My New Blog: Pax-Pentest.Net

As I wrote in my last post, retiring from writing this blog has afforded me an opportunity to indulge in some of my other interests, one of which is cyber-security, white-hat hacking and Penetration Testing.

As blogging is in my blood and I still suffer from a blogging itch, I have decided to chart my progress – or otherwise - into the world of cyber-security and Penetration Testing.

My new blog can be found:

http://www.pax-pentest.net

I am of course aware that this new project will be of no interest to most of the readers of this blog and confess this post is as much about informing you, as informing search engines.

x

Hanging up my blogging boots

Hope you had a blessed Lent and Easter.

I enjoyed my Lenten blogging break a little too much.

The break afforded me a lovely opportunity to indulge some of my other interests, and not reading blogs and news feeds and controversies and persecutions and so forth, actually precipitated an unexpected buoyancy of mood.

The break reminded me how much of my spare time is consumed in the blogging endeavour, squeezing out  time to pursue other activities and interests.

What I’m trying to say is the time has come for me to bow out of the blogosphere. This isn’t a snap decision but one I have pondered at length.

It has been a marvelous four years in which I have blogged nearly every day and sometimes multiple times a day. I’ve met some great folk, both in person and virtually. My own faith has been transformed through the many conversations, dueling, and patient reasoning of good cyber folk.

The landscape of the Christian blogosphere has changed somewhat over the last four years, with the loss of some superb thinkers; thankfully, swiftly replaced with many more of the same. There are now more ‘specialised’ bloggers focusing on such diverse topics as: law, politics, mental health, statistics, philosophy, ethics, medical, disability, foreign policy, humour, and so on, from  a Christian vantage.

I often wished I were knowledgeable enough on a particular topic to have a specialised area within which to write, but have been prone to flitting from subject to subject at a shallower level than my contemporaries. This has both advantages and disadvantages. I can honestly say I never blogged from a position of authority on any topic, but sought more to transparently share my own journey, revelations, fascinations and learning, be that for good or ill.

I have blogged in all mood states, which I’m somewhat painfully aware is quite exposing for someone with an abnormal mind and personality. But I took the risk and am glad I did so.

I will still be contactable on Twitter; however, my ‘handle’ has now changed from eChurchBlog to ChiefMentalist – far more fitting I’m sure you will agree.

I bid the blogosphere farewell and hope I meet you all on the other side.

In Jesus, as always - Stuart x

Giving up blogging for Lent

I am giving up blogging for Lent.

I’m waiting for my new Kindle to arrive which Wifey kindly purchased for my birthday, and she has a reading list ready for me to replenish my spiritual life.

Feel free to suggest any ‘essential’ reading you feel I should purchase in this endeavour.

Caral and Edmund may post in my absence, but that’s not confirmed and is up to them.

I really do need to renew myself spiritually and will hopefully return raring to go.

I’m still on Twitter if you want to touch base.

Have a wonderful Lent and may it be spiritually refreshing and renewing for us all.

Almost Lent Already!

By Wifey

Lent is almost here again and I feel totally unprepared, gosh, the Christmas decorations have only just come down, anyhow it’s time to have a look at a few books for the Season.

If you didn’t read last year’s Archbishop of Canterbury’s Book for Lent from Sister Ruth Burrows OCD, called “Love Unknown” it’s worth having a read now.  A gem of book, although slightly unstructured, Sister Ruth reminds me of a miner prophet, once you start digging you will blessed with nuggets of pure gold.

Whilst thinking on ++Rowan, and coming to terms with the fact that I may not be able to scrobble him across the Tiber. Nevertheless, I’m particularly drawn to  ”Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert”  The ever quiet, yet profound and engaging theologian brings us carefully chosen wisdom from the Desert Abbas and Mothers, drawing on their stories and reflecting on questions poignant for us in our 21st Century spiritual search.  This is a ‘must read’ for me personally this Lenten.

The ABC’s Book for Lent 2013 is “Abiding” by Ben Quash. I don’t read much theology these days, and I’m not familiar myself with the author, but this review found on Amazon gives high praise …… “This is a beautiful book. It is intelligent, lucid, subtle, and very hard to put down. Ben Quash writes with great integrity and relevant personal reflections, on the meaning of ‘abiding’ in places, communities, relationships, and one’s own mind and body. Quash is Professor of Christianity and the Arts at King’s College London and each chapter employs examples from literature, films, paintings etc. These are thought provoking (sometimes surprising) and perfectly illustrate his points. A ‘popular’ rather than a strictly ‘academic’ book, this is the product of great scholarship and deep insight and there is nothing whatsoever ‘dumbed down’ about it.” ……  So that’s going into my basket too.

And finally the Irish Jesuits “Sacred Space for Lent 2013″  is a must have for Lent, it’s a wonderful pocket book using the rich, simple and yet distinctive 6 step prayer method. With forty Lenten reflections offering daily Scripture readings, prayer starters and weekly Lenten themes. It gently prompts us to remember God is everywhere constantly reaching out to us,  inviting us into His presence to make a sacred space in our day, where ever we are and whatever situation we are in.

 

The Paradox at the heart of the problem of natural evil.

Should personal experience of natural evil such as a catastrophic earthquake turn folk away from belief in an all-powerful benevolent God? This fascinating study indicates exactly the opposite:

Abstract

On 22 February 2011, Christchurch New Zealand (population 367,700) experienced a devastating earthquake, causing extensive damage and killing one hundred and eighty-five people. The earthquake and aftershocks occurred between the 2009 and 2011 waves of a longitudinal probability sample conducted in New Zealand, enabling us to examine how a natural disaster of this magnitude affected deeply held commitments and global ratings of personal health, depending on earthquake exposure. We first investigated whether the earthquake-affected were more likely to believe in God. Consistent with the Religious Comfort Hypothesis, religious faith increased among the earthquake-affected, despite an overall decline in religious faith elsewhere. This result offers the first population-level demonstration that secular people turn to religion at times of natural crisis. We then examined whether religious affiliation was associated with differences in subjective ratings of personal health. We found no evidence for superior buffering from having religious faith. Among those affected by the earthquake, however, a loss of faith was associated with significant subjective health declines. Those who lost faith elsewhere in the country did not experience similar health declines. Our findings suggest that religious conversion after a natural disaster is unlikely to improve subjective well-being, yet upholding faith might be an important step on the road to recovery.

The entire report is worth reading; however, if you would prefer a more concise synopsis then I recommend reading Connor Wood over on Patheos (Science on Religion) entitled simply: Does suffering drive us to religion? Yep.

Dr Gerhard Roth: Dark side of the brain where evil lurks, Grace and Neuroplasticity

A German neurologist claims to have identified a specific brain configuration within which he says ‘evil lurks”. Measuring brain waves on violent criminals whilst watching ‘brutal scenes’ revealed a “dark patch” in their frontal brain. This area believed to be responsible for compassion and sorrow, showed no activity.

Dr Roth’s research has led him to believe “that some criminals have a ‘genetic predisposition’ to violence.”

This strikes me as rather deterministic which seems to be the trend of modern neurology and Dr Roth cites a 66% probability of an adolescent with this brain anomaly going on to become a felon.

But then Dr Roth makes this observation:

Dr Roth believes that criminal mental decline “begins in the kindergarten”, but a positive parental environment and strong societal support can easily stop the child going on to offend.

Equally, a negative domestic situation could easily lead to a child otherwise moderately pre-disposed to violence, to become a hardened criminal.

This almost seems to contradict the earlier determinism.

Last year I spoke with a clinical psychologist on the subject of psychopathy and the observation that stood out most starkly for me was from her experience of psychopaths, the vast majority had experienced a childhood of extreme brutality and neglect.

With the growing understanding of Neuroplasticity or ‘Brain Plasticity’ within which physical brain changes in neural pathways and synapses can occur as a result of environment and behaviour changes, can we write anyone off as simply ‘genetic predisposed’ to violence?

As an relevant example of Neuroplasticity I read recently of soldiers suffering PTSD as a result of combat had evidence of neurological brain changes.

As with everything pertaining to the nature / nurture debate I suspect that physical brain abnormalities of ‘dark patches where evil lurks’ are as much a product of the environment as anything else. And it would seem that Dr Roth also holds that view with his comments on ‘positive parental environment and strong societal support’.

I assume that Dr Roth here is advocating an environmental buffer against genetic predisposition.

I don’t believe that any single person is beyond the pale of God’s grace. To accept that they are, is in some way, for me, to denigrate God, or undermine his salvific power.

There may of course be those so given to their evil inclinations they would reject the grace and light of God. But I would not view this as deterministic, but of self-will.

The question I would dearly love to have answered: Are there Neuroplastic changes when a person accepts faith in God? As this process may involve complete reversal in thinking and behaviour (and possibly environment), especially for the adult convert, could this precipitate positive neurological changes?

Just wondering……

UPDATE: Thinking on it would be interesting to compare the recidivism rates between criminal Christian converts and others. If the recidivism rate is reduced in violent criminal converts, then could this potentially be evidence of neuroplasticity in action?

I don’t know of any research of this type, but would be very interesting….

How to Write a Worship Song in 5 Minutes

Thought I’d pop this on to give you some insight into the creative process behind my upcoming album:

Patriarch Kirill: Sow wheat among the web-tares

Last month Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill lamented Orthodox bloggers publicly insulting each other, which I can only imagine must be an Orthodox phenomenon as it doesn’t happen in Catholic or Protestant Internet circles:

…that the diversity of ideas inherent in church circles sometimes assumes absurd forms in the Internet environment.

“In the web space groups of church liberals and conservatives are appearing that are not looking for the truth, divine truth but a means of finding fault, stinging each other. This is a very sad tendency,” he said at a diocesan assembly in Moscow ahead of New Year.

He said that divisions and feuds within the church “are evidence of infantility, childishness in faith which sometimes assumes ruffian forms.”

It would now seem the good Patriarch is advocating the strategy of sowing wheat among the web-tares:

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on Saturday lamented a high number of antichurch internet posts and said the Russian Orthodox Church he leads should be present in social networks to tell the truth to its audience.

“Blogs and social networks give us new opportunities for the Christian mission” at a time when the Church comes under attacks more often than before, the patriarch said. “Not to be present there means to display our helplessness and lack of care for the salvation of our brothers.”

“Now that social media shows a huge interest, although not always a sound one, in church life, our duty is to convert it for a good cause, to create conditions for young people to know about Christ, know the truth about the life of people inside the Church,” Patriarch Kirill said.

“When a person makes a query on church life in an internet search engine, he finds a lot of lies, hypocrisy and hatred,” the patriarch said at a meeting of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Bishops Council in downtown Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.

“These are the visible results of activity by the enemy of mankind,” he said.

This of course comes hot on the heals of the superb address given by the Pope on social media, which I think can be summed up as follows:

“Go into all the digital world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15 with slight modification)

Pret A Manger – Virgin Mary crisps – And the power of blogging

Irrespective of your views as to the offensiveness or otherwise of the Pret A Manger sandwich chain branding their new crisps as ‘Virgin Mary’, something must be noted relating to the potential power and influence of blogging.

Deacon Nick Donelly first highlighted this on his popular blog Protect the Pope back on the 30th January:

The Pret A Manger sandwich chain have decided to insult their Catholic customers by naming their new Worcestershire Sauce flavoured crisps, ‘Virgin Mary Crisps’

A reader of Protect the Pope wrote to Pret A Manger to complain, making the point that Pret A Manger would not dare to mock the Muslim or Jewish faiths so why have they seen fit to mock Christianity. Why they should make such an appalling, tasteless and offensive lapse of judgement.’

This is the reply from their CEO:

‘It happens that I am a Catholic. I have examined my conscience about the naming of our crisps. The term Virgin Mary is widely used in the market today to describe a well known cocktail: a tomato juice with Worcester sauce and without vodka. I have consulted a lot of people in our office about this and that is what they all think of when they see our crisps packet. Please, please don’t take offence. None is intended.’

Protect the Pope comment: The Pret A Manger’s CEO should know better than to use the name of Our Lady, the Mother of God, to sell a snack food. It’s cheap, demeans the name of the Virgin Mary, and offends Catholics who hold Our Lady in the highest regard.  It’s irrelevant what the CEO’s employees tell him in the office about the appropriateness of the name, it’s what Catholics think that counts.  What will practicing Catholics first think of when they see the name ‘Virgin Mary crisps’? Not a well known cocktail for sure.

It appears that as a result of this blog post, readers were motivated to complain.

The upshot of this is taken from a Protect the Pope blog post today:

Pret A Manger has contacted Protect the Pope to inform us that following yesterday’s post on their Virgin Mary brand of crisps and readers of our site contacting them to express their concern Pret A Manger’s CEO Clive Schlee has decided to remove this brand immediately from their outlets.  Pret A Manger has apologised for any unintentional offence they have caused and have indicted that they will give any unsold crisps to the homeless. Clive Schlee has admitted to a reader of Protect the Pope that taking this brand of crisps off their shelves will cost them quite a bit of money but ‘good businesses listen and react quickly’.

Deacon Nick Donelly comments:

Clive Schlee and Pret A Manger deserve our unreserved thanks for listening to our concerns as Catholics and for acting so quickly to remove the brand of crisps. It seems fitting that Pret A Manger are planning to give any unsold crisps to the homeless. Thanks also to the readers of Protect the Pope for contacting Pret A Manger to express their concerns. God bless you all for your passion and desire to stand up for our Catholic faith.  I’d like to express my special thanks to the reader of Protect the Pope who first brought this news to our attention, but wants to remain anonymous.  One of the things we need to go away and think about is what this incident tells us about how we defend our faith in the future. We’ve been passive for too long in the face of mockery of our faith and discrimination against us as Catholics. We can change things!

This incident has now hit the BBC and the story is currently rated as the second ‘Most Read’ story on the BBC website.

As I said earlier, irrespective of your view on the issue at the heart of the matter, this is a dramatic example of a Catholic /Christian blogger exerting tremendous influence even over a powerful chain of shops.

This is surely noteworthy in itself.

Study: UK spiritual participants three times more likely to experience episode of depression than secular group

I’m probably posting this as I’m surfacing from a long dark tunnel.

An international longitudinal study purports to find a greater incidence of developing a major depression among ‘participants reporting a spiritual understanding of life’:

Spiritual and religious beliefs as risk factors for the onset of major depression: an international cohort study.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Several studies have reported weak associations between religious or spiritual belief and psychological health. However, most have been cross-sectional surveys in the USA, limiting inference about generalizability. An international longitudinal study of incidence of major depression gave us the opportunity to investigate this relationship further. Method Data were collected in a prospective cohort study of adult general practice attendees across seven countries. Participants were followed at 6 and 12 months. Spiritual and religious beliefs were assessed using a standardized questionnaire, and DSM-IV diagnosis of major depression was made using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI). Logistic regression was used to estimate incidence rates and odds ratios (ORs), after multiple imputation of missing data.

RESULTS:

The analyses included 8318 attendees. Of participants reporting a spiritual understanding of life at baseline, 10.5% had an episode of depression in the following year compared to 10.3% of religious participants and 7.0% of the secular group (p < 0.001). However, the findings varied significantly across countries, with the difference being significant only in the UK, where spiritual participants were nearly three times more likely to experience an episode of depression than the secular group [OR 2.73, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.59-4.68]. The strength of belief also had an effect, with participants with strong belief having twice the risk of participants with weak belief. There was no evidence of religion acting as a buffer to prevent depression after a serious life event.

CONCLUSIONS:

These results do not support the notion that religious and spiritual life views enhance psychological well-being.

A few things to note. I don’t have access to the full study and so have no way of knowing how they defined ‘spiritual or religious’ belief. We also have the causality problem, within which we cannot tell if spirituality / religion precipitated depression, or if those with underlying depression were drawn to  ’a spiritual understanding of life’.

This aside, I was drawn to this study for three reasons.

The first is the strange anomaly of the UK finding. Why would it be that specifically in the UK the religious / spiritual group reports three times higher incidence of depression compared with the secular group? If we take the study findings at face value and accept that spirituality / religion precipitates depression, then would this indicate that it is particularly cognitively difficult to hold this worldview within the social environment of the UK?

The second point of interest – which is perhaps connected to the first – is the finding that strength of belief has an impact, with those of ‘stronger belief’ being more prone to depression than those with ‘weak belief’.

The third point, is of course the conclusion itself; namely, the assertion that a religious / spiritual worldview does not create a buffer against depression.

I’m probably not alone in reading material that contradicts this conclusion; however, from my own personal perspective, I can attest to the fact that my Christian religion most certainly does not counteract, or in any way, mitigate my own depression. In fact, quite the contrary.

I will say that my religion does give comfort in relation to making some sense of suffering.

The question on my mind is simply: Is the Christian religion supposed to create a buffer against suffering; mental or otherwise?

I think not.

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