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Farewell Boak

Yesterday I (Rob) went to Sydney for the funeral of Boak Jobbins. Boak was the rector of St Mark’s Anglican church in Darling Point when I was a student minister there in 2008 & 2009. It came
as a real shock when we learned of his sudden death last Saturday.

Boak was a man both Di and I deeply respected and admired. Even though I didn’t spend enormous amounts of time with him, Boak’s influece on my life and thinking was significant.

I benefitted greatly from his wisdom – he helped me make some important life direction decisions. Boak changed the way I speak publicly, correcting my intonation. Boak taught us to appreciate and embrace the great traditions and liturgy of the church. Boak’s preaching was poetic, passionate, rich and inspiring. I still get goose bumps thinking about some of the vivid imagery he evoked in his sermons. I learned much from Boak.

I found Boak somewhat intimidating, but I also appreciated his humility – he even used some of my illustrations in his own preaching.

We were delighted that he also baptised our daughter Aoife.

It was a privilege to have been a student minister under Boak and I was glad I could make it to Sydney to say farewell. Our thoughts and prayers are now with Di and her family. We feel the world is now a poorer place after his passing.

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We’re continuing our reflections on Rob’s visit to the Melbourne atheist society last month. The last post reflected on how disappointing the actual presentation was, but Rob made a number of other observations.

– the attenders were virtually all male. Out of the 50 or so present, there were only a handful of women, maybe 5 or so. We’re not quite sure what this means. Does atheism appeal to mainly to men? Or is it that the time of the event (8pm on a Tuesday night) precludes many women (potentially with families) from attending? Rob noticed that there were a number of young men (students and young workers), but there were not the same number of young women, so it wasn’t simply a matter of family. This was an interesting observation.

– dissenters were treated rudely. There were a couple of people who asked questions criticising the presentation and Blackford generally treated these people rudely, abrasively, and without grace.

– yet dissapointingly some of the Christians weren’t much better. The evening closed with a rather unpleasant exchange where a Christian dissenter attempted a critique and then asked a fairly unrelated question. Blackford treated this person rudely and with contempt. This then raised tempers on both sides and ended with Blackford curtly cutting off the questioner and saying, ‘that’s the end’. I was disappointed in the lack of grace Blackford showed, but more disappointed by the lack of grace shown by the Christian.

Overall the evening was quite disappointing, not only with the quality of the presentation, but also the quality of virtue displayed in the discussion and question time.

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Recently Rob visited the atheist society of Melbourne. Rob did so for a variety of reasons, but mainly because Rob has an interest in engaging with atheists and also the topic seemed interesting. The presenter was Russell Blackford the editor of ’50 voices of disbelief’ and the topic was ‘living in a world without objective moral values’.

Rob was intrigued to see how he approached this topic because the justification of ethics remains a major difficulty for atheists. Rob was most disappointed in the evening. Rob has many reflections on the evening, but will limit it to just a couple spread out over a couple of posts.

The presentation was very poor. The presenter was unprepared and rambling. He spoke for about 40 minutes, but he could have presented most of his material in less than 10 minutes. The bulk of the ‘thesis’ of the presentation relied on assertion. Rob went to the presentation fairly sure that atheists couldn’t develop an ethical framework that wasn’t arbitrary in some sense, and he went home more convinced. Blackford’s basic thesis (and assertion) was that we can agree (and conduct a rational discussion) about an ethical issue and we can all agree on what is right (without reference to the natural order or God). Yet he failed to describe exactly how we’d do that and what ethical framework we should adopt.

He seemed to suggest that because we could agree on a morally right solution that this removed the charge of being arbitrary.

He also contradicted himself. After suggestions we can agree (after a rational discussion) on what is right and wrong, he said, ‘but sometimes we can disagree – and that’s ok!’. Rob found this contradiction frustrating and illogical, yet the presenter seemed to be unaware of this inconsistency in his own logic.

He also failed to engage in any real sense with some recent developments in the area – notably those made by Sam Harris (to be outlined in a forthcoming book, ‘The moral landscape’ in which Harris seems to want to claim that objective values can be developed from science. This was brought up by a questioner, but Blackford dismissed the objection and failed to engage in any real sense with the issues. This would have made for a much more interesting and robust discussion, but was ignored.

So Rob was very disappointed with the quality and thoughtfulness of the presentation and it made for a fairly disappointing night out.

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