent from God to show us the way? The model of the “ideal man”, but still something less than God himself? Was he content to be thought of as an ordinary human being before some of his early followers came along and hijacked the discussion and made him out to be God himself in human form?

top-trumps-angels.png

You come across those kinds of different ideas about Jesus all the time – whether from atheists or from Jehovah’s Witnesses or wherever it might be. I think my normal reaction would be to turn to the New Testament and show some of the ways in which Jesus himself spoke about his identity, or where Paul speaks of him in divine terms. But chewing over the first chapter of Hebrews recently I was struck by the slightly surprising approach the author takes: to turn to the Old Testament and see how God speaks about his Messiah. As he does so, he shows us that Jesus is far more than just a man, far more even than some kind of super-angel – he is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” – the creator of the Universe himself.

It’s another round of Bible Top-Trumps as the author of Hebrews takes us back to a number of Old Testament passages that clearly speak of the coming Messiah and plays him off against the angels – and he wins every time. He is addressed as God’s unique and only-begotten “Son” – something that is never applied to the angels. All the angels are told to worship him. So far so good – but I guess he could still be some kind of angel himself, just one who is vastly superior to all the others. But then it starts going really off the scales:

“But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions'” (Hebrews 1:8, emphasis mine)

He is addressed by God as God. And then in the next one, we’re told he is the creator of the universe:

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain” (Hebrews 1:10-11)

As someone who grew up in a Christian home, I sometimes take it a bit for granted thinking of Jesus in divine terms. But I imagine that for a Jewish audience, some of this stuff would be mind-blowing and almost blasphemous when they first heard it. But there it all is, in the Old Testament scriptures, in black and white. God refers to his Messiah as though he is also somehow God himself. This is no last minute addition, a bolt-on that Jesus himself would have been horrified by, had he known. This is central to Jesus’ understanding of his own identity and mission.

The implications of all this for the author of Hebrews is clear:

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)

Angels in the Bible are pretty scary creatures that strike fear into the hearts of all who meet them. How much more should we therefore stand in awe of the Lord Jesus – the exact imprint of God’s nature! Jewish tradition held that the Old Testament covenant was delivered to Moses on the top of mount Sinai by angels, and so the author of Hebrews uses his comparison of Jesus with the angels as a way of saying that the New Testament covenant must be even more glorious, and even more worthy of our attention and obedience. It’s no trifling matter to hear the gospel message and then ignore it.

Jesus is God in human form – the Creator of the Universe come down to earth. That’s why he is my hero, and why he really deserves my love, my devotion and my utmost attention and obedience.

Why God Is Better Than the Chairman – Thoughts on ‘The Adjustment Bureau’

The Adjustment Bureau

I’m not going to bother writing an all-out review of “The Adjustment Bureau” – I’m sure many people have already done a better job of that than I ever could. But in summary: as somebody who finds it very easy to enjoy even the worst of films, I rather liked it! Yes, the script was a bit shoddy in places, and yes, the final chase was perhaps a bit lacklustre.

But at the end of the day, what I enjoyed about it was that it’s a film that makes you think. It’s a film that none-too-subtly explores some favourite themes of mine – the meaning of free will, human choice & responsibility, the sovereignty of God, etc. – and in the process reveals a lot about what our culture believes and cherishes on these issues. Here’s a great quote from Russell Moore’s theological ruminations on the film:

“This film might, though, prompt us to see in our neighbors a sense of helplessness, a sense of captivity, and a rage that, just maybe, is misdirected toward God. And, perhaps, the film will spur us to wonder whether our neighbors are feeling something of what is true for all of us, apart from the liberating power of the devil-defeating Cross: We are being chased.”

I’m not sure the film was really good enough to actually make me feel any of that. But what I did feel, after seeing the film, was profoundly thankful: thankful that the God of the Bible is nothing like The Chairman. God would beat The Chairman in a fight without even breaking a sweat. Let me explain why (warning: spoilers ahead)

First, consider for a moment the nature of the Chairman:

  • The Chairman exists in a deistic universe – the kind of “clockwork universe” that by and large works itself out according to the laws of chance. Every now and again the Bureau has to make a little nudge to adjust its course and make sure that things stick to The Plan, but as far as possible they allow it to take care of itself.
  • The Chairman has to constantly revise his plan in the light of new data – he’s constantly at risk of being outwitted and having his plan overturned by pesky humans, and his minions seem pretty inept at preventing this from happening. He seems to have aspirations for how he hopes things will turn out rather than sovereign authority to make sure that they do.
  • The Chairman thinks we’d be better off without him – this is the ultimate message of the film: rather like training wheels on a bike, The Chairman’s influence is designed to be only temporary. He’d much prefer it if humanity was able to take responsibility for itself and its choices, and indeed seems confident that we’d be better off if we could. He only reluctantly steps in when it seems that we’re making poor use of the privilege of free will.

In this way, The Chairman is, of course, a product of our age – a profound confidence in the innate goodness of humanity if only we would be true to the potential within ourselves; and free will and the right to choose as the most cherished possessions we have. As Norris says in one of his early campaign speeches: “the most important thing is the choices we make”. Within this worldview, for God to impose his will on us would be cruel and inhumane – making us paramount to slaves.

But this could not be more different from the God of the Bible:

  • The God of the Bible sustains and upholds the universe every minute of every day – without his constant intervention the sun would not rise in the morning, nor the moon by night. The early scientists were given confidence to trust that the laws of physics would stay constant from day to day because they trusted in a sovereign God who never changed and who was able to sustain the movement of the planets and the spinning of the atom. There is nothing “hands off” about the way God runs his universe.
  • The God of the Bible cannot be thwarted – contrary to the assertions of Open Theists, the Bible teaches that there is no Plan B: what God has purposed always comes to pass. “I declare the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'” (Isaiah 46:10). The real decisions that we make every moment of the day are all part of his plan, not in opposition to it.
  • The God of the Bible knows how much I need him – the Bible says that to be rid of God’s influence in my life is not to be free but to be desperately lost without hope. By nature I am a slave to sin, following the futile desires of my darkened heart and mind. Thank God that he doesn’t step back and leave me to it! And thank God that his involvement in my life isn’t some temporary state of affairs that might be revoked at any moment – it’s painfully obvious to me that without God’s constant moment-by-moment intervention in my life, even when I least deserve it, I would be utterly ruined.

As finite human beings existing in a single moment of time, we can only see one minuscule portion of the picture. What’s more, even if I could know what the best choice in any given situation was, I’m far from rational – we constantly choose the things that are against our own best interests based on misplaced affections and sinful desires. Now, I need God’s intervention in my life. I hope I come to depend on his direction more as time goes by, not kid myself into thinking that I can do without it. To surrender to his sovereign will, even when it seems directly opposed to the things I would have chosen for myself – now that’s true freedom.

iDolatry

I admit it, I’m a total sucker for the Reality Distortion Field. Who would have thought that a little aluminium box, just 9.5″x7.3″, could have captivated my heart to the extent that it has. I find myself scheming ways to cobble together enough money, how to get one on the cheap. Maybe this is what it feels like to be mentally ill? Yes, of course I’m talking about the iPad 2.

The stupid thing is that I know it can’t make me happy. Far from it. The very fact that I’ve imbued it with such mythical properties means that the reality is guaranteed to be a let down. It may be a better way to casually browse the internet (which in itself is far from certain) but it will still be the same old internet – promising so much and yet delivering so little. I still won’t be productive or fulfilled. I’ll still be the person wishing I was publishing all this cool stuff instead of simply reading about it. In the end the iPad is just a really expensive equivalent to the new pen or the Moleskine.

Even if I wasn’t disappointed with my purchase, iPads don’t last forever. Huh, come to think of it, I won’t last forever. But let’s suppose medical science stumbles upon the secrets of eternal life next year (spoiler: it won’t), does that make the iPad a good investment? Of course not: give it six months and there’ll be a new, even more gorgeous version just around the corner, and you can bet your life my heart will be after that one too. All I have to do is think about how much disdain I hold right now for the first generation iPad and I’ll have a good feel for how far the magic will have worn off.

iPad 3 Tweet

Jonathan Edwards, the preacher from 18th century New England, had a good understanding of how the fleeting nature of life drastically undermines the wisdom of resting our happiness on gadgets and other possessions. In his essay “The Sin and Folly of Depending on Future Time“, he writes this:

“It is most evident, that if the enjoyments of this world be of such a nature that they are not to be depended on for one day more, they are not worth the setting of our hearts upon them, or the placing of our happiness in them. We may rejoice in the enjoyments of the world, but not in such a manner as to place the rest of our souls in them.”

To live as though a lump of metal and glass has the power to make me happy, when I might die this very night and have to give an account to my creator, is simply daft. It’s one of the oldest mistakes in the book: bowing down and worshipping something that’s been made by human hands in a factory somewhere in China, instead of worshipping the one who made us, the one who made Steve Jobs.

As a Christian, that’s what makes iDol worship especially ridiculous. I know that I’m already rich beyond my wildest dreams, spiritually speaking – in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, says the apostle Paul – and it’s a treasure that will never perish, spoil or fade, never be superseded by Heavenly Treasure v2.0. I have the treasure of a relationship with the creator of the universe, something which gives me a sense of worth way less superficial than being a member of the Apple Owners Geek Club.

Now if only my heart would catch up with that.

Old Testament Adventures Blog Roundup

This is just a friendly reminder that I’ve started a new Old Testament Adventures blog recently, and all of the Christian video game-related posts that used to appear here on Geero.net are now to be found over there (RSS feed here).

Here’s a roundup of some of the posts that have appeared over there since it was set up:

Do take a moment to update your feed reader with the new blog feed if you want to stay up to date with Ebenezer and other Christian video game-related thoughts.

Subduing The Forces of Chaos and Evil

Why Jesus is My Hero #7 of 52

The Perfect Storm

perfectstorm.jpg

Imagine the scene: you’re on a little fishing boat out on the middle of the sea. Only it’s not a tranquil afternoon pleasure cruise – you’re caught in the midst of a violent storm. The thick clouds in the sky above are pelting you with rain so heavy that you’re drenched to your very skin. The boat is lurching violently from side to side as the waves crash against it, and it’s quickly filling up as water pours over the sides. You hope against hope that it’s merely passing by and that the storm will subside before it utterly sinks you, but then you notice that the hardened fisher men who own the boat – men with plenty of experience of violent storms who know how to tell when they’re in danger – well they’re utterly terrified and yelling about how we’re all going to perish. Now you know you’re in trouble.

As you claw your way towards them to check if perhaps you misheard them against the raging winds, you notice an unusual scene. Despite the chaos all around you, there’s a man sleeping peacefully upon a cushion. When the fishermen wake him, he seems annoyed that they’ve disturbed his nap for no good reason – as though he’s completely oblivious to the danger he’s in. The fishermen are pointing him towards the water pouring over the sides, which he finally seems to acknowledge with disinterest. And then, with a little yawn, the man turns towards the raging sea and says to it, “Peace! Be still!”

At once, in an instant, the rocking of the boat stops, the clouds part, and the sea becomes flat like a mill pond. The man turns to the fisherman and says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith?”

How would you expect the fishermen to respond? This man has just rescued them from the most fearsome storm they’ve ever experienced, merely with a word. He’s rebuked the raging wind like it was a naughty puppy, only for it to retreat with its tail between its legs.

Well, those events really happened, and one of those fishermen recounted their response for his friend Mark to write down for us:

“They were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?'” (Mark 4:35-41)

If they were afraid before, whilst in the middle of the storm, that’s nothing to how afraid they were now, to witness this man whose very words had the power to rebuke the utter chaos of the seas.

Taming The Hulk

hulk.jpg

It doesn’t get much better when they land. They moor their boat near a graveyard, and are immediately greeted by a man who has his home amongst the tombs. The locals were terrified of him – all night long they could hear him howling like a zombie as he cut himself with stones. They’d tried subduing him and binding him in chains, but he seemed to possess super-human strength, and broke his bonds in pieces as if they were made of string.

The man seems to recognise Jesus, and at once he runs towards him and bows his head low before him, begging for mercy. He claims to be possessed by an army of demons – they call themselves Legion – and everything the disciples’ eyes and ears tell them support the veracity of his unusual claim.

Having witnessed Jesus calming the storm, the disciples no doubt wondered what fireworks they were about to see. Jesus speaks directly to the demons and commands them to come out of the man, giving them permission to enter a herd of pigs nearby. Everybody watches in amazement as two thousand pigs suddenly rush down the steep bank and over the cliffs into the sea below, demonstrating the incredible destructive potential of this legion of demons.

Once more, how do you suppose the locals responded? When they see the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, they are afraid. They recognise in Jesus a power greater than two thousand demons, and they shoo him away, desperately seeking to get as much distance between him and them as they can. This man Jesus has a power over the forces of evil that is truly terrifying if you’re not sure he’s on your side.

A Power Not To Be Trifled With

The wonderful news of the rest of Mark’s gospel is that this fearsome man, Jesus, is willing to be on the side of all those who will trust in him. He came to earth to defeat the forces of chaos and evil, to usher in the Kingdom of God in which Satan’s power is bound up and brought to an end, and all this through the ransom he paid by his death on the cross. That’s why Jesus is my hero – he has a power unlike no other man, and yet he wields it for the good of those who love him.

Humility in the Search for God

N.B.: This is a follow-up post to Why Programmers find it hard to be Christians.

Last week’s post on Programmers and Christianity generated quite a lot of debate, both here on the blog and over on Hacker News. Obviously when you write a post like that and post it to a secular programming forum, you expect a good deal of disagreement and healthy discussion. But even so, I still found myself surprised at how dismissive many of the commenters were. The most common response to the post is exemplified by this comment:

Why do programmers find it hard to be Christians? “Simple answer: it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore reason and logic when you spend most of your time using it”

disagreement.jpg

In other words, you have to dispense with logic and reason to be a Christian, and that’s not in a programmer’s nature. Many people resorted to a kind of ad hominem retort: the very fact that I’m a Christian seemed to disqualify me from being worthy of their attention, because it inherently demonstrated a poor grasp of how logic works (in fairness to Hacker News, the quality of the debate over there was much higher than on my blog itself, but some of the same attitude was still evident).

Ultimately, I think that kind of attitude is arrogant – it assumes that we know it all already and that there might not be another side to the argument that we hadn’t considered. But had I stopped and thought for a moment, I shouldn’t have been surprised at that response at all. And I don’t just mean because this is the internet! Jesus himself taught that this is exactly how the world works:

“Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.'” (Luke 10:21)

According to Jesus, to have too high an opinion of ourselves – to think of ourselves as being “wise and understanding” – is a serious barrier to seeing clearly. If God does exist, then he isn’t there as some kind of logical equation that we can just figure out if only we put enough thought into it. Jesus says that it requires revelation for people to come to know God – the fact that he isn’t visible to the naked eye means that he is impervious to even the greatest systems thinker on the planet. We can only know as much about him as he has chosen to reveal to us.

I imagine that many programmers reading this right now will be utterly riled by such a claim. It seems so convenient! But take a deep breath and think for a moment. Be humble enough to admit that you might not have all the answers. It has to be this way, doesn’t it? Jesus rejoices in the fact that it takes revelation to know God. It’s a great leveller that means we’re all on equal footing before God – nobody can claim to have figured it out by their superior intellect. And it means that we’re not reduced to mere guesswork – hoping that we’ve not made any errors in our deductive reasoning and ended up with a completely false view of who God is.

None of this is to say that Christianity is irrational or based on mere superstitious belief. As far as I’m aware, it’s the one religion in the world rooted in falsifiable, historical events – the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Present the dead body of Jesus and we can all pack our bags and go home. But reason alone can only take us so far, and unless we acknowledge that fact and seek God with an attitude of humility like a helpless child, then Jesus says we will never be able to know God for ourselves.

Film review: Paul

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I recently got to see Paul, the latest film by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It’s a wonderfully self-indulgent romp by two evident sci-fi fans clearly making the most of their excuse to have a total geek out, and the result is a lot of fun for anybody who shares their love of sci-fi. The film is chocked full of film references, to everything from Star Wars to Men in Black – some relatively subtle (such as the choice of background music in one of the bars they visit) and some not-so.

It was particularly interesting watching the film as a Christian, however. If you can’t stomach large amount of swearing, then this is definitely not the film for you. But that’s not really what I want to focus on in this review. What I found particularly intriguing was the apparently mixed messages that the film was sending about the nature of faith.

One of the main characters in the film is a caricature of hyper-conservative “Bible-belt” evangelical Christianity, a girl with a repressive father who initially declares the alien Paul to be some kind of evil demon. They’re evidently poking fun at the idea of “blind faith” – her encounter with Paul leaves her enlightened both physically and mentally, able to see the truth about reality with a new clarity that leads her to disavow her faith and embrace a new life of “cussing and fornicating”. At the end she thanks Paul for how he has “freed” her from her life of being repressed by her father’s religion. Let’s all have a laugh at those stupid Christians for their outdated and unscientific beliefs.

And yet, one of the other messages of the film was the idea of maintaining your faith even when everybody else laughs at you. Another character essentially has her life ruined by her dogged insistence that aliens are real, and endures decades of ridicule for her belief in Paul. She is vindicated in the end – he is real, whatever anybody else may have said, and no matter how many stones she’s had thrown at her – and ends up being rewarded with a better life beyond the stars. Never give up believing, even when your beliefs cause you to be shunned by others and excluded from normal society. Something doesn’t cease to be true just because it’s socially unacceptable.

So why are Christians to be ridiculed whilst those who believe in the existence of aliens are to be encouraged? I still can’t make up my mind whether the film was deliberately sending these mixed messages, or whether they’re just utterly blind to the inherent contradiction in what they’re saying. Are we supposed to be going away wondering whether we were right to laugh at the evangelical Christians after all, or does it just demonstrate the inherent prejudices people hold against Christianity?

What do you think?