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Book Review: “The Poverty of Nations” by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus

pov-nat

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is an ambitious book. Wayne Grudem (theologian) and Barry Asmus (economist) claim to put forward a list of 78 traits which, if incorporated at a national level, will bring about a solution to poverty. The book is an economic and moral/biblical treatise aimed at stamping out poverty through the production of goods and the integration of morality into global economic practice. Here, I’ll analyze it from its two primary thrusts: economic and moral. Then, we’ll discuss some of the issues involved in a book of this scope.

It is worth noting up front that I have a BS in Social Studies and had numerous classes on economics and international economics at a college level. This doesn’t make me an expert, but I think it allows me to take a decently accurate look at economic theories.*

Economics

The first half of the book focuses on issues of economics on a national level. Specifically, they endorse the free market as a way to bring prosperity to all nations. Their argument is based upon historical observations about how nations have gotten out of poverty and become prosperous.

Thus, the authors argue that fair trade and open borders (with low or no tariffs and the like) will drive the market to balance itself out and also increase the overall prosperity of people from various nations. Moreover, it will provide a means by which lesser-developed countries can utilize their comparative advantages to produce things that other countries are willing to pay a higher price such that they do not need to produce them. Demand drives the market, and the freer a market, the more demand is able to do so. The reason it is beneficial to allow demand to drive the market is because it allows for people to genuinely respond to others wants and constantly produce newer, better goods in more efficient ways, thus increasing the wealth across the board.

I should note that, by necessity, this is merely the briefest overview of this section of the book. Those who read The Poverty of Nations are essentially getting a fully realized introduction to international economics. In fact, the economic portion of the book is quite strong in many ways (though some issues with the complexity are noted below).

Biblical/Moral Issues

Like the economics portion, this half of the book has much to commend it. Though basic, much of the instruction is vital and important to realize as necessary for economic success. For example, government curtailing of bribery is important for an economic system to become more successful. Another, more complex example would be the notion that tariffs decrease the productivity of international trade and artificially increase prices.

The problem with much of the focus on the moral background to the “Free Market” is that Grudem and Asmus seem to assume or assert more often than they provide evidence. It’s easy for someone like me from a relatively free market system who favors open markets to nod along to how a free market encourages integrity because of the repeated transactions between the same persons and the like, but then a statement like this is made:

When people are held responsible by the voluntary personal interactions of the free market, they are typically more responsible. (Kindle Loc. 3784)**

Statements like this are frequently made, but after reading along and perhaps agreeing largely, one is forced to wonder about things like: “Where is the empirical evidence to show that this is actually the case?”; “To whom or to what are people more responsible to?”; “How are we capable of making judgments like this across incredibly complex systems like the economic practice of states, regions, nations, and the world?” The particular statement made above offers no empirical support for its claim, nor do the authors explore the complexities of simply stating that “people… are typically more responsible” in a free market. This statement, and others like it, leave me scratching my head and asking for the evidence. Certainly it is possibly true or perhaps it is true, but why think it without anything more than an assertion?

Another difficulty with this section is that throughout, the specific examples given are taken to be the biblical approach to economics. Now, I think one could fairly say that the Bible condemns bribery, but what of more complex issues like whether it actually endorses a free market? One constant refrain in the book is the use of Genesis 1:28 (“fill the earth and subdue it”) to support various things, from use of natural resources (which are rather shockingly claimed to be essentially unlimited: “[I]t is highly unlikely that any resources will be used up in the foreseeable future… we keep discovering huge new reserves of resources and inventing more creative ways to access them” (6606-6617)–but of course where are the huge new reserves of forests? fresh water? etc.?) to drive people to invent and make new things (3405), to making products from the earth specifically (1169), to move beyond subsistence farming (4207), and more.

One is forced to wonder whether the verse actually means all these things or if, perhaps, the Bible is simply under-determined when it comes to economic policy. I do genuinely wonder whether the Bible is to be treated as an economics textbook, which it often seems to be in this book. Quotes like these are scattered throughout, often in seemingly random fashion in the economics portion. The question is whether this really may be seen as a systematic treatment of the Bible on economy, or whether it may perhaps instead be mining the text to try to support claims about economy which are not really found therein. Not that these are unbiblical points; merely that they perhaps are not the focus or intention of the texts.

Complexities

The book seems to oversimplify on some aspects. It is common practice to use examples which allow an economist to shift just one aspect in order to demonstrate a theory.* That said, at times the examples used in The Poverty of Nations are often a bit too simplistic to believe. For example, at one point a thought experiment asks whether simply taking money from a group of wealthy elites would solve the existing issue of poverty. Although it seemed clear that simply attempting to redistribute wealth didn’t solve the problem, the proposed solution–the book’s solution–was to produce more goods. But it seems to me that if a number of elites were controlling the wealth in a country, just producing more goods would continue to line the pockets of those elite rather than specifically helping the poor.

Examples like this abound throughout the book, as simple solutions are offered to extremely complex issues. Economics is a wonderfully complex topic, but as the authors themselves note at the beginning, it is one which is hard to study due to the human factor in it. Despite the professed efforts to avoid such simplification (Kindle location 2115, for example), the book often does seem to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to solving economic problems.

That said, at other times the authors do a great job of speaking directly to the complexities of the issue. For example, their discussion of colonialism was marvelous and ably pointed out both the potential benefits and cons of those endeavors on our present world situation. It was a great way to survey a complex issue without trying to identify any one factor. Portions of the book like this make the places where it is simplistic stand out even more, however.

A final issue is that of audience: Asmus and Grudem claim the book is primarily written for leaders of impoverished nations, which–apart from coming off as a bit imperialistic–doesn’t actually seem to be the likely readership. The authors note others as possible audience, but I wonder whether we may end up with several people walking around with this as their only interaction with economic theory and assuming they are able to fix the world’s problems through this oft-simplified economics instruction.

Conclusion

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is at times brilliant, but at others frustrating. It is well-worth a read for Christians interested in economics and attempting to strike at the core of poverty through effective legislation and whole-nation solutions. It does provide a very useful introduction to international economics, and gives some very good ways forward for those wishing to engage on this topic. However, readers should go in with some caution: the simplification at times means that readers should not take this as the final word on this topic, nor should they assume by reading the book they are suddenly equipped to run national-level economic programs.

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!

Sunday Quote!- A biblical answer to economic woes?- I discuss a quote from a section of The Poverty of Nations and whether it is true that the Bible may contain specific economic practice.

Source

Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

*I was a Social Studies major in college and so took a number of economics classes. I am making no claim to be an expert, but rather educated laity in this area.

**All references are to kindle locations.

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.

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 Supreme Court Strikes Down Violation of Free Speech

Pro-Life_Demonstration_at_Supreme_CourtI don’t often write about politics, but today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision to strike down an MA law which restricted pro-life speech within 35 feet of an abortion clinic has me smiling. This was a clear violation of free speech and I frankly think it says something about the desperation of the pro-choice case-makers.

It seems that, at least in MA, the desperation got to the point where they realized if you can’t make your case from science or logic (links to posts arguing this), the next best thing would be to simply muzzle the opposition. Thankfully, in this case, justice was served and the blatant disregard for freedom of speech was overturned.

Let me reiterate, this was a unanimous decision. What does that say about the legal status of such an attempt? I’m not talking about objective morality, I’m speaking only of the law of the land. Why even attempt to keep such a law around?

Frankly, I think it really is a matter of the realization that when one’s case is so blatantly a house of cards, an illegal attempt to thwart free speech is the last rejoinder. Let’s be clear on this issue:

Free speech is not a matter of freedom for those with whom you agree–it’s a matter of, well, actually free speech. 

And yes, I think that applies to those who are pro-choice.

Let’s read your thoughts below (follow the comment policy–there are rules for your free speech here!).

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!

Pro-Life- Check out my posts arguing for the pro-life position.

SDG.

On Christian Music

dh-extremistA recent tragedy has forced me to reflect a bit on the notion of “Christian Music.” This recent tragedy was the professedly Christian lead singer of the band “As I Lay Dying” being arrested for plotting to murder his wife. Then, later, admitting that he was no longer a Christian and kept the label as a way to sell records. Now this is a horrible, tragic situation and we shouldn’t downplay it. We should stay in prayer and hope that God leads him back to Christ. We should also learn from it. I simply want to reflect on the category of Christian music and, as a parent (with my first not yet born), think about how I may guide my children’s choices (and my own) when it comes to music.

The Category of Christian Music

One question that comes up from this story and something I’ve frequently thought about is whether the category of “Christian Music” is even a category that should exist. It has been noted by others that this label may serve as an excuse for sub-par musical talent to sell records by having Christian lyrics. As someone who frequents Christian bookstores, I would say this, at times, may not be far from the truth, but there are many extremely talented musicians who carry this label with pride.

I do wonder, however, whether the label just becomes that: a label. It may not reflect the actual content of the lyrics or music (as is admitted in the case of “As I Lay Dying”), but parents feel comfortable picking up a CD from that section simply because it gets called “Christian.” I think that’s not the greatest practice (more on this below). Another problem is that the label of “Christian Music” implies a wholly separate and distinct category of “non-Christian” music, which does not seem to be accurate. So-called “secular” music is often performed by or written by Christians and reflects that.

An ideal world, in my opinion, would be one in which Christian musicians simply played music and had their music on the shelves next to non-Christian music, where someone might get their redeeming lyrics. For now, it’s shoved in the corner of the music section away from all the others. Rather than labeling ourselves “Christian” musicians, why not just play music, and let our worldview flow through it? (I have similar thoughts about “Christian fiction” and the like.)

Doing the Grunt Work

A case like the “As I Lay Dying” scenario brings up another issue. Namely, we should be examining the lyrics of everything we listen to. We need to do the grunt work and examine what we consume to see whether it builds us up as people of God or not. As parents, we should not just assume a so-called Christian artist has lyrical content of value. Instead, we need to do the work and see what the artists are saying so that we can make informed choices. More importantly, we are to raise our children in a way that they make wise choices with what they consume when they get to the age where we feel we let them make their own choices. It’s a huge responsibility, and one I feel very strongly for my child already, even before he or she is born!

Thoughts

I don’t think the label “Christian Music” is going to go away. In some ways that could be a good thing, but I think that we should do due diligence in whatever we consume and assure that it is something that builds us up. I’ve put the album art from a recent album from Demon Hunter up on this post because I think that group exemplifies the character of a Christian band. Their lyrics are a reflection of their worldview. Rather than being praise music, it is music and lyrics which demonstrate the Christian worldview and the struggles of faith. See the links for some more discussion of this.

To sum up, I think we should just examine whatever we consume. Moreover, we should respect Christian artists who are operating on the shelves of “Rock” or “Pop” rather than in the “Christian Music” corner of the store. Why? Because they are letting their faith work through their music without that label. I’m not at all saying those who aren’t doing that are somehow less valuable. Instead, they ought to seek to ensure their content is truly reflective of the label they have received or given themselves. Moreover, all Christians should seek to guard themselves and walk a life of prayer and one of seeking God.

What are your thoughts? I admit I’m no expert in this area, so I’d love to read what you have to say 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!

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.

Ryan Clark Interview- Ryan Clark of “Demon Hunter” discusses one of their recent songs, “The Last One Alive” and how it reflects his faith.

7 Things Christian Parents Can Learn from the Tim Lambesis Story- What can we learn from the tragic story of a Christian band leader who turned atheist and tried to murder his wife? Check out these great insights from Natasha Crain.

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.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” – A Christian Perspective

future-pastThe X-Men franchise has been my favorite of the Marvel franchises for some time, largely because of the worldview questions it brings up. Here, we’ll take a look at the themes in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows.

Evolution

Evolution continues to be at the heart of many of the questions raised by the X-Men franchise. What does it mean to say that Mutants are perhaps the next step in evolution for humanity? For some, it means that Mutants should overthrow humanity; after all, they are the lesser-evolved form of life. How should humans and Mutants interact? Are they really a step of evolution, or is it simply a different expression of humanity?

These questions are obviously speculative, but I think the most poignant of them center around the notion of an evolutionary morality. If all we see is merely the product of naturalistic evolution without any sort of grounding for objective morality, who is to say that those Mutants and humans who say that there is a fundamental war between Mutants and humanity are wrong? It seems as though they are exactly right: it is a competition for resources, pure and simple. Yet the questions the movie brings up go beyond such simplistic reasoning. After all, it seems, there is right and wrong that goes beyond the reasoning centered around survival-of-the-fittest. Again, we must wonder: why? Moreover: how is it grounded? These questions get at the heart of worldview questions, and viewers who are left thinking that it is wrong to perpetuate a war between Mutant and human should wonder what grounds they have for thinking it is wrong.

The Heart of Hum…utant? 

Many strands of Christian expression view humanity as depraved. That is, humans are sinful at heart, rather than being generally good. “Days of Future Past” aligns with this vision of humanity in a number of ways, but it also, interestingly, portrays mutants as just as frequently evil-leaning as humankind.

The inherent fear of the “Other” was felt throughout, as both Mutant and human worked to destroy each other. However, Mystique’s quest for revenge was a deeper look at aspects of character and worldview. Her quest, despite it being a futile gesture, was telling: she sought revenge despite the possibility that it could destroy all of her own kind. Professor X’s words, however, echoed through time: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their way doesn’t mean they are lost forever.” Mystique, through her choice to refuse to pursue the way of violence into oblivion, ultimately plays a kind of figure of reconciliation. The theme of darkness in the heart which may be redeemed is one which resonates powerfully with the Christian worldview.

A Spectrum of Morality

I think one area that is not explored frequently enough is the notion that there really is a spectum when it comes to that which is moral. I’m not advocating any kind of relativism, but rather the notion that there aren’t always (or even often) black and white moral choices. “Days of Future Past” brings this to the forefront as viewers are confronted with various ways to approach the question of the Mutant. Does one opt for a warfare model which is put forth by Magneto and Dr. Trask, a model which allows for coexistence with separation/secrecy as was generally being followed in the 1970s of the film, or perhaps even cooperation as Dr. X seeks? Perhaps instead, one should forge one’s own way like Mystique or (old) Wolverine, seeking a personal agenda in order to follow one’s own ends.

These aspects are front-and-center throughout the film, as viewers most likely will unconsciously lean towards a certain expression themselves. We discussed above the aspects of evolutionary morality, but I think the movie goes even deeper, trying to get at more basic questions like “What is truth?” and “What is moral/right?” The way viewers answer these questions may lead to further conversations. It seems to me the film clearly favored the kind of mediation road in which Mutant and Human could coexist. But what does that mean for those who favored evolutionary morality or a warfare model? Perhaps such notions are themselves outdated and put to rest because they are of a “Future Past.”

Conclusion

The latest X-Men movie has received much critical acclaim and box-office success. I think that’s for a good reason. It has a compelling plot, great action, and excellent pacing. Our analysis of various themes throughout the movie shows there is thoughtfulness behind it as well. Issues of morality are front and center, though many other themes are worth discussing as well. This is a movie that could be used to start discussions about the faith from many different aspects.

There are many more issues which could be explored in the movie. What are some that resonated with you? Let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

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 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.

——

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.

“Edge of Tomorrow” – Sacrifice, Brutality, and Choice

edge-tomLive. Die. Repeat.

I had the chance to watch “Edge of Tomorrow” this past weekend and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. It was fantastic. Here, I’ll discuss several themes found in the movie from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. I will not summarize the plot, but a summary may be found here.

Choice

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise was brilliantly cast for this role) is presented with a number of choices throughout the film, and it becomes clear that he is not a typical save-the-world type of hero. He is flawed, he has passions, he loses hope. But throughout these aspects of the film, we find the notion of choice. Will Cage has been given an extraordinary opportunity to impact the entire human race. When his blood is mingled with that of an Alpha, his death sets off the “Omega” which resets the day. Over and over again, Cage is faced with a choice: what do I do with this day?

He finds Sergeant Rita Vrataski, who is one of the only people who also realizes what’s happening, though she herself doesn’t remember the days. The question, again, is what do I do with this day? Cage’s character is forced to consider that he has the ability to possibly save all of humanity. In such a situation, what choice does he have? But he does make some choices: he chooses to try to save Rita, to save others. But at other times, he gives in to frustration, allowing members of his squad to die despite being able to prevent it. Cage is not a knight in shining armor, but he confronts us with a human thrown into an impossible situation with the highest possible stakes.

Placing the concept of choice against such a backdrop makes for good drama, but it also begs the question: what are you doing with your day? From a Christian perspective, the choices we make are extremely important–we are called to be witnesses, lights to the world–but do our choices each day reflect that? Do we, like Cage, sometimes allow injustices despite having to put forth just a little extra effort? How do our choices impact our life in Christ? The movie demands that we answer questions like these.

Sacrifice

Cage is also confronted with a kind of self-sacrifice. By admitting he is what he is, he must go through a cycle in which he dies continually, in often brutal ways, in order to try to improve, to save humanity. It is sacrifice, but a sacrifice knowing that he will be back the next day. One must ask, I think, whether that actually diminishes the sacrifice. I don’t think it does. Cage must steel himself each day knowing that death will come again, and again, and again. The only way to prevent it is to save all of humanity by destroying the Omega. Though, in the end, Cage ultimately does give up his life for humanity, only to be brought back by having his blood mingled with that of the Omega. One is left wondering whether he will retain the power or not.

The self-sacrifice of Cage (and Rita) for the sake of humanity is clearly a theme which resonates with the central Christian teaching of Jesus Christ as crucified and resurrected Lord. However, beyond the obvious parallels of giving up life for the sake of all (and subsequent resurrection/awakening), the sacrifice of going in knowing one is to die is something that resonates with the story of Christ. I have sometimes seen a challenge issued theologically to the Christian teaching saying Jesus didn’t really sacrifice himself if he knew he was going to be risen by God. But of course that hardly destroys the notion of self-sacrifice and the real price paid of death. Being risen does not destroy the sacrifice of death.

Brutality

Live. Die. Repeat.

The theme is echoed throughout the film. It may cause one to wonder about the brutality of such a story and its appropriateness, but I think that from a Christian perspective one has to incorporate the rest of the themes found in the movie. The brutality of the cross is itself something from which people shy away, but set against the backdrop of salvation, brutality can become sanctified.

Community/Individual

I have not read the manga that “Edge of Tomorrow” was based on, “All You Need is Kill,” but I have heard that there is some juxtaposition over the primacy of the community vs. individual in either. “Edge of Tomorrow” shows this kind of valuation in many ways throughout the film. First, there is Cage’s continued efforts to save Rita, despite what it might cost–including going on one part of the mission alone in order to prevent her death. Second, there is the concept of both Cage and Rita valuing the community of humanity over the self by willingly spending all the time they have left trying to defend humanity rather than find a way to survive themselves. Finally, both Cage and Rita choose to place the community over the self when rather than trying to save one or the other, they both do what needs to be done and give themselves to save humanity.

For Christians, themes of community and individual are extremely important. It is easy in the Western mindset to become obsessed with the self, but a true community of individuals exists in the body of Christ–each as important as the next. How do we go about living our lives in light of this truth?

Conclusion

There are many other themes to be explored from “Edge of Tomorrow”- what of the Alpha/Omega? What happens to Cage and Rita after the end of the film? Were there any efforts to try to make peace or reach out to the “Mimics”–the aliens that they fight against throughout the movie? These are important themes, and I’d love to get discussion of those started in the comments. For now, it should be clear that the film has many themes to reflect upon and it is well-worth seeing. What did you think of the movie? What other themes have you thought of in relation to it? Let’s get your thoughts 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!

All You Need Is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow- “Edge of Tomorrow” is based upon this graphic novel. Check out Anthony Weber’s excellent review and critique of the graphic novel from a Christian perspective. I really recommend you follow his blog as well. It’s in my top five must-read blogs, and it is worth your time to browse at length.

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.

——

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: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa

hw-godawaI often say that every movie has a worldview. The same is true for any story. Brian Godawa’s book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment, takes just such an approach to movies: what do films teach us? How might we critically evaluate movies?

First, Godawa introduces the concepts of a “cultural glutton” as opposed to a “cultural anorexic.” The point is that Christians are to be in the world not of it. It is one thing to say that violence in a movie is bad; but what of the context of the violence? The Bible also has many scenes which, if filmed, could even rate NC-17. The question is: what’s the point? When looking at film, Christians should look into the way the narrative shapes what happens in the movies.

In order to look into this theme, Christians must be equipped to seek out the context of stories as well as the explicit (and implicit) things they teach. In order to equip people to watch film critically, Godawa approaches this task is divided among several chapters by topics related to film and worldview. Each chapter begins with a summary of the topic of the chapter and how one might discover this theme in film. For example, in the chapter on “Postmodernism,” he begins with a definition and explanation of the concept. Then, he utilizes a slew of examples from various movies to show how postmodernism is found in them in either positive or negative light.

The chapters all cover interesting topics, and Godawa’s use of specific examples from movies are fantastic case studies for showing how critical engagement with worldviews can play out. Even better, Godawa’s explanations and applications could easily be used to apply outside of film and in areas like literature. Frankly, some of Godawa’s evaluation of popular films–including some I’ve enjoyed greatly–have forced me to rethink how I thought of the storyline. Movies which may appear to be fairly neutral or simply entertainment alone do indeed have their own way of approaching reality. Some of the movies which were brought to new light for me included “Gladiator,” “The Truman Show,” and “Groundhog Day.” Dozens of movies are treated throughout this book, and Godawa’s analysis is always interesting and thought provoking, encouraging the critical engagement he seeks.

Another great aspect of the book are the activities Godawa proposes for each chapter to apply what one has learned. These are frequently interesting and provide ways forward to put into practice the art of discernment when it comes to watching film.

One difficulty with a book like this is there is some necessary oversimplification. For example, Godawa, in his discussion of existentialism, writes: “Existentialism accepts the Enlightenment notion of an eternally existing materialistic universe with no underlying meaning or purpose” (95). Oddly, Godawa seems to downplay Kierkegaard’s very explicit Christian faith in light of his existential views, and Kierkegaard seems to become a kind of pariah through this analysis. Kierkegaard, for Godawa, is strangely aberrant from his general picture of existentialism as necessarily godless and without purpose.

At other points, films receive short shrift are are discussed in ways which seem a bit odd. Of course, engagement with these points actually encourages the sort of critical interaction Godawa is pursuing. Some offhand comments are a bit awkward and out of place (for example the bare assertion that “men are the leaders in home and public roles” in Christianity without qualification–in contrast with the declared equality of genders in Galatians 3:28 and the apostleship of a woman in Romans 16:7), but overall these negative points are outweighed by the service Godawa has done to provide critical perspective on worldviews in film.

Hollywood Worldviews is a great book which will encourage much discussion. It would serve as a good resource for those who wish to meaningfully engage the culture. People who read it will be equipped to have thoughtful conversations on the way movies put forth worldviews. The book should come with a warning, though, some of your favorite movies may not be what they seem!

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).

Source

Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

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.

Intelligent Design in Fiction – Ben Bova’s “New Earth” and Intelligent Design

bb-neBen Bova is a six time winner of the Hugo Award. His books hit best seller lists, and he is acknowledged as one of the all-time masters of science fiction. I’ve already explored several themes found in one of his latest books, New Earth. Here, we will look at how one might view the book as a fictionalization of the way to discover intelligent design in unexpected places. I should note that I am highly doubtful that Bova intended the book to be viewed through this lens, which makes the discovery of such a possible theme more surprising. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Expectations

When a team from Earth discovered the planet they dubbed “New Earth,” it defied explanation. Between a pair of stars, one of which went nova in the relatively recent past, the timing was off for such a planet to exist. The strangeness of the planet only increased when life was discovered on its surface. Finally, when intelligent life in fairly similar form to humans greet the human visitors in English, the astonishment of the explorers is complete.

But of course that’s not all that is strange about the planet. Under the surface it is actually hollow, with metal mantle that contains a gravity generator. Each of these aspects ultimately leads to the inescapable conclusion: the planet was designed for life, specifically life like that of Earth. The revelation comes from a Precursor–an ancient, sentient machine–the planet was designed to lure humans into first contact so a message of coming destruction could be delivered. The planet and the life on it were indeed designed with purpose. The eeriness of the situation is, in fact, telling.

Finding Design

In New Earth, when things show up with unexpected parameters or where they “should not be,” it is reason for further scientific exploration. Ultimately, this exploration yields the conclusion of design. I must emphasis this aspect of the book: design is not a hypothesis excluded at the outset. Instead, it is the logical outcome of putting the disparate pieces of evidence–unexpected location, age, life, types and forms of life, breathable atmosphere, hollow planet, etc.–together.

Put this in perspective: today one of the major critiques against the notion of “intelligent design” in the origins of life, its diversity, or our universe is that, essentially, one must have an a priori commitment to reject such intelligent causes as some kind of primitive magical reality in which people believe anything. However, in New Earth, epistemic openness to the possibility of design leads to real scientific discovery… of design.

I can’t help but think there is something informative here. The notion that scientific hypotheses must, by definition, exclude design not only would–if consistently practiced–remove any notion of agent causation from any situation (such as a human doing something), but could also hamper actual discovery. Methodological naturalism–the notion that science must operate in such a way as to exclude the possibility of agency–could actually be limiting the scientific enterprise. This is not to say that any unexpected observation should immediately be credited to design. Rather, my point is that if design is the most plausible of competing hypotheses, there is no reason to exclude it from the realm of possibility.

New Earth provides just such an example of how, ultimately, design was a better operating hypothesis than rival theories. When the explorers initially discussed the strange circumstances in the planet (specifically its seeming impossible location), one character remarked that [paraphrased] “It’s here! The models must be wrong!” Ultimately, this exclamation was shown to be incorrect: the models remained correct but did not account for the possibility of design.

Conclusion

One might note that Bova’s work perhaps shows the disjunct between design and naturalistic process. The juxtaposition of New Earth and its unexpected location, age, flora, and fauna against Earth’s more “typical” age and location provides readers with a reduced sense of the wonders of Earth. Moreover, in Bova’s broader canon, even Mars at one point had intelligent life upon its surface.

However, one must look to Earth and consider what we actually do observe rather than simply declaring that Earth “is here” so it must have gotten here through naturalistic means. Does Earth (or our universe) provide evidence for the hypothesis of design? That is, is design a more plausible explanation than naturalistic explanations which are offered? That’s a question which will take much exploration.

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!

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled with Life?- A reflection on Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”- I explore the notion that life should be expected all over the place in a post that looks at some of Bova’s most recent works.

Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God- Here, I present evidence that our universe indeed has been designed.

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale- I take a look at the book Fitzpatrick’s War, a novel of alternative history with steampunk. What could be better? Check out some of the worldview issues brought up in the book.

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

Source

Ben Bova, New Earth (New York: Tor, 2013).

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.

Comic Review: “Samson the Nazirite: Volume 1″

samson-naziriteSamson the Nazirite is the latest installment from Rooted Chronicles, a publisher describing itself as follows: “Our stories, or chronicles if you will, are a visual retelling of the Bible.  We have passion, love, and reverence for the Scriptures, and so we strive to stay true, grounded, and rooted to the Biblical account we are retelling.” Samson is one of my favorite biblical characters, so I was excited to see his story depicted in comic book form. Here, we’ll take a look at it from an apologetic perspective.

Bible to Comic

One difficulty with putting stories from the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) into other forms of narration is that the biblical account is often undetermined. That is, there are rarely many details that we are used to in our novels. Samson’s story is one which has more detail in the narration than many, and the comic plays off of that  by enhancing the narrative elements. It is very true that the comic stays close to the biblical account, while also introducing names and characters not mentioned therein.

The art in Samson the Nazirite is breathtaking. Seriously, this has some simply fantastic artwork. The details, shading, and depth in each panel are astounding. When the spirit of the LORD comes upon Samson, it comes in visual ways (creative license) by shining of Samson’s flesh at times.

The story is as compelling as it has always been to me. An imperfect man is chosen by God to carry out God’s will on Earth. Samson is depicted as I would imagine him: a oft-violent, impetuous, obsessive man. But he also realizes that he is part of God’s plan and his personality is at times tempered by that. I can’t wait to see the conclusion in volume 2.

Apologetic

The visual arts offer compelling ways to relate to the Bible in unforeseen ways. By seeing the story on paper, we are able to conceptualize it in ways not always immediate in the text. in Samson, for example, the angel of the LORD appears brightly as a shining angel. The strangeness of the situation and the fear such an appearance could bring about are made plain on the pages of a comic. By advancing the narrative through this visual medium, the author and artists create an apologetic narrative for the biblical text. The pictures draw us, like the story, to consider meaning beyond the text and images.

The practice of creating art like this comic is itself an apologetic practice. By thinking of imagery which will capture the imagination, the creators of a comic are engaging in a discourse with the text, drawing out its meaning in imaginative ways. The imagination is deeply connected to the intellect (consider the Narnia series, for example). Thus, by engaging the imagination, the creators of Samson also engage the mind in unique ways.

Comics?

I have talked to others about comic books as means to communicate Scripture before, and have been met with some resistance. One major critique is the notion that comics cannot adequately convey the meaning of the text. However, extensive portions of Scripture are grounded in narrative through visual imagery which lends itself to the visual arts. Anyone who has seen paintings of various biblical scenes knows that a single painting can capture the imagination and thus capture the intellect in unforeseen ways. Seeing something depicted through the arts allows one to engage on different levels. Thus, I would argue that comics are an appropriate way to transmit biblical narratives.

Conclusion

Samson the Nazirite offers a compelling way to consider the biblical truths in new ways. Through its engaging art and story, readers are drawn to consider the truths beyond the imagery and called to the text of Scripture. By engaging with the mind, the comic compels deeper understanding and immersion in the story of God’s action in human history. I encourage readers to pick up the comic either at the website Samson the Nazirite in a hard copy or on kindle.

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

Sunday Quote!- Every Story has a Worldview

hw-godawaEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Every Story Has a Worldview

I finished reading Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment by Brian Godawa the other day and thought it was pretty solid (though not entirely without faults). One interesting quote was in regards to fiction and worldview:

Every story is informed by a worldview. And so every movie, being a dramatic story, is also informed by a worldview. There is no such thing as a neutral story in which events and characters are presented objectively apart from interpretation. Every choice an author makes… is determined by the author’s worldview. (60)

Godawa’s point is similar to what I say quite often, with almost the exact words: every movie has a worldview. The same, as Godawa states, is true for any story. Every time someone tells a story, whether it is one they made up or one they picked up somewhere, it is slanted with worldview. We should be aware of this fact and be ready to critically engage with any story–fictional or non–so that we can bring into light the truths and falsehoods each story may contain.

What’s your best technique for critically engaging worldview in film? What other arts have you critically interacted with? How have you approached these?

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.

Source

Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task

dh-extremist

Here, we’ll take a look at a recent album released by a favorite band of mine. Then, we’ll look at how this project relates to the broader field of apologetics.

Demon Hunter continues to release album after album, much to the delight of their fans (like me!). The heavy metal (in the spirit of nu metal/metalcore) band is formed of Christians who speak their faith through lyrics.

Musically, the album shows the range Demon Hunter has developed over time. There are a few ballads interspersed among numerous heavy riffs and screaming. The lead singer, Ryan Clark, has developed much since the first album. His voice is haunting when he sings, and his screaming continues to reverberate through the guitars and drums.

The lyrics are where the album truly shines. In “The Heart of a Graveyard,” for example, we find an existential call to awareness of the transcendent: “Tell me that your hopes and dreams don’t end in/the heart/Of a graveyard.” The cry to realize there is more to life than an ending “six feet” under is quite poignant. “I Will Fail You” is a heart-rending look into human nature: “I will fail you, of that I’m sure/I will remind you of the pain forevermore/And when my sins are just a memory, faith restored/I will fail you to the core.” The words are reminiscent of Paul’s words regarding his own failings in Romans 7:19 and present a clear call to the need for repentance. “Artificial Light” rejects the false replacements for true comfort and peace offered by a sinful world.

Overall “Extremist” is another excellent entry into Demon Hunter’s ever-growing list of hits. The music is intense, but the lyrics are truly the star in this album. From the existential need for salvation to themes of repentance and insight into human nature, Demon Hunter hit this one on all cylinders. I highly recommend the album.

So why post this review on a website dedicated to philosophy of religion, theology, and apologetics? Let’s not forget that one of the tasks of the apologist is to critically engage culture at every level. What part of reality falls outside the purview of the Christian worldview? Short answer: no part does. I want to encourage my fellow apologists to engage with the arts as much and as often as possible.

Not only that, but an album and band like this is capable of becoming an apologetic itself. I’ll never forget hearing Demon Hunter’s song “Thorns” for the first time (from an earlier album) and relating it back to the reality of the Cross and Jesus resurrection. Music like this which is lyrically fulfilling is itself an apologetic presentation. The fact that a band like Demon Hunter has the talent to headline shows at Ozzfest, among others, speaks to the appeal of the Christian worldview even in a culture which allegedly remains “checked out.” I thus also want to appeal to my fellow Christians generally: use the talents God gave you. Your worldview will come through in your writing, playing, painting, sculpting, and the like. God has uniquely gifted you to be a light to the nations.

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 reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

Book Review: “Think Christianly” by Jonathan Morrow- Take a look at this book about how we might engage with Christianity in every aspect of our lives.

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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