Thursday, 29 December 2011

Tales of Everyday Madness: Why Noone Walks Along The Thames

At 4pm on the 14th May 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition set out from Camp Dubois, into the mysterious interior of the North American continent.  The previous year, Thomas Jefferson had purchased the gigantic Louisiana territory from Napoleon for tuppence ha’penny and was keen to see what plants, animals and mineral wealth lay in this new land.  Like the adventurers who had gone before them, Lewis and Clark navigated their way using rivers; nature’s greatest landmarks and reference points for cartographers.

This Christmas holiday, I wanted to walk from my parents’ house in Richmond to Central London.  Both districts are on the Thames and so, like the explorers of yore, it made sense to navigate using this most obvious of guides.  Starting on the south bank in Richmond, I trekked first along paved paths which gave way to concrete and eventually compacted mud.  The next few miles were strangely rural, though I was deep in the city.  Might this have been a similar experience to Lewis and Clark as they travelled to the outer edges of the diminutive United States, following well worn fur trackers’ trails? 

Between Hammersmith and Putney Bridges

I took the photograph above between Hammersmith and Putney bridges and the old man in the pictured approached me after I took it.  I was a little worried that he might be a native of this riparian region, angry that I had imprisoned his soul in the CCD of my mobile phone, but it was soon clear that he didn’t consider himself autochthonous.

"If you like photography, then you'll want to take a picture of this." He pointed to a tree-stump a little way down the path.  My confusion must have been evident so he continued "Look, let me show you."  I obliged and began following him.  "Where are you from?" he asked.

"London," I replied, "though I live in Bristol now.  I'm visiting family for Christmas."  

"It's a shame more people from here don’t talk.  They’re too busy to listen to me.  I’m from Montenegro,  and even though I have lived here 50 years I still prefer outsiders.”

We arrived at the tree-stump and watched a pair of electric-green parakeets with ruby-red beaks flitting in and about its rotten knot-holes and dead branches, squawking loudly and ruffling their feathers.  These striking birds are relatively new to London, released from captivity some time in the 90’s, they have prospered far from their homeland in the Himalayan foothills.

“There used to be three,” the old man continued, “but I think one must have died.”

We exchanged good wishes for the new year and I thanked him for his time before setting my sights on Putney Bridge.  

Soon the path transitioned from mud and gravel to paving.

I followed the signs, crossing the road at the bridge and ended up at the bottom of some steps on the Thames’ foreshore.  I spotted a slip-way a little further up and, so, brimming with too much confidence, I decided to walk to it.  No sooner had I had that thought than I slipped in mud and landed arse-first in river-crud.  Struggling to my feet, I walked back up to the bridge and thought about what I should do next.  I couldn’t get public transport home, coated in sludge, but neither could I walk home, for that would be to admit defeat.  I decided to press on and let my clothes dry out - Lewis and Clark wouldn’t have let a minor mishap stop them!

Putney Bridge and the accursed steps which had caused me to slip so

The path diverted from the Thames along a rather grand suburban street whose houses hoarded all views of the river.

Emerging into Wandsworth Park, this sight was restored, a stunning vista bordered by trees.

However, as if by some Karmic twist, Wandsworth is also home to one of the ugliest points on the river - The Smuggler’s Way Solid Waste Transfer Station.  Entry to this facility, the gateway to this hell, is grudgingly given with terms and conditions outlined in large, functional letters.  

Around the corner an almost complete au courant apartment block sits awkwardly alongside the tip as a barge is loaded with London’s feculence.

An angry domain of metal fencing and barbed wire

 The only organic matter is a gnarled and truncated tree suspended on spikes like some bizarre totem, warning its arboreal cousins.


This dirty province was soon replaced by a sterile one with a wide, river-side path below identikit flats.  I was surprised that I didn’t meet a single soul in this ghost complex, but my senses were grabbed by a familiar odour instead.  I bent down to examine the carefully cultivated plants to find it was, indeed, rosemary. Remember this if you live nearby and save yourself from buying it ;-).

My next obstacle was The London Heliport Vertical Gateway.

 Sprawling across the shoreline and spilling out onto a pier, I was a little disappointed that the helipads weren’t on the top of the hotel itself.

Diverting round the front, large Barclays Wealth adverts expounded other benefits of wealth just in case those travelling by ostentation aeronautical transport weren't already aware.

Travel along the river was smooth for the next mile or so, punctuated by dashes across multi-lane gauntlets at bridges where pedestrians had been long forgotten. 

Battersea Park was a joy and I enjoyed a serene spot of lunch next to the Peace Pagoda.  

Not long after the park, this giant red sign confronts me.  It is clear that they mean it and that there are no clever ways to avoid this obstruction by virtue of the sheer size of the letters.  This isn’t just private property, it’s 1ft high lettering really really private property.  And the background is stern no-entry red.  The signs I’d encountered so far would be withered to mere guidelines in the presence of this whopping warning.  The delicate strands of barbed-wire seem almost rude, a raised finger sitting neatly above.

A scene of industry at Battersea Power Station

It is clear that I have a long detour to make around Battersea Power Station.  A little further up the path I stop outside the goods entrance of Battersea Dogs Home to check my map whilst a security guard idly eyes me up.  Eventually I arrive on the Nine Elms Lane where I trudge for a while with the grey urban motorway on one side and lurid industrial lot signage on the other.

Spotting a sign for the riverside walk and the enigmatically named “Battersea Barge” I eagerly leave the highway, weaving my way down narrow alleyways until I end up at the waterside.

The Nine Elms Tideway is a small, hidden community of eccentric houseboats, every available surface stuffed with pot plants and every railing secured with chained bicycles.
At last I reached the elusive Battersea Barge to be confronted with a dead-end.

Then a pair of dogs attacked me. One nipped me on the hand before they ran away.  To top it all off, I had to head back to Nine Elms Lane to plod alongside the cars and lorries for a bit longer.  

A helpful sign warned me about the route closure a good distance away from the entrance itself.

The path began to improve as I neared Vauxhall, with some excellent signs outside MI6.

The pavement became busier and busier, a pleasant improvement on the earlier isolation and I swiftly arrived outside The Palace of Westminster.

The final trial was a sprint across 4 lanes of traffic at Westminster Bridge, some braver folk joining me in a gasp between the vehicles.  Beyond, the South Bank was heaving and it was clear that my journey was at an end.

Tired, happy and blessedly dry I collapsed onto a seat in a train at Waterloo.  I reflected on the balkanised nature of London’s riverside and how Lewis and Clark would have coped with it.  They had to deal with many hindrances over years, rather than hours, including indigenous tribes who demanded tribute before allowing their party to pass.  Where these demands were unreasonable, they demonstrated the effectiveness of their gunpowder weapons as a warning.  I strongly doubt whether that would be a good idea in London . . .

Friday, 16 December 2011

Bristol Students for Life

I hate internet debates.  I learnt early on that most virtual conversations were subject to Godwin’s Law, a sort of 2nd Law of Typing Dynamics which predicts that discussions are subject to entropy and will inevitably degenerate, containing less and less information and more and more comparisons with Hitler.  The world of social media offers us an escape from this because it re-humanises people - it’s difficult to call someone a Nazi monster online when you know you’ll likely be queuing behind them for a sandwich when back in meatspace the next day.  It was with this in mind that I decided to engage with Bristol Students for Life (BSFL) on Facebook.

I had written a letter about the recent pro-choice motion at the University of Bristol Students’ Union (UBU) and this where my conversation with BSFL began.  I had been motivated to write this letter by letters to the Bristol student newspaper, Epigram, criticising the pro-choice motion at UBU.  In responding to them, I discovered a lot more about the subject including how the Coalition had abolished the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV in May, allowing space for anti-abortion groups to begin influencing policy.  More recently, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries tabled an amendment to Health and Social Care Bill that could have caused delay to abortions and stripped the UK’s principal private abortion providers of their ability to offer counselling services.  

Outside of government, it is interesting to note that anti-abortion students have been organising nationally and internationally at events such as the International Youth Pro-Life Conference, coordinated by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC). SPUC is a rather unpleasant group, including homophobic innuendo in clause VIII of their Submission to The Government Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology and supporting the Bedford Square 40 Days for Life protest, which was intimidating to people seeking the services of the BPAS abortion clinic there.

UBU has recently passed a pro-choice motion, mandating the VP Welfare and Equality to raise awareness of anti-abortion activities and reinforcing the existing Union “safe space” policy which will ban distressing literature featuring aborted foetuses or prayer vigil protests outside student services.

I have been accused of being “fluffy” because of my willingness to try to understand people who oppose my own point of view, but comprehension can only lead to better debate because it allows you to identify the real areas of contention.  Considering this, I entered a Facebook discussion with Bristol Students for Life to find out who they are and what they believe.

Positions Proposed By Members of Bristol Students For Life

A Fertilised Egg is a Human Being

This is the crux of their argument.  A woman’s choice to have a termination is therefore nonsensical to them because once an egg is fertilised it becomes fully human and should therefore be granted full protection under the law.  

The question “what is Human?” is a very interesting idea in the abstract, but one we are forced to make a decision when it crashes up against a the right to choose.  To me, it is self-evident that a fertilised egg is not a human whilst a bawling bundle of joy is.  Where you draw the line is a matter for medical professionals, the current upper-limit on abortion being 24 weeks in UK law.

I got an interesting insight into the attitudes of BSFL members in one of their responses to a question about why a fertilised egg should be so much more human than an unfertilised one:

I would like to point out that menstruation is the removal of an unfertilized egg - ie it is released BECAUSE it is NOT going to become anything. Its removal is necessary for the continuation of the menstrual cycle which functions to ensure that only a fertile egg is present, to maximise the chance of successful conception for the procreation of an offspring.
- Bristol Students for Life Facebook Group Member

This argument grants a fertilised egg value by its potential and specifically imbues it with much greater potentiality than an unfertilised one.  However, a fertilised egg still needs to divide, travel down the fallopian tubes and successfully implant in the womb before gestation can begin.  Is failure during this stage the equivalent of taking a human life?  Pregnancy is a high-risk undertaking and it is partially the argument from viability which informs the current 24 week abortion ceiling.

Pro-Choice Motions Curtail Free Speech

Do we not have the right as a society to openly and politely express our opinions without the VP for Welfare and Equality campaigning against us? The motion does not say it will only campaign against activity which threatens these 'rights' through harassment. It says ALL activity. Whether peaceful or not. Do yo not see that this policy is highly dictatorial. The union cannot possibly simultaneously continue to facilitate open debate and freedom of expression if it takes a stance on such a divisive issue of conscience.
- Bristol Students for Life Facebook Group Member

This is a question of balancing rights.  The Students’ Union has the responsibility to ensure free and open fora for discussion and debate, but also to protect the welfare of students.  On the one hand, discussions, talks and debates about abortion are entirely appropriate in a Students’ Union, but on the other distressing literature or “prayer vigils” targeting vulnerable pregnant people themselves are surely not.

The precedent here would be UBU’s “BNP No-Platform” policy.  It would impinge free speech to ban the BNP for what they believed, but the ban was made on the grounds that their speakers’ entourages have been aggressive towards students at other universities in the past.  I am certainly not calling for BSFL to be banned - this motion clearly outlines what behaviour is and is not acceptable and why this is an issue of student welfare and not free speech.

On the specific issue the VP Welfare and Equality campaigning against BSFL, I would highlight that nowhere is the VP mandated to prevent them holding peaceful events.  I would be the first to defend Bristol Students for Life if the Union were to obstruct their talks and debates or in any other way make them impossible.

Prayer Vigils Outside Abortion Clinics Are Acceptable Protest

Anti-abortion campaigners from American-based Christian group 40 Days For Life picket a Marie Stopes clinic in London. Photograph: Susannah Ireland/Rex Features

I would also like to defend 40 days for life. I know it may seem like a very strange concept because you don't believe in God. That's fine. I will explain it to you.

Those who take part in 40 days for life are praying for the women who go into the clinic and for their unborn children. They are praying that these women will decide not to have an abortion. There is no harassment involved. They put up a sign about 40 days for life and stand there. There is no law against that and they are not misbehaving in any way. If the women want to speak to them, then they will do that, but women are not put under pressure to speak to them. I said it at the first student conference that SFL attended and I will say it again: if women feel guilty because of the mere presence of somebody who believes that abortion is killing, then perhaps it is because deep down they know this to be true and cannot stand to think about it.
- Bristol Students for Life Facebook Group Member

This attitude demonstrates a critical failure of empathy.  It is one thing the write to your MP and lobby government about abortion, quite another to target vulnerable people who will already be concerned by the social stigma surrounding abortion that persists to this day.  The commenter fails to mention that in the case of the Bedford Square protest, one member would stand directly by the door of the clinic, addressing those who tried to enter and handing them leaflets and rosaries.  This is clearly intimidating.

The final sentence of this quote is the most chilling and yet revealing at the same time.  It shows an almost post-modern disregard for evidence and fact, giving moral authority to intuitions.  Something does not become true by virtue of coercion.

Applying Indirect Pressure Is Acceptable Protest

… did you know that the recently opened BPAS abortion clinic in Bedford Square is situated on the ground floor of a residential building? [32-36 Romford Road, Stratford E15, to be precise].

That is to say, that there are residents living in the same building as the BPAS clinic. The residents weren't informed by their Landlord that he had leased the ground floor to BPAS.

A lot of residents are angry about this and have signed a petition to Mick Sweeny, chief executive of the landlord One Housing, protesting that they have been kept in the dark about this.

Do the residents not have the right to protest? Imagine you were one of the residents in Bedford Square and you were kept in the dark about this. Surely having abortions taking place on the ground floor of residential building is objectionable. In my opinion, terminating unwanted, unborn children on private, residential premises, is an abomination.
- Bristol Students for Life Facebook Group Member

To operate in that building, planning permission would have had to have been sought for the use of the ground floor as an abortion clinic. If the residents weren’t aware that it was an abortion clinic, then its impact in terms of noise or disturbance must be low. Residents have the right to protest on environmental or safety grounds, if a nightclub were to be opened there, for example. An area does not become degraded in some way merely because an abortion clinic exists there, this would be an essentialist argument.  Medical clinics like dentists, for example, have operated in residential areas for as long as I can remember.

the 'waste' from the abortion clinic that [name removed] mentioned was being stored in the same storage room as the tenants of the building. This means that aborted foetuses are currently stored in containers alongside other people's household waste. Whether or not the clinic made any noise is irrelevant
- Bristol Students for Life Facebook Group Member

Once again, this falls for the same fallacy as in the previous quote.  It also shows a lack of understanding about the stringent regulations which govern the disposal of medical waste.

Pro-Choice Literature Fails To Give Prominence to Keeping a Child

Your point about the definition of pro-choice, is, however, I'm afraid to say, rather ignorant and I would love to believe that pro-choice truly sought to identify the best interests of the women confronted with an unplanned pregnancy. However, you cannot deny that, whilst pro-choice groups are not anti-birth, they hardly portray themselves in a neutral light. Check out these websites and tell me whether they highlight that sometimes an abortion is not the best choice the women has made and that continuing with a pregnancy can result in more happiness than ending it:

- Bristol Students for Life Facebook Group Member

This attitude betrays a certain error of understanding because keeping a baby is clearly the “default option”.  It is unsurprising that the “splash page” of a pro-choice website would emphasise the abortion option because the decision to have an abortion is one a pregnant person must actively make.  In any case, these websites are hardly representative of the counselling pregnant people receive before receiving an abortion, where all options are outlined and discussed.  The purpose of these websites is to create a non-judgemental atmosphere, where a pregnant person is truly free to choose, free from the social stigma associated with abortions.

Pro-Life Campaigns are Secular

... it does not seem that your letter differentiates sufficiently between ordinary people who have doubts about the morality of abortion, and lobby groups who employ doubtful methods and become distracted by other prejudices that their employees may have. This is somewhat simplistic. Your opinion of the Catholic Church, to which you are, of course, entitled, is another issue.
- Bristol Students for Life Facebook Group Member

Pro-Life campaigners are secular in a narrow sense of the term.  SPUC has been coordinating with SRE Islamic to influence the SRE syllabus in Tower Hamlets.  It is evident, however, that this secularism is merely a pragmatic arrangement to spread a hardline Abrahamic morality.  At Bristol, the stunning correlation of members in Cassoc (the Catholic society) and BSFL is surely no coincidence.  BSFL are not secular in the commonly accepted use of the word - it takes religion to infuse a fertilised egg with with “essence of humanity”.
The increased activity of anti-abortion groups is concerning, but there is much that can be done such as the passing of Pro-Choice motions at Students’ Union so that protection for pregnant students is explicitly recognised.  Precedents for these motions on the websites for the Oxford, Leeds and Bristol students’ unions.  


  • The link accusing SPUC of homophobic innuendo was incorrectly cited as being from their "Safe at School" campaign. It was, in fact, from clause VIII of their Submission to The Government Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology.
  • The BPAS Clinic in Bedford Square is their main Press Office, not Headquarters.
  • It seems that the member of BSFL with whom I was discussing the Bedford Square protest may have confused it with another one in Stratford. I have given them the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Triangle 2.0: A Modernist Approach

There was a time when grand infrastructure projects were all the rage.  The 1960’s modernists were the grand optimists, re-building war-flattened Britain with their Brutalist hawk and trowel.  Gone are the days of Utopian tower blocks and endless tarmac motorways, happy now for a scrap of broadband from the Coalition’s deficit depleted dinner.

There is no reason, however, that we shouldn’t show the daring of those original pioneers, if only on a smaller scale.  It is with spirit in my heart that I present to you my audacious vision for The Triangle 2.0.

Troubles afflicting The Triangle

This stretch of pavement is choc-a-bloc during the rush-hour morning, lunch and Friday and Saturday evenings.  For such a busy footway it is unusually narrow with three major pinch-points obstructing pedestrian flow: A, road crossing; B, Sainsbury’s entrance/exit; C,  the NatWest cashpoints.  With these problems to solve, I give my modest proposal, where the grey is the pavement and the cream is an aesthetically pleasing surface for bus, coach and taxi parking.

The Triangle 2.0 (click to embiggen)

A. Road-Crossing

Hmm, this is going to be harder to solve than I thought.  Let’s work backwards . . .

C: NatWest Cashpoints

NatWest Cashpoints Build-Out

Our problem here is that people need somewhere to wait and queue to use the cash-points.  A build-out is the perfect solution for this, incorporating space for cycle-parking, a bin and Jeff, the big-issue seller (red).  It also slows down traffic turning left up the hill, giving pedestrians further protection whilst maintaining sight-lines for drivers.

B: The Sainsbury’s Gyratory

Pedestrian gyratory system with guide-lines and markings

The space outside Sainsbury’s is a bottleneck, accommodating people walking past, people entering or exiting Sainsbury’s and those waiting for buses.  The gyratory alleviates these problems by providing extra space.  Bus stops are moved up or down the road, and lines on the pavement aid people in getting into the correct lane on the Sainsbury’s approach.

A: Road-Crossing (again)

This is an even more fiendish problem than the others and requires some truly modernist thinking to solve.  How do you accommodate people wishing to cross the road?  A build-out is unsuitable here because the cars need to fan-out at junction for improved flow-efficiency.  A vertical-stacking system for waiting pedestrians would be interesting, but probably unworkable.  Here’s the radical solution - reduce the pedestrian traffic itself.

The Triangle 2.0 (click to embiggen)
A shimmering spectacle in steel and glass, the aerial footways will allow people travelling past the shops of The Triangle to bypass those shuffling below.  A ramp at the north-west end brings you up to the platforms, several metres above the pavement and connected to the places you want to go to by glittering spiral staircases.  Their translucent materials let through light, whilst sheltering shoppers from the elements.

The project will be accompanied by a number of enforcement tools, including CCTV and loudhailers, barking at anyone who should dare to stop in the middle of the pavement for no reason or getting in the wrong lane.

The future is now.

Edit: If you like this article, then you'll also enjoy this discussion about JG Ballard:

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Isn't The Truth Always Oppressive? @ The CU Lunch Bar

Over-prepared, I walked into the room and took a baguette, well filled with cheese and ham, and sat down anxiously.  In all my years at the University of Bristol I had never actually been to a Christian Union lunch bar so here I was, for the first time, entering the luncheon’s den.  I had decided to attend this particular talk because the topic had piqued my interest.  With the title “Isn't The Truth Always Oppressive?” I could feel my epistemological bile rising.  The sub-title only made things worse: “Alex Banfield-Hicks speaking on the relevance of truth in a post-modern world”.  Were the Christians, unsatisfied with hypothecating a god alongside the effable, attempting to undermine the testable natural world by casting everything as subjective?  Would I be witnessing an assault on the objective universe, wallowing the worst excesses of post-modern anti-intellectualism?

Alex blew-away my preconceptions.  A disarmingly charming man, lean and tall with fuzzy hair, he opened by telling the story of how he became a Christian.  He had never been particularly interested in religion before university, living his life as a de-facto atheist before enrolling as a history student at Oxford.  Oxford was where he met his friend Ben, who got him interested in Christianity.  At first he questioned Ben: “isn’t The [Christian] Truth oppressive?” who responded by quoting John 8:32 “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  This seemed a bit like a circular argument to me, but Alex qualified it by saying that the alternative to The Truth is not freedom, but other cultural and traditional constraints.

He went on to undermine authorities by characterising the Enlightenment as the supplanting of the “men in black robes” by the “men in white coats”.  The men in black robes controlled the Truth when dogma and superstition reigned.  On the other hand, the men in white coats became masters of science and technology which lead to the exploitative European Empires.  This was, at best, a non-sequitur and, at worst, quite an offensive thing to say, ignoring all of the great scientific advances which have improved our quality of life.  The revealed truths of the “men in black robes” are a very different to the empirical (note: not imperial) truths of the “men in white coats”.  Enlightenment ideals hardly justify abuses of power.

Alex framed Christianity and Jesus in the tense space between Foucault and Kant.  The former he characterised as resisting any authority and imposed knowledge, whilst the latter absorbs all knowledge, adhering the Enlightenment aphorism Sapere aude (dare to know).  This seems a fair thing to say, you don’t need to accept everything anyone tells you - however, this dichotomy doesn’t explain how to differentiate truth from falsehood.

Alex quoted Ernest Becker: “everyone craves for cosmic significance”.  Searching for this significance in earthly things, however, like the exam hall, the pub and promises makes you a slave to sin and ultimately in thrall to guilt, fear, distorted relationships and insecurity.  By contrast God offers peace, love, hope and security.  The former point I am rather sympathetic too - there is too little discussion of what actually makes us happy in secular discussion and our way of life is often reported as increasing the incidents of poor mental health.  The latter point, however, does not necessarily follow.

He concluded on the point that stress comes from fear of what you value the most.  To put your trust in something other than God is to invite misery.  I found this idea fascinating because it clanged unharmoniously with the importance of vulnerability and the human condition.  It seems to me that examining one’s own shortcomings and vulnerabilities and accepting them wholeheartedly is the only way to be happy, because only then can you give up the search for security in wealth or power.  Never making yourself vulnerable means never aiming for that challenging goal that makes your mark in transient time nor letting yourself fall giddy in love with that ephemeral someone.  Being vulnerable is part of being human.

After his talk, I was packing up to go when he came over for a chat.  Perhaps he’d been able to detect my disbelief.  Do I have an atheist face?  I questioned him on that last point.  Surely doing a great work for the benefit of humanity and those around you could hardly be deemed sinful?  “No”, he replied, “because working for the benefit of others is like the suffering of Jesus, carrying the cross . . . as long as the act was not truly in the servitude of Pride”  Surely, though, this is indistinguishable from the Humanist cause?  “You have to remember,” he continued “that Humanism does not come from a vacuum, it emerged from Christian culture.  John Gray has remarked that great Humanists like A.C. Grayling are wearing Christian pants!” Slightly disturbed by the idea of A.C. Grayling’s pants, I pushed on regardless.  

“Look”, he said, switching tack, “Do you remember Smith and Jones?”  I mentioned that I did . . . just.  “There was one sketch they did where Smith and Jones were sat face to face and Smith was mourning his recent divorce.  Jones then tried to console his friend by reminding him of his insignificance in the knowledge of the utter vastness of an uncaring Universe.  By contrast, I cannot accept that there is no cosmic significance.”  On the face of it this was a rather egotistical statement, but understanding the rather confused nature of the ego in Christianity  I let it slide.  “Darwin and evolution” he went on, “paints us as nothing more than just survival machines.”  I did counter this one, using Baggini’s objection to the word “just” in that sentence.

Sadly we were cut short by physics students bounding into the room, eager to absorb the knowledge at the edges of our understanding.  Alex and I shuffled out to make way.  I think there was a lot of value in what he said, but I’m not sure why those ideas needed buttressing with a supernatural God.  Sometimes I think that the gap between liberal religion and humanism is less like the Grand Canyon, and more like a ravine; just as deep, but only a few feet wide.