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“Star Wars: Darth Plagueis” by James Luceno- Morality, Darkness, and Politic

darth-plagueis-luceno

Science fiction is such an amazing genre for exploring issues of worldview. Here, I’m taking a look at Star Wars: Darth Plagueis, a book which explores the rise of Emperor Palpatine and his Sith Master before the events of the Prequel Trilogy. I’ll not summarize the plot, but interested readers can see the plot highlights along with my review of the book in my post on Eclectic Theist- Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through- Darth Plagueis.

Morality: What is it, really?

The Sith approach morality as something which is not evil, not divided as good vs. evil. One account of their approach to morality can be found poignantly stated in Darth Plagueis as Plagueis works to recruit Palpatine for the Sith:

Palpatine cut his eyes to Plagueis. “The Sith are considered to be evil.”
“Evil?” Plagueis repeated. “What is that? …Are you evil, or are you simply stronger and more awake than others? Who gives more shape to sentient history: the good, who adhere to the tried and true, or those who seek to rouse beings from their stupor and lead them to glory?” …
Palpatine’s lip curled in anger and menace. “Is this the wisdom you offer–the tenets of some arcane cult?”
“The test of its value is whether you can live by it, Palpatine” [Plagueis replied]. [179-180]

The exchange is chilling for a number of reasons. It is the kind of conversation which one can see play out in various discussions of ethics today. Relativists allow individuals to self-define what is right and wrong and would have no answer to the reasoning of the Sith. Pragmatists also fail to grasp the ultimate outcome of their moral system, which allows for the strong to dominate those whom they choose to dominate. The ends justify the means; or, perhaps more accurately, there need be no justification.

Only systems of morality which allow for objective good and evil have any answer for the reasoning of the Sith. Only with a strong sense of morality can their blurring of what is right and wrong be overcome.

Controlling the Others

There are many points throughout the book in which the concept of control is explored. The Sith believe that they have an imperative to rule and control others. After all, they are strong! One interesting element of this reasoning is the notion that those in charge should operate by one abiding principle: “We know what’s best for you” (204). The insidious nature of this teaching should be immediately obvious. Whenever people decide that they know better than others how those others should live/act/believe, suffering tends to follow. This is not to say that we should never work to change others, but rather that we should not rationalize it by means of thinking we are somehow inherently superior to the “Other.”

Conclusion

Darth Plagueis is a fantastic book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and it additionally has a number of philosophical questions ripe for exploration. Christians should work to engage with works of fiction because so often the allow for analysis of and interaction with the Christian worldview. Here, we find that the Christian’s basis for absolute morality is able to trump other moral systems which cannot provide a sound basis for critique of the Sith or others. Yet while acknowledging that one system has the truth, we should never seek to impose it on others because of some sense of superiority. Every story has a worldview.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- a Christian reflection on the most recently completed Star Wars series- I have written on another set of Star Wars books from a Christian perspective in this post, which features the Fate of the Jedi series. Discussions of world religions are prominent throughout the set.

Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through- Darth Plagueis- I review the book from the perspective of a huge Star Wars fan.

Source

James Luceno, Darth Plagueis  (New York: Del Rey, 2012).

Disclaimer: The images in this post are copyright of the Star Wars universe and I use them under fair use. I make no claims to ownership of the images.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“The Wheel of Time”: A Christian reflection on Books 1-5 of Robert Jordan’s epic saga

FIRESThe Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow… Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

The Wheel of Time is nothing short of mammoth in size. The series spans 14 books, the shortest of which is about 680 pages. It is a fantasy series encompassing the fulfillment of a number of prophecies which foretold of an Age to come that would once more “break” the world: a man called the Dragon would simultaneously bring salvation and destruction. Here, we’ll explore many of the themes found in the first five books of the series–The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, The Shadow Rising, and The Fires of Heaven. We’ll explore the series from a worldview perspective by seeking out the overarching themes found in the books related to the real world.

There will, of course be SPOILERS in what follows. If you’re leaving a comment, do try to limit your discussion to books 1-5. I will be posting on the following books in the series in the upcoming months, so if you want to comment on later parts of the series, please wait for the appropriate post.

Prophecy

It is clear that prophecy is a central theme throughout the books. Everyone, from beggar on the street to king or queen, is aware of the prophecies concerning the Dragon. Bards and entertainers recite the prophecies, using language to tell the stories in different forms. The fulfillment of prophecy is taken to be essentially guaranteed by everyone encountered.

Prophecy is not, however, always fulfilled in the ways expected by the main characters. Rand, for example, is often surprised by how the prophecies about the Dragon are fulfilled in him. Frankly, this makes me think about the way some prophecies of Christ were fulfilled. For example, the statement “Out of Egypt I called my son” is clearly a statement about the nation of Israel, but it is later applied to Christ. Moreover, many expected the Messiah to be a conqueror, but Jesus came to save through his own sacrifice. 

The fact that the expectation existed, but the interpretation of the prophecies was diverse, is itself an interesting parallel to Christ as the fulfillment of prophecy. It will be interesting to see how the theme of fulfilled prophecy continues going forward.

Messiah and The Pattern

Interestingly, Rand may be understood as a kind of Messiah figure, but a bit of the inversion of Jesus Christ. Jesus came not to build an earthly kingdom; Rand’s kingdom must be ushered in through war and conquest. However, the destruction Rand is supposed to usher in in some ways seem to mirror prophecies about the end times in the book of Revelation. Moreover, one might wonder at this stage in the series where Rand is headed. Perhaps he will end up giving himself to save the world. But Rand is not himself incarnate Lord ushering in salvation through sacrifice; instead, he is driven by the Pattern–the force of the Wheel of Time which “weaves” strands–people’s lives, the activities of nations, and all things.

The Pattern is said to be woven around certain people who are part of its plan for continuing the revolution of ages. The system seems to imply an eternal universe with a repetition of time and places and reincarnation, but in these books, it seems that Rand may be breaking that pattern. It is unclear as to whether the series is developing in a direction which implies the repetition will continue, but it will be interesting to see where it leads.

Reincarnation is fairly explicit in the book, as Rand, the Dragon, is a reborn Lews Therin–one who was prophesied to return as the Dragon. He has to fight with the thoughts that are in his head from Lews Therin in order to control his own destiny. Again, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will Jordan continue to affirm reincarnation as an aspect of reality with a continually repeating “Wheel of Time” or will Rand manage to break the Pattern and turn time into a line rather than a Wheel?

It seems clear that the notions of reincarnation or a continually repeating pattern of time are no part of the Christian worldview. As interesting as these themes are in the books, it is clear they are fiction. The notion that time is constantly repeating is, in fact, false. The universe has a beginning and it is heading towards an end. As fiction, it is entertaining, but it should remain clear that it is fiction.

Rand as Messiah is an interesting way to view the series. The connections to the notion of prophesied salvation are interesting. But in Jordan’s world, the savior comes not only to save, but to ruin. It will be interesting to see where he takes it.

Men and Women

The characters each have their own ideas of how men and women should operate. Jordan seems to satirize the expectations as much as he flaunts them. Women are just as capable as men in the series, though of interest is the different cultural expectations and how men and women are expected to fulfill them in the different nations throughout the books. The Aiel, for example, a people group who live in a desert reason, have extremely different views of men and women than one encounters in other nations. They have societies of warriors, including ones for women, and both men and women are expected to comply with the unwritten laws of honor. Other nations operate with fairly patriarchal views which are reflective of the medieval setting of the work. The complexity of male-female interaction is continually interesting.

In the last of the books we’re exploring, The Fires of Heaven, some characters begin to interact sexually. As with the general views of the roles of men and women, the cultural expectations regarding marriage and sexual union are shown to be diverse across the differing cultures. The acts themselves are not explicit, but nudity is at times referenced and it is clear what has happened.

These sections demonstrate that the characters are not perfect but rather succumb to their various desires, not unlike real people. However, the fact that they are often interwoven with the different cultural expectations regarding marriage may spur discussion among Christians, who are often challenged to defend traditional views of marriage. It seems clear to me that the mere existence of culturally diverse ways of defining marriage does not undermine the notion that there is an ideal form of marriage which was established “in the beginning.”

Conclusion

“The Wheel of Time” starts off strong. It’s a powerful fantasy saga with quite a few themes which resonate with the Christian worldview. There are other themes which are contrary to truth as well. The series may spur discussion about various aspects of reality, from prophecy to views of men and women. So far, I have greatly enjoyed it. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and seeing how I might use it to interact with others regarding the Christian worldview.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

The art is the official galley art for the cover of The Fires of Heaven. I make no claims to ownership and give all credit to the artist, Darrell Sweet, and copyright holders.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Railway Man”: Forgiveness is more powerful than hate

The-Railway-Man-2013-movie-posterForgiveness is Stronger than Hate

“Railway Man” is a film based on a true story about WW2 prisoners of war held and tortured by the Japanese. There are SPOILERS in what follows.

Colin Firth plays Eric Lomaz, one of the prisoners. He struggles with PTSD and his wife tries to help him through it. Ultimately, he finds that Takashi Nagase, one of the Japanese soldiers who tortured him, is still alive. He goes back to confront Nagase with malignant intent, but cannot bring himself to kill him. Instead, he goes back to the United Kingdom after the confrontation. Nagase writes to Lomaz in apology and of how he is working towards reconciliation. In the final scene, Lomaz returns with his wife to speak to Nagase, thank him for his work on reconciliation, and offer forgiveness.

The way this film plays out therefore offers a powerful apologetic for the Christian worldview, which values forgiveness very highly. Nagase turned to Buddhism to try to make penance for his sins and work towards reconciliation, but only in the act of forgiveness is any comfort found. True reconciliation is found in the act of forgiveness and the realization that only by acknowledging the incapacity of humanity to work off their sins might one come to the free gift of grace. Nagase is redeemed, but he is redeemed through the free, unmerited forgiveness offered by Lomaz.

Here we have a powerful message which, though never explicit, speaks of the Christian worldview and power of forgiveness.

Conclusion

I was greatly moved by this film. Christians can reflect much on the power of forgiveness and the need for reconciliation from the film. There are a number of themes running throughout “The Railway Man” which have not been discussed here, so feel free to bring more up in the comments. It is a film with great power, and I recommend you watch it.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Movies- Read other posts on this site about movies written from a worldview perspective. (Scroll down for more.)

SDG.

The image used in this post was a movie poster and used under fair use. I make no claims to the rights for the image.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Monuments Men” – An Apologetic of Culture

monumentsmen“The Monuments Men” is a film based on a true story of a group of soldiers sent to salvage cultural artifacts from destruction by the Nazis. Here, we’ll analyze the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Aesthetics

One question the film puts front and center is this: “Of what value is art?”

The question is put in a number of poignant ways, such as a moving scene in which Donald Jeffries is killed in an effort to protect Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. The scene is powerful because Jeffries finds his value in his efforts to defend and preserve this beautiful art. He writes a letter to his father about the value of defense of such a work of art, which is overlaid with the imagery of him being killed by a Nazi officer.

Claire Simone works against the Nazis to try to protect and preserve the ownership of art. Her recognition of the importance of these pieces of history to those who collected them is a recognition of the power of the human mind to transcend the mundane.

The power of art to shape humanity, or even become a monument to humans–a way to transcend–is front and center throughout the film. The question that is then begged is this: if the natural world is all which exists, whence the transcendence? Where or to what might the transcendence point?

History and Life

History is important aspect of human life. Long have various cultures held notions that if one’s name were erased from historical record, it was as if one never had existed. The driving force to be remembered is a powerful one in human life, but perhaps it is also something which drives us towards art.

By collecting the art and stealing the works from their rightful owners, the Nazis were essentially attempting to rewrite history and capture the cultural past of those who owned or produced the art. There is a powerful message behind this of the need to be aware of how history is shaped by even those who are writing it.

Argument from Aesthetics?

How is it that humans recognize the value of art, or, more abstractly, of beauty? Some would allege that it is merely something we assign to things. The value is entirely a construct. In some ways that seems true, but there is something inherent in the notion that beauty–that art–is something which it is a great evil to destroy or take from someone else. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is also something which points beyond itself, to the transcendent.

The very possibility for recognizing that which is beautiful itself cries out for explanation. Whence the need for, dedication to, and recognition of beauty? A Christian would point beyond these towards God. Without the actual existence of the transcendent, there is little possibility for explaining the capacity for humans to reach out and grasp it.

Conclusion

“The Monuments Men” is a very solid flick to explore from worldview perspectives. It’s not as action-packed as most war movies, but it is more thoughtful and because of that it is in many ways more compelling. Perhaps most interestingly, it offers a view of the arts as something concrete, to be appreciated, and perhaps even transcendent.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Stories We Tell” by Mike Cosper

swt-cosper

Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell presents a look at the visual arts of television and movies from the perspective of what they tell us about ourselves and people.

Cosper analyzes several television shows from Mad Men to Project Runway and looks at themes with redemptive value. He doesn’t present a one-size-fits-all picture of how individual genres or specific movies or shows reflect all one specific picture, but rather analyzes the stories told in these forms of media from the perspectives of various aspects of the Christian worldview. These include themes of creation, sin, redemption, love, the fall and success of heroes, and more.

This holistic vision of analyzing stories in TV and at the movies allows readers to open their own avenues for perspectives and reflection in ways that not all books on a topic like this provide. Not only that, but Cosper’s writing is genuinely fascinating. I haven’t watched most of the television shows he discussed, but his presentation of them was enough to allow me to feel as though I knew what was happening and even got me deeply interested in the stories he described. This is not just a good book on how to discuss movies, but it’s also a genuinely interesting overview of a number of stories, whether they’ve been encountered already or not.

Another excellent insight Cosper provided was his look at whether certain stories, movies, and television are appropriate for Christians. He presented a very balanced and insightful look at this topic. First, he noted that the question “how far is too far” is often used to draw boundaries either to allow oneself to get as far as possible or to try to denigrate or call out others. Then, he used two examples of the extremes when it comes to appropriateness: the “overanxious teenager” who wants to get right up to the boundary in order to see as much as they can and the “church lady” who wants to stand as judge to show how others are sinners. He uses these examples to great effect, but does not leave it merely at that. He argues that either extreme is mistaken and also offers a way for Christians to explore appropriateness of various shows and movies.

Conscience and community are to be our guideposts when it comes to the appropriateness of media. Conscience allows us to have an inner arbiter of whether something is appropriate: “If you’re struggling with whether to watch something, ask yourself if you’re sturrling against a conscience that knows better” (Kindle Location 671). A community will help as well by offering a group of others with different experiences and advice. The community will only be helpful, however, if one commits to being honest about viewing habits and having friends who are willing to confront one over the viewing. I found this to be remarkably insightful and Cosper’s perspective on appropriateness is a solid way for Christians to evaluate their viewing habits.

There are many books about Christianity and visual arts like movies and television. Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell manages to set itself apart by presenting detailed looks into several different movies and television shows, while also presenting a vision for how Christians may interact with and even produce these forms of media. It comes recommended.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Book Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa- Speaking of worldviews in the movies, why not check out my review of this book which seeks to provide a method for analyzing film from a worldview perspective? Let me know what you think.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies- I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Source

Mike Cosper, The Stories We Tell (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Elysium” – Our Hopes, Greed, Class, and Suffering

elysium“Elysium” is one of a string of recent action flicks which have taken to exploring bigger issues than how to make the biggest explosion. Here, we’ll look at some themes in the movie and reflect on how they might resonate with the Christian worldview. There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows. I will not summarize the plot, though a summary may be found here.

Greed and Suffering

The story seems to center around the issue of greed. After all, the premise is essentially that human greed leads to great suffering. The question of whether there is a moral obligation to end suffering is front and center in the movie. The citizens of Elysium live a life of luxury, conveniently located far away from the strife that inhabitants of Earth must undergo. There is a clear and obvious dichotomy between the lives of the people planetside and those on the space colony.

It’s a premise which seems obvious, but there is a twist in the film, which impacts the force of this question. Once the final outcome is determined, and the reprogramming of citizenship is brought about to include all people, Elysium’s automated defenses and medical robots immediately begin helping the people of Earth. Medical shuttles are dispatched with instant-healing devices to help the new citizens. This twist throws a wrench into the reasoning of the question of obligation to end suffering: what if one has nothing to lose in order to help others?

Thus, the question goes beyond mere greed. It is a question of how humans will seek to hold on to what they have, even when it costs nothing to help others. It’s a poignant way to portray the issue, and one which forces viewers to think upon their own attitudes regarding what we have and seek to hold on to.

Of course, this portrayal of the issue doesn’t take away from the question of whether there is an obligation to end suffering. I think the answer, from a Christian perspective, is that we of course do. Then, the question must be asked of how to best alleviate suffering. These and other questions are raised by the film, and in ways which provoke much continued thought.

Class

The issues of greed and suffering are also bookended in the film by the question of class. Even on Earth, where poverty seemed to be ubiquitous, class was an issue. There were those with jobs, those who begged, and those who turned to crime. The sharp distinction between citizens of Elysium and those of Earth makes the point even more obvious. Once again, as Christians, we are forced to ask how we might address this issue of inequality. There are to be no such distinctions in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28), so how might we help to work towards ending racial, class, and other inequalities on Earth?

Hope

There is a constant theme of hope in what seems like a hopeless world. The people of Earth realize that help could come from Elysium, but they must get there first. They turn their hope to the stars, but there is a Nun who educates the young Max that there is beauty on Earth as well–beauty in humanity, despite our fallen nature.

Conclusion

“Elysium,” though featuring some objectionable content, is a film with much to ponder from a Christian perspective. How are we to approach other humans in a way which doesn’t undermine their dignity? We are to work to end suffering, to bring about equality. We are to prevent a scenario like “Elysium” from ever happening.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies- I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Elysium: Fighting for Paradise- Anthony Weber addresses a number of other worldview issues brought up in the movie on his fantastic site, Empires and Mangers. Be sure to follow his great blog.

The picture in this post is from a movie poster and I use it under fair use. 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

An Apologist’s Insights on “God’s Not Dead”

gods-not-deadI recently had the chance to watch “God’s Not Dead,” a film which presents a story in which a college student decides to take a stand for his faith against the pressure of an atheistic philosophy professor. A summary of the plot may be found here. As an apologist with an MA in the field, I thought my comments might help provide some insight into the film. I’ll offer a look at some aspects of the film which I wanted to address. Feel free to chime in in the comments with your own thoughts.

Apologetics

The movie presents a clear picture of the need for apologetics. When challenged by attacks on the faith it is important to always have a reason for the hope within (1 Peter 3:15). Josh Wheaton–the protagonist–put together a decent presentation of various evidences for theism in the snippets that viewers get through the film. Of course, these are very simplified and don’t address several major issues with the arguments, but it gets the point across. It also, I have noted through conversations with others, spurred much interest in the area of apologetics. That’s awesome!

That said, I think there are some issues with even the arguments presented in the film. First, after Wheaton has presented the cosmological, design, and other arguments for theism, he is challenged by Professor Radisson on the notion that one just has to choose between atheism and theism. Wheaton acknowledges that yes, it is a choice. Now, there are a number of issues with this portrayal. First, it treats the balance of evidence as a kind of 50/50 proposition, which is, I would think, hardly the position of anyone. Second, it presents a view of belief in which we can just choose what we believe. This is called “doxastic voluntarism” which is a fancy way of saying that one can believe propositions at will. But that is a highly controversial position (just try to force yourself to believe that “Fairies fill my refrigerator every morning” and you’ll see the folly of it) and also flies in the face of biblical accounts of what faith is. Third, here I’ll tip my bias a bit and say I’m fairly well convinced that the balance of evidence is hardly 50/50 but actually compelling.

Another difficulty with the apologetic in the film is that it seems like the lynchpin argument offered was actually just a point of rhetoric. Wheaton presses Professor Radisson and asks “Why do you hate God?” and follows it up with [paraphrased]: “How can you hate someone who doesn’t exist?” This is the last straw and what prompts the class to vote by standing to say that “God’s not dead.” Although I think rhetoric has a clear place in the Christian apologetic (and has since the earliest times: see the apologetic works of Lactantius and Arnobius in the 200-300s AD), I thought it was an odd choice to make it the climactic argument for God. Perhaps it was because this added to the drama of the moment–and I suspect that’s right–but it did so at the cost of detracting from whatever apologetic the film could put forward.

I did, however, appreciate the interaction with some top scholars like Hawking and Lennox. I think it is very important for Christians interested in apologetics to read the top scholars in their fields in order to best get acquainted to the arguments.

Characters or Caricatures?

The way the Muslim father was portrayed was problematic. In the beginning of the film we see him dropping off his daughter and showing great concern for her. Later, he shares an intimate discussion of his faith and the importance of obedience in his background. But then, when it is revealed his daughter has converted to Christianity, he not only kicks her out of the house, but he also immediately hits her more than once. Now, I make no claims to being an expert on this, but I know from anecdotal evidence only that people are indeed kicked out of their homes for converting to Christianity (and sometimes for deconverting), and this is surely a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing to address this as an issue.

But the problem I saw was that the Muslim father’s immediate reaction was violence, without any explanation or any background for thinking this would be a reaction. The rest of the film up to this point had shown him as a caring father who was concerned for the faith and well-being of his daughter. To have him immediately turn to violence when she converted was jarring and I think it speaks to our cultural presuppositions about the religious “Other” to portray the “Other”–the Muslim–in that way. We need to move beyond such stereotypes and into genuine dialogue with those of other faiths, always looking to share the light and love of Christ with them.

On the positive side, the film did do a great job speaking to the importance of reaching out to others like the young man from China. It also emphasized missions in a number of ways, like centering some major plot points around a very amiable character as a missionary.

Pastoral Care

I appreciated the comments about the work of a pastor, in which Pastor Dave in the film was comparing his own work to that of a missionary friend’s and felt his own day-to-day tasks were mundane and trivial. The answer given by the missionary, however, was essentially that such work is part of the work of God as well and that we each occupy a place which God has put us in to make an impact on the world. I thought this was a great message and one that deserves further exploration.

On the other hand, I thought that the pastoral care at points in the movie presented some difficulties. For example, Pastor Dave’s conversation with Josh Wheaton before Wheaton decides to for sure stand up to his professor boiled down to a couple citations (not even quotations) of Bible verses to look up later and the comment that “It’s not easy, but it’s simple” [I may have the order in this quotation wrong]. I’ll be blunt: I think that this is actually a gross oversimplification. Quoting Matthew 10:33 (click for reference) does not actually make the issue facing Wheaton “simple.”

For example, would it be “denying” Christ to acknowledge that one might not have the resources available as a freshman student in a general studies philosophy class (and not a major) to take on a philosophy professor on the topic of God’s existence? I don’t think so. One could instead acknowledge that both the clearly adversarial tone taken in the environment and one’s own lack of knowledge or expertise in the area make it likely that one may actually harm the body of Christ by, well, looking like a freshman non-philosophy student outmatched by an atheistic philosophy professor. Wheaton, of course, has the benefits of film, so he is able to put together a beautiful powerpoint each week and manages to pound the books so hard that he can articulate the cosmological, design, and other arguments within a few days. But is this a realistic perspective? Moreover, is it a “simple” application of the passage to our lives?

Conclusion

“God’s Not Dead” awakens people to the need for apologetics. That is a great compliment, because it is a much-needed awakening. However, it has several issues (including those mentioned above) with the presentation of apologetics, its portrayal of the “Other,” and the oversimplification of several arguments, positions, and even pastoral care and reading of texts. In short, it’s a mixed bag.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Christian Discerment Regarding Music: A reflection and response

worship-in-churchI recently read a post which called for “discernment concerning the Christian music world.” The author, “EvangelZ” writes:

We have been told to be discerning in terms of what types of secular music to not assimilate into our minds if it is degrading, anti-Christ, and vulgar, to name a few.  But what about the call to be discerning concerning the Christian music world?

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. We should–must–be discerning when it comes to what music we engage with. Our engagement with both Christian music and “secular” music (whatever these categories even mean) should be reflective of the content of that music. The list EvangelZ provided above is hardly comprehensive, but a good place to start. If our “Christian” music is “degrading” or “vulgar,” that would certainly seem to exclude it from any use in a worship service, and should be a strong reason against our integrating that music into our lives.

Indeed, I would contend that the content of the music should be essentially the criterion (with notable exceptions below) for the music deemed acceptable for a Christian to consume. Of course, there should be a real acknowledgement that some people have different levels of discernment or resilience than others (can we eat the meat offered in sacrifice to false gods or not? after all, it’s just some meat left out for some false idol? [see here if you're not sure what I'm referencing]).

However, after this introductory comment, EvangelZ spent the rest of the post discussing how we should us discernment regarding Christian music by way of the lives of those who made the music. For example, one issue highlighted was Tim Lambesis’ (singer for “As I Lay Dying”) apostasy. Now, setting aside the issue of whether any “As I Lay Dying” song could even possibly be used in a worship service (although I like metal, I hardly think it lends itself to corporate worship and singing praises), what I want to briefly touch on is exactly this notion: should our discernment apply to content of the music or to the lives of the musicians (or, of course, both)?

After reading the post, I wrote a comment, and I’d like to just reflect on what I wrote there a bit more. I’ll reproduce my comment, in part, here:

[T]he criteria given for discernment in “Christian” music are pretty much all matters of personal character of the musicians, not the actual content of the music. I’m wondering why on the one hand it is content (“secular” music) but on the other (“Christian” music), it is the people producing the music. This raises a number of questions for me:

1) Why the difference in criteria?
=> 1A) Is it because music functions didactically and so we should be aware of who is “teaching” us through music?
=> 1B) If so, then do we need to know about the lives of every single person who has written a song that we use in worship before we are able to use it?
2) If we are to use character as a criteria of discernment for worship music, does that not essentially mean we can’t use any music?
=> Explanation: everyone is a sinner in the process of sanctification, so by default anyone who has written a song we use in worship has still sinned.
=> 2A) Or is the issue simply unrepentant sin?

I think all of these questions are issues we must deal with as we consider the need for discernment in whatever music we listen to. I’ll provide a brief reflection on each issue I raised in these questions:

1) I am unconvinced that there should be any difference in our criteria for discernment when reflecting on Christian or “secular” music. Part of this is because I’m not sure such a dichotomy actually does exist (see here), and part is because I don’t know why such a distinction should exist.
1A) If we grant that hymns or music used in church functions didactically–as teaching–then perhaps a case could be made, but I think, abstractly, the content should once again be the ultimate judge of whether a teaching is good (or not).
1B) Because we cannot feasibly be required to know about the lives of all who write the music we listen to, this cannot serve as a viable criterion for discernment. Perhaps exceptions could be made in those cases wherein we do know something should (and what does “should” mean here?) disqualify one (i.e. I could see the knowledge that ‘the person who wrote this hymn is a satanist’ as a perfectly sound reason for not using a hymn), but one cannot realistically be expected to know about the lives of every single artist who writes any part of our hymnody (or music generally).

2) Because all are sinners, if character is a criterion for discernment, it would seem that all are disqualified.
2A) However, perhaps the qualification could be made that it is merely persistent, unrepentant sin which should disqualify one. But then one has muddied the waters via 1B again.

Thus, I think that for Christians, the best way to use discernment is to apply the truths of the Bible to the content of the music. We cannot realistically be expected to know the backgrounds of every individual who writes the music we may listen to or use in worship, and with the caveat noted above, I think the criterion simply should be the content–the lyrics–of the music. How do we analyze the content? Well I think there are a number of factors, including those rightfully noted above by EvangelZ. God’s revelation in Scripture and the gift of conscience should be our guides.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

On Christian Music- I reflect on the category of “Christian Music” and whether it is even a functionally helpful tool.

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task- I discuss the latest album from Demon Hunter and how music may act as an apologetic endeavor.

The Call for Discernment Concerning the Christian Music World- Be sure to read the post to which I responded here, and see what you think of their reasoning. I think this is an issue worth discussing.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

“Guardians of the Galaxy” – Chaos, “Human” Nature, and the “Good Guys”

guardians-galaxy“Guardians of the Galaxy” has been a smash hit at the box office, and it has also received critical acclaim. It’s been branded as a happy-go-lucky film. That said, every story has a worldview. What might we find in “Guardians”? Here, we will analyze the movie from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Chaos and “Human” Nature

Chaotic is a great word to describe the “Guardians.” Each has personality quirks which make them uniquely set up, it seems, to conflict. The fact that this ragtag band of people manages to save the galaxy (or at least a planet) is part of the fun of the film.

The characters’ personalities, however, seemingly also reveal much about “human,” or at least “personal” nature. Each has a background which haunts them individually, whether it be Starlord’s lost childhood or Rocket’s internal struggle to define himself, they each have difficulties. It is this which makes the characters seem more relatable than they otherwise may have been.

It is easy to feel separated from the world of the superheroes due to their general portrayal as otherworldly powers with little connection to Earth other than finding it as a place for their conflicts. In “Guardians,” it is almost the reverse: the characters are grounded in realistic pasts and limited in their power (each overshadowed by Groot’s power, but simplistic mind), but their battle takes place out in the Galaxy, away from home. By subtly shifting the perspective and powers of the heroes, the filmmakers reverse the paradigm of superhero flicks and are able to put together this story of a motley crew just barely managing to succeed.

I think this tells us something about ourselves as well: we relate better to characters with flaws. Our lives as humans have given us complex pasts with parts we often regret. The question, then, is where we may find redemption? How might we make sense of our lives in the broader scheme of things?

Good Guys

There is a lot of gray area when it comes to evil in “Guardians.” The characters themselves are involved in shady schemes, which leads one to wonder who the “good guys” are. That question, though, is one which brings us around full circle to the question of human nature. From a Christian perspective, there are none who are without fault, and salvation history in the Bible reflects God using imperfect people like Samson (womanizer) and Paul (persecutor of the church) to bring about redemption.

Similarly, the characters in “Guardians” are each flawed, but they work together to defeat great evil. Thrown together in the chaos of a universe with much evil, they make their own way. In “Guardians,” evil happens to be defeated almost by luck, but in reality, such things are not mere happenstance.

Rebirth

There is a real sense of “rebirth” throughout the film. Each character undergoes a transformation from a life of relative lax to one in which, at the end, they seek to defend the galaxy, even if that means breaking a few rules along the way. Groot, of course, undergoes the most literal rebirth as he is fragmented (to death?) in order to protect the other Guardians, only to then be reborn as a single stick. Starlord’s own rebirth is more subtle, as he goes from a ne’er-do-well rogue to trying to actually lead a ragtag band of people to defend the galaxy.

Conclusion

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a distinctly unconventional superhero flick, as it stars a group of people who can hardly be classified among the “good guys” who just so happen to defeat the worst evil in the galaxy. Despite, or perhaps because of, this, they band together and triumph in a good (?) vs. evil story. It is similar, as I noted, to the notion in the Bible that we are a community of sinner saints and people who have questionable paths may still be used for great good by God.

There is more we could discuss from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” so please do join the discussion in the comments below.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Guardians of the Galaxy- Check out Anthony Weber’s take on the movie, which is always worth reading. Be sure to follow his blog, as it is one of the best in the business.

Movies- Read other posts I have written on the movies. Scroll down to see more!

The image is a movie poster for the film and I use it under fair use.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Measure of a Man” – Star Trek: The Next Generation and Personhood

measure-manStar Trek: The Next Generation is my favorite television series. I’ve been rewatching it recently with my wife and I got to the episode called “The Measure of a Man” (check out my plot recap and review here). This episode brings up some issues I felt were pretty relevant for discussing here. We will explore only two major aspects of this episode: personhood and self-sacrifice. There will be SPOILERS for the episode in what follows.

Personhood

The episode centered around the question of whether Data could be property. Properly speaking, it seems the episode was centered around whether Data was to be considered a “person” in the legally relevant sense. The arguments brought up regarding this question were interesting, particularly for those of us interested in philosophy of mind.

Data’s conversation with Maddox, the scientist who wishes to disassemble him in order to build more of him, centers around phenomenal consciousness. Data argues that although he has no doubt Maddox could preserve the content of his memories by simply downloading the, erm, data from his brain, he thinks there is something more to these thoughts and memories than simple facts. There is a “feel” to thoughts which have a kind of aboutness that is ultimately beyond the facts and into the realm of experience.

Frankly, this is a stunningly complex argument to make for a television show. It reflects a kind of appeal to phenomenology: the content of thoughts and the “aboutness” or taste of them. Some philosophers of mind (and I would agree with them) argue that there is a real notion of this phenomenal aspect of thought which goes beyond the simple facts. Indeed, this very aspect of thoughts and feelings–the ability to have an “about” aspect to them–is the very criterion for consciousness which some philosophers appeal to. In context of the episode, if Data really has this “aboutness,” I would say it is indisputable that he would be a person (not to say that consciousness is required for personhood, but surely a self-aware, conscious being would by necessity a person be).

Ultimately, the episode climaxes in an argument over what is it that determines someone as human or a person, and Maddox summarizes the standard definitions well by appealing to self-awareness and consciousness–though again this is disputable: surely I am a person even when unconscious!–and the arguments center around this question. These are interesting and necessary questions and I think they get at the depth of the philosophical debate surrounding this issue.

Self-Sacrifice

Interestingly, this episode also clearly focuses on the concept of “self-sacrifice.” William Riker does not want to prosecute the case against Data, but he is forced to in order to save his friend. In one epic scene, he ends up flipping Data’s power switch off and as Data collapses he says “the strings are cut” referring to Pinocchio. The final scene shows Data finding Riker staring out into space, clearly pensive over his actions and hurt over his own seeming attack on his friend. Data, however, states that although Riker knew his actions would “wound” him, Riker still prosecuted the case because he knew the alternative would be, for Data, at least akin to if not literally death. Thus, Data says, Riker “saved me.”

This kind of self-sacrifice is found exactly at the heart of the Christian message. Christ was wounded for our transactions, and, as Riker does here, Jesus came knowing that such wounding would happen. These wounds were borne for our sake.

Conclusion

“The Measure of a Man” is one of those rare episodes of a serial TV show which forces viewers to take a step back and think–really think–on a topic. Whether you agree with the conclusions of the episode or not, it must be admitted it raises a number of interesting topics to explore. What do you think of this episode? What additional themes did you pick up in it? How do your favorite shows resonate with your worldview?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Star Trek: TNG Season 2, “The Measure of a Man” and “The Dauphin”- Check out my ongoing recaps and reviews of Star Trek: TNG episodes at my “other interests” site, Eclectic Theist. Here, I review this episode and the following one. More recaps may be viewed here or by searching on that site.

The photo in this episode was a screenshot capture of the episode. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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