apologetics

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Constantine’s Faith and the Myth of “Constantine’s Takeover”

Constantine-1There is a narrative within some branches of Christianity (and some… “offshoots”) regarding church history. It is a narrative in which Constantine is seen as the great evil (whether intentionally or not) which corrupted Christianity. The narrative basically goes like this: Constantine rose to power, then everything went wrong in Christianity. He made Christianity the state religion, which introduced scores of nominal Christians into the church. He made service in the church a well-paying position, which corrupted the office of the ministry. He himself was probably not even a Christian!

So the story goes. Is it accurate?

From Narrative to History

The question of Constantine is one of history. Too often, people have subjected Constantine to psychoanalysis, analyzing an ancient historical figure’s mental state to determine his motives. Historical study may indeed speculate about such things, but to suggest, as some do, that one may uncover some nefarious ancient plot to take over Christianity and lead it into heresy is to engage in writing historical fiction. So what may we actually learn from the historical accounts? Peter Leithart’s work, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom directly addresses this question to pursue the “real” Constantine.

Leithart notes that it seems clear that Constantine actually paid much deference to Christianity (Leithart, 93; 121ff; 128-129; 326-328, etc., cite below). He was keen to prevent major divisions within the Church which could have resulted, for example, from the Arian controversy. Hence, he called a council at Nicaea which would define Christian orthodoxy for centuries to come. Constantine himself likely favored the view of Arius, but when the Nicene Council ultimately came against Arianism, Constantine submitted to the defining of orthodoxy.

Constantine’s life appears to be one not of a plot to take Christianity over for political gain, but rather as a life lived struggling with newfound faith and attempting to integrate that faith into public policy. Alister McGrath notes that Constantine’s faith led him to legalize Christianity and sanction it, with some interesting and perhaps unforeseen side-effects:

The new imperial status of Christianity meant that its unity and polity were now matters of significance to the state. (McGrath, 139, cited below)

The much-discussed question of why, if Constatine’s faith were genuine, he would have waited until his deathbed to get baptized is easily answered by his belief that he should wait until the last possible moment to gain the purifying from sins which baptism would provide (Leithart, 299-300).

Frankly, the more one reads about Constantine, the more difficult it becomes to imagine him as someone whose faith was not genuine. Like any Christian, he had his faults–he was a sinner-saint–but he also worked through his position to try to spread and unite Christianity. Leithart notes that many of Constantine’s laws were “more often Christian in effect than in intent” (304). What he means by this is that many laws he made spring from a Christian worldview, though not being explicitly Christian themselves. For example, he outlawed gladiator shows–hardly something which can be said to be explicitly Christian–and this demonstrated Constantine’s genuine concern for human life and the “image of God” in humanity which was noted in yet another law he made (303-304).

In another work, a collection of essays on  Apologetics in the Roman EmpireMark Edwards, having traced various lines of thought in Oration to the Saints (and arguing that it was a work by Constantine), notes:

[The work] reveals an emperor who was able to give more substance to his faith than many clerics, and an apologist whose breadth of view and fertile innovations make it possible to mark him with the more eminent theologians of his age (275).

It’s time to set aside the notion that Constantine was somehow “faking it.”

dc-leithartConstantine’s Takeover?

The “narrative” of Constantine has, unfortunately, often dipped into the notion that he was indeed a Pagan who overthrew traditional Christianity and condemned Christianity to political power-plays for centuries after his death. This notion simply does not line up with historical reality. Although Constantine’s enriching of the church’s coffers did lead to church positions becoming a political gain, it also provided a counter-balance to Imperial authority (Leithart, 304).

Moreover, Leithart argues that the notion that Constantine himself brought about so many wrongs to the church is historically fictitious: “[T]here was a brief, ambiguous ‘Constantinian moment’ in the early fourth century, and there have been many tragic ‘Constantinian moments’ since. There was no permanent, epochal ‘Constantinian shift'” (287). Indeed, the notion of church and state was something found seeded in Augustine’s writings (286) and although Constantine did bring about some monumental changes, the effects they had could only take place over vast amounts of time. It would be impossible to argue that the Catholic Church of the Medieval Period was directly the same or even the exact result of Constantine’s policy.

Finally, Constantine’s policies and actions “Baptized Rome” (Leithart, 301ff). He built churches, empowered bishops, called for unity, and deferred to church teaching. His laws, as noted above, were rooted in a genuinely Christian worldview and sprung from faith.


Conclusion: Defending Constantine

Was Constantine a perfect human? Obviously not. But was Constantine a Pagan who dramatically undermined Christianity; was he a usurper of the Church’s authority who did incalculable damage to Christianity? It does not seem so. Whatever your views on the matters, one must contend with strong historical evidence for the genuineness of Constantine’s faith.  His policies indeed may have (and at points certainly did) damage the church, but was that his intent? Again, psychoanalysis of ancient figures is dubious, but the actions Constantine took were those of someone with genuine concern for the stability of Christianity. Most telling, perhaps, were his actions that were not explicitly stamped with Christianity but reflective of his background beliefs: by seeking to end violence, help alleviate poverty, and the like, he demonstrated his faith.

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!

Sources

Peter Leithart, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom

Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

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.

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Honoring Giftedness- Women in David Weber’s science fiction

The_Honor_of_the_QueenDavid Weber is the author of a few New York Times Bestselling science fiction series. One, the Honor Harrington series, follows a woman who starts off as a captain of a starship sent on routine (and initially boring) missions. The second book in the series, The Honor of the Queen portrays its main character becoming involved in a wartime crisis between two nations with whom Honor’s home Kingdom is attempting to set up an alliance. There are SPOILERS for this book in what follows.

The two nations are complementarian in nature. Complementarianism is the theological belief that men and women are “complementary” in roles, which means that men should be in charge in the church and home. I have discussed it and the rival view that women should be ordained/treated as equals (egalitarianism) at length elsewhere [scroll down to see other posts].

What really struck me is that David Weber fairly presented firm theistic believers as a spectrum. In the future, the Christian Church has continued to reform and have splinter groups form because of this. Weber’s presentation of the issue showed that believers–even some who might be considered extreme–can be reasoned with and even persuaded to believe differently based upon evidence. Furthermore, he showed that even those who may line up on the side with which he disagrees are not all (or even mostly) blinded by faith or foolishness. Rather, although there are some truly evil and disillusioned people, Weber shows that many are capable of changing their position or at least acknowledging that rival views are worth consideration.

The most vivid portrayal of this theme is found in a conversation between Admiral Courvosier and Admiral Yakanov. Courvosier is from the same nation as Honor Harrington and wholly endorses his female officer in a position of command. They discuss Captain Honor Harrington:

[Yanakov responds to Courvosier's question about his society's reaction to Honor]: “If Captain Harrington is as outstanding an officer as you believe–as believe–she invalidates all our concepts of womanhood. She means we’re wrong, that our religion is wrong. She means we’ve spent nine centuries being wrong… I think we can admit our error, in time. Not easily… but I believe we can do it.”

“Yet if we do[" Yanakov continues, "]what happens to Grayson [Yanakov's world]? You’ve met two of my wives. I love all three of them dearly… but your Captain Harrington, just by existing, tells me I’ve made them less than they could have been… Less capable of her independence, her ability to accept responsibility and risk… How do I know where my doubts over their capability stop being genuine love and concern?” (96, cited below)

The exchange is characteristic of the way Grayson’s people are treated throughout the book. They are real people, capable of interacting with other views in honest ways. They feel challenged by a view contrary to their own. Some react poorly, and there are extremists who are blinded by hatred and anger. Yet all of them are treated as people with real concerns shaped by their upbringing and backgrounds.

Honor Harrington ends up saving Grayson, and at the end of the book, she is commended by the rulers of that planet. She talks to the “Protector” [read: king/president] of Grayson:

“You see,” [said the Protector] “we need you.”

Need me, Sir?” [Responded Honor]

“Yes, Grayson faces tremendous changes… You’ll be the first woman in our history to hold land… and we need you as a model–and a challenge–as we bring our women fully into our society.” (419)

Weber thus allows for even ardent supporters of specific religious backgrounds to respond to reasoned argument and to change. They are capable of interacting on a human level and deserve every bit of respect as those who disagree with them. Again, there are those who are radicals and will not be reasoned with, but they are the minority and they do not win out.

The dialogue presented in this book provides some interesting insight into facets of the present dialogue between complementarians and egalitarians. David Weber’s fictional character presented a challenge to the Grayson’s notions of what it meant to be a woman by being an excellent officer and professional. There are, it seems, real “Honor Harringtons” out there, challenging preconceived notions of what it is to be a woman. When, for example, a woman takes on the role of leadership in the church and succeeds, that should not be dismissed as a fluke, but rather a challenge to a paradigm which may itself be undercutting women’s ability to succeed.

On a personal note, I have been challenged in exactly this way. When I was younger, I was a complementarian and was confronted by a woman who destroyed my presuppositions about what a woman “could do” spiritually. She showed that she could be a leader and present Christ to all without having to fit into role I defined for her. This real challenge caused me to realize that my notions of what a woman “should be” were themselves social constructs, not anything derived from the Bible. Like Yanakov, I had to rethink what my words and actions had done to perhaps limit the women around me. By God’s grace, this woman’s very existence forced me to rethink what I had assumed as truth and go back to God’s word to see where I had gone wrong.

David Weber’s own presentation of Honor Harrington as a paradigm-shattering woman is something that hits close to home for me. For you, dear reader, I think it is worth considering the same: who has challenged your view of what they are “supposed to be”? Is your view of someone’s giftedness directly drawn from the Bible or is it something that you’ve just always assumed? As for me, I think we need more Honor Harringtons in our lives.

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!

Check out my posts on egalitarianism (scroll down for more).

Source

David Weber, The Honor of the Queen (New York: Baen, 1993).

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.

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.

Book Review: “The New Atheist Novel” by Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate

tnaa-bradley-tateThere are moments in which you pick up a book and are delivered into a completely unexpected and fresh-feeling experience. The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11 was one such experience for me. Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate take readers on a journey through the literature of four modern authors who, they argue, are representative of a new form of novel: the “New Atheist Novel.” This novel is a kind of counter-mythology which invents the transcendent within an atheistic universe. Bradley and Tate analyze the work of Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Philip Pullman, and Salman Rushdie. The authors show how some have shifted their polemic after 9/11 to viewing religion as a kind of one-size-fits all mentality that has no distinction between liberalism and fundamentalism.

Bradley and Tate apply critical theory to the works of fiction presented in this book in incisive fashion. They draw out themes of the authors analyzed in order to show how often they are just as guilty of irrationality as those against whom they pontificate through the voices in their novels. 

Ian McEwan’s fiction, they argue, shows a distinctly New Atheist bent. He sees religious persons as ultimately violent and anti-intellectual. Interstingly, McEewan’s vision of transcendence develops through music and the written word. His post 9/11 writings show a more distinctly anti-Islamist bent, which sees religion as a failure of the imagination. However, Tate and Bradley argue that McEwan’s imagination is itself failing in its capacity to see the radical Muslim act of terror as inherently symbolic and transcendent itself.

This kind of analysis proceeds across the authors analyzed, from Martin Amis’ cliché-filled war against cliché to Salmun Rushdie’s more even-handed but nevertheless anti-theistic vision of the “Quarrels over God.” The analysis of Philip Pullman’s work is perhaps the highest point of the work, as it shows how even in disagreement, one might learn from the “New Atheist Novel.” Pullman’s work shows the myth of the death of God as a kind of human transcendence and freedom from restraint. This vision may be seen as a sometimes on target critique of religion which sometimes becomes authoritarian and too bent towards heresy-hunting. Tate and Bradley ultimately see Pullman’s fiction as a kind of neo-heresy which is attempting to purify religion of its alleged bent towards fundamentalism and too-small vision of deity.  

The book’s usefulness goes beyond simple critique. Instead, it gives readers a chance to interact with all literature in a critical fashion. Moreover, Bradley and Tate are not entirely unsympathetic to the “New Atheist Novel” and show how it may help to inform future discussions. The critical interaction is not merely critical but also constructive.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in the book is that its thesis doesn’t seem to carry throughout. The “New Atheist Novel” makes its debut with McEwan, but by the time the author’s reach Rushdie’s slightly more amiable vision of religions in conflict, it seems to lack cohesion as a concept. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the “New Atheist Novel” is more of an “Anti- (or Alter-) Theistic Novel” which encompasses not mere anger against religion but rather a critical and sometimes polemical and mistaken vision of the “religious other.” Thus, it seems in the end the “New Atheist Novel” namenclature might not be inaccurate after all, but I tend to think–and the authors reinforce this–of the “New Atheism” along specifically Dawkinsian lines of thought, and Rushdie and Pullman’s works did not seem to fit this usage of the term. A minor gripe, but one worth noting.

This is a book well worth reading and referencing. Don’t be deceived by its length (111 pages of text); it truly has an enormous amount of useful information and discussion. I took a monstrous amount of notes on this book given its length. It will get you thinking, whatever your own view. I recommend it without reservation.

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!- The New Atheist Mythology- I share a quote from The New Atheist Novel which discusses the notion that there is a mythology growing up around atheism.

Source

Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11  (New York: Continuum, 2011).

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: “In Search of Moral Knowledge” by R. Scott Smith

ismk-smith

R. Scott Smith’s In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy is a systematic look at the possibility of moral knowledge in various metaethical systems, with an argument that a theistic, and specifically Christian, worldview is the most plausible way to ground the reality of morals.

Smith begins by providing overviews of various historical perspectives on ethics, including biblical, ancient (Plato and Aristotle), early (Augustine through Aquinas), and early modern (Reformation through the Enlightenment) systems. This survey is necessarily brief, but Smith provides enough information and background for readers to get an understanding of various ethical systems along with some difficulties related to each.

Next, the major options of naturalism, relativism, and postmodernism for ethics are examined in turn, with much critical interaction. For example, Smith argues that ethical relativism is deeply flawed in both method and content. He argues that relativism does not provide an adequate basis for moral knowledge, and it also undermines its own argument for ethical diversity and, by extension, relativism. Moreover, it fails to provide any way forward for how one is to live on such an ethical system and is thus confronted with the reality that it is unlivable. Ultimately, he concludes that “Ethical Relativism utterly fails as a moral theory and as a guide to one’s own moral life” (163).

For Naturalism, however, Smith contends the situation is even worse: “we cannot have knowledge of reality, period, based on naturalism’s ontology. Yet there are many things we do know. Therefore, naturalism is false and we should reject it not just for ethics, but in toto” (137). His argument for this thesis is, briefly, that naturalism has no basis for mental states–and therefore, for beliefs–and so we cannot have knowledge (see 147ff especially).

Various postmodern theses are also examined, including the highly influential views of Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. Ultimately, Smith argues that there are several issues with these ethical positions, and primary among them is the difficulty that without any facts which are un-interpreted, there is no way to have moral knowledge, dialogue, or grounding (see 264ff, esp. 265; 277-278).

Finally, the book ends with Smith’s proposal for grounding moral knowledge: namely, Christian theism. First, he notes that there is a “crisis of moral knowledge” which is that it seems we really do have moral knowledge, but no solid basis for this knowledge. However, to solve the difficulty, we may find another ethical stance which can support this fact of moral knowledge. For supporting this thesis, he both presents arguments for Christian theism and notes the paucity of rival positions.

One major strength of Smith’s work is that he doesn’t merely outline or only critique the ethical systems with which he interacts. Instead, each system is allowed to present its theses on its own terms before Smith turns to a critical assessment. This is particularly evident in his interactions with Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas–each of whom has a dedicated chapter to their own systems and then a shared chapter of analysis and critique–but is the case in each instance of a system which he evaluates. This strength is increased when one considers the number of ethical systems Smith interacts with throughout the book. Although no work of this length (or any length, really) could be truly comprehensive, here is offered a broad enough variety of ethical theories that readers will be able to engage with those which are not mentioned.

There are tables scattered throughout the book which actually add quite a bit to the readability and argument. I commend Smith for a great use of these tools throughout the work.

I would have liked to see more development of the positive notion of exactly how Christian theism serves as the basis for moral knowledge. Smith does provide some clear insight into this, but it seems that after the significant development given to so many rival theories, the case for the Christian perspective could have gone deeper.

R. Scott Smith has accomplished an enormous achievement with In Search of Moral Knowledge both by providing an excellent survey and critique of relevant ethical systems and by coupling it with a positive case for a theistic–Christian–grounding for morality. The book can serve as an excellent text for a class on ethics, but may also be used by those interested in exposure to and critical insight into various ethical systems. Smith’s argument for Christian metaethics is compelling and strong, and his criticisms leveled against other systems–particularly naturalism and relativism–are crucial.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher. 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!

Source

R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014).

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.

Original Monotheism and the Rebuttal from Missionaries

ibg-wcOne of the strongest pieces of evidence for original monotheism is the presence within many cultures of an early belief in a “Great Spirit” or a single high god. Often, belief in this deity continues, but that deity is seen as far off and largely uninterested in the affairs of people due to some great sin in the past or present (readers should note that I am generalizing to an extreme degree here and are encouraged to read the book discussed herein for more and better details). Oddly, anthropologists and others have persisted in alleging that this belief is itself a product of missionary activity rather than a reflection of history.

Winfried Corduan, in his recent book In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheismaddresses this claim head on. The claim continues to be found in text books noting that, for example, “Christian ideas had evidently spread from tribe to tribe in advance of the missionaries…” (Spencer, Jennings, et al. Native Americans, 366, cited in Corduan, 204, full citation below).

Think about this claim for a moment, though. Suppose Westerners make their first contact with a native tribe. This tribe demonstrates a belief in a high god who has grown angry over sin and thus remains distant. Now, the claim is made that instead of this being a belief the tribe has retained over time, it has actually come from Christian missionaries and spread, like a game of telephone, from tribe to tribe ahead of the missionaries themselves.

Corduan notes a major difficulty with this. Apart from being a wholly “a priori declaration,” this claim runs counter to findings of how cultural diffusion works. “If these supreme beings were inconsistent with the rest of these cultures, if in some tribes they never received any worship…. it makes no sense that all of these tribes picked [monotheistic beliefs] up instantaneously. It is utterly implausible, which may just be the reason there is no evidence for it” (204).

Realistically, this “rebuttal from missionaries” makes little sense of the data at hand. Historically, however, it gained credence through a general bias against anything a Christian missionary might report. “The dogma that no Christians, particularly no missionaries, could be trusted for anything they reported, except, of course, when it happened to suit what the academicians in power were advocating, was deeply ingrained in the universities of Europe at the time…” (90). One must realize how true this statement is. The very people who were studying anthropology and coming to conclusions about how any reports of original monotheism must be due to missionary activity or bias were themselves using those same reports–which, remember, were so full of biased they could not be trusted to describe beliefs accurately–to generate their own theories of the origins and spread of religion.

Another major difficulty with the “rebuttal from missionaries” is that it flies in the face of observed behavior. For example, many of the tribes encountered kept their belief in such a supreme being secret: “almost invariably women, children, and the uninitiated were uninformed about the supreme being” (101). This, of course, begs the question: “Why would the initiated, having learned about God from the missionaries, subsequently keep that knowledge secret from the people who taught it to them just a few years earlier?” (ibid).

Thus, it seems that the allegation that any purported belief in original monotheism must have been due to missionary influence is an extremely flawed notion. Not only does it fly in the face of the way cultural diffusion works, but it also doesn’t make sense of the observed behavior of the peoples involved. Those who wish to explore more should check out Corduan’s In the Beginning God. I have clearly derived the argument here from that book, and I’d like to credit his phenomenal piece (I reviewed it 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!

Book Review: “In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism” by Winfried Corduan- I review Corduan’s book and touch on only a few of the many interesting topics contained therein.

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?- I analyze some of Corduan’s comments regarding Sigmund Freud’s theorizing about the origin of religion.

Sunday Quote!- Is Monotheism from Egypt?- I provide a brief quote from Corduan’s book and note how it may interface with some theories related to the source of monotheism.

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 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.

“Family Guy” is no friend of atheists

creation-of-adam-detailI used to watch almost every episode of Family Guy in the first season or two. I thought it was sometimes a clever show, but as it went on it seemed to devolve into a series of flashbacks and random, drawn-out asides which broke apart the coherence of the story. I recently saw most of an episode of “Family Guy” in which it was revealed that Brian, the family’s dog (who talks and is essentially part of the family), is an atheist. The episode is called “Not All Dogs Go to Heaven.”

My first observation is that despite the apparent intent to make people more aware of the demonization which happens with atheists, the episode does not portray Brian in the best light by any means. For one, Brian’s reasons for remaining an atheist are revealed to be a bit absurd to say the least. When Meg–the daughter who is often the butt of jokes on the show–asked Brian why he doesn’t believe in God given “all the evidence,” he responded with an argument that made my jaw drop. To paraphrase him, he said that Hubble Space Telescope has been taking so many amazing pictures of the wonders of the universe but has never found some old man with a white beard “out there” somewhere. It then cut to an aside with an old man with a beard riding on something with some sweet music in the background [see my comments on the show being a bunch of asides and flashbacks].

Seriously, that is apparently one of Brian’s main reasons for rejecting theism, according to the episode. Really? I don’t know if this is really a reflection of what Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) believes about Christianity; but if it is he needs to perhaps reflect upon his own rejection of it. The notion that God should be found somewhere in the physical universe by something as simplistic as the Hubble Space Telescope (or anything, for that matter) and would be seen as an old man with a beard is… well, obscene. If that were my picture of what Christians believed, I’d be an atheist too. But Christians don’t believe this. Instead, they believe that God is spirit and one cannot artistically make anything which looks like God. The old man with a beard was popularized by some Christian art which, for the sake of depicting deity, chose that image to portray God. That doesn’t mean Christians actually believe God is an old man with a beard cruising through space somewhere.

The worst part about this scene is that it seems like Brian is supposed to get points for his response here somehow. That is, it’s like the viewer can feel a running tally going and apparently they’re supposed to check one off for the atheists. But gross misrepresentation of others’ religion does not mean that one has made a good point. Sure, people can sit around laughing at the notion that God is some old white guy–I’ll join them!–but to think that Brian said anything constructive is absurd. I realize it is a TV show, and a fairly shallow one at that, but I expected more. Mea Culpa, I suppose.

So it seems Brian’s atheism is based upon a farce. But that’s not the only reason I think this episode is actually unfriendly to atheists. In a later conversation with Meg, who has newly found a rather zealous faith, he confronts her belief directly with what is apparently some kind of knock-down argument because it destroys her faith:

Meg: “You are not gonna turn me from my faith, Brian!”
Brian: “Ok, fine. Then let me just ask you this. If there were a God would he put you here on Earth with a flat chest and a fat [butt]?”
Meg: “I’m made in his image…”
Brian: “Really? Would he give you a smoking hot mom like Lois and then have you grow up looking like Peter [her odd looking father]? …And what kind of God would put you in a house where no one respects or cares about you?”

That is essentially the extent of the comments on Brian’s reasoning for atheism. Apparently, for Brian [and perhaps MacFarlane, depending upon if he is actually sharing his view], God’s entire purpose should be to go around making everyone’s life the best possible life ever. God is some kind of cosmic vending machine, and if you don’t win the lottery, you should doubt the existence of that vending machine. What was most horrifying about this sequence, in my opinion, was the fact that the “image of God” was reduced down to having a hot body. Ridiculous! Being made in God’s image does not mean that everyone is going to be physically perfect. Such a notion completely misrepresents what is meant by the “image of God” which historic Christianity has long held refers to the intellect, soul, reason, etc.; not physical perfection or even physical form.

Brian’s last retort seems to seal the deal for Meg. After all, why would God put people in homes in which they aren’t cared for? Well, I don’t know, why would God put Joseph in a home in which his brothers sold him into slavery? Oh… right. You see, anyone who thinks that is an objection to the existence of God presumes they know better than God. That is, they know how to run things; they should be in charge. But I’m sorry to anyone who thinks that: you don’t. Moreover, why assume that we should know the reasons for this, or even that there are reasons? Again, I am stretching the philosophical muscle of the show quite a bit [understatement of the millenium], but the whole episode seems disingenuous.

The episode did do some good things, however, in showing the absurdity of mistreating and abusing atheists due to their lack of shared belief. I agree with this. We should not say atheists are automatically terrible people or that we wouldn’t want to live next to them. Anyone who does endorse mistreatment of atheists is acting in a decidedly un-Christian manner and should repent. Period. My point in this post is simply that this episode of Family Guy doesn’t do atheists any favors. It misrepresents Christianity in order to abuse it, but it also presents atheism in an extremely shallow way. Rather than spurring discussion, the episode merely seems bent upon mutual ridicule. I hope my atheist friends would choose, instead, to engage in dialogue rather than resorting to this kind of nonsense–and the same goes for my Christian friends as well.

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 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.

Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Explained

pw-jj…I realized that Pascal’s Wager is a much stronger argument than I had thought.

Let’s get it out of the way: Pascal’s Wager does not have much “street cred.” It’s much-maligned as nothing more than rolling the dice, and doing so for no good reason. After all, on which deity should one wager?

Here, I’ll take a look at one formulation of Pascal’s Wager, then very briefly offer a way to perhaps circumvent the “many gods” objection. I’ll be relying heavily upon Jeff Jordan’s book, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God, in what follows.

One way to lay out the Wager may be as follows (quoted from Jordan, 23, cited below):

1. for any person S, and alternatives, a and b, available to S, if the expected utility of a exceeds that of b, S should choose a
2. believing in God carries more expected utility than does not believing
3. Therefore, one should believe in God

Now, this is a pretty straightforward argument. 3, the conclusion, follows via modus ponens. Thus, it is up to the one who wants to deny 3 to deny one of the premises. Let’s examine each in turn.

Premise 1 seems to be logical, but it has actually garnered just as many objections as the second premise. Some have argued that one should not reduce belief in God to a “gamble” or some pragmatic choice. Others have argued that one cannot simply choose to believe and argued that the Wager results in Doxastic Voluntarism–the notion that one may simply change beliefs at will. In order to combat each objection in turn, one would have to show that it may be permissible to choose pragmatically even in religion. Jordan argues to this effect at length, but for the sake of argument I think it may be enough to just say that generally, we do make choices which we think will benefit us, and this is not an objectionable path of reasoning. Moreover, the Wager does not reduce to doxastic voluntarism, for one may indeed change one’s disposition toward something, but not at will. This is a complex argument, and I think we may set it aside for now because there is nothing in Premise 1 which would demand doxastic voluntarism.

Premise 2, of course, is highly contentious as well. Some allege that belief in God prevents the joys of hedonistic living; others allege that one would not know which deity to choose; still others would argue that there could exist deities that would reward unbelief.

Again, dealing with each in turn would take quite some time, so I’ll simply offer a few comments. First, hedonistic living in one life would not outweigh the benefits of eternity with a benevolent deity. Second, the Wager may simply be used to prefer theism generally–after all, if one does not wager on any deity, there would be no possibility of infinite (or nearly limitless) expected utility from one’s wager. Third, inventing fictions to attempt to rival established religious traditions which have, presumably, been believed by our epistemic peers (to use the term of Jordan, 80-81) does not put them on par.

Now, it should be fairly clear that even an incredibly low probability for God’s existence may have much higher expected utility than unbelief, for the overall possible gain is much higher. Jordan elaborates on this and answers many objections (such as the notion that “betting” on something which is highly improbable is necessarily irrational). For now, I simply leave this statement hanging because it helps my purpose, which is to demonstrate to those interested that the Wager is worth investigating further.

Because of the above, another of the strengths of the argument may be found in its usefulness to the apologist. Pascal’s Wager, Jordan argued, may be viewed as a kind of “last ditch” argument for apologists and theism (24). After all, suppose one were to come up with an argument which convinced you that the truth of theism is quite unlikely indeed. In that case, Pascal’s Wager provides a rational reason to continue to believe in God. For, even if it is unlikely that God exists, the utility of believing that God exists has a potentially infinite reward and thus trumps the utility of not believing that God exists.

Remember, though, that this functions for any possibility of God existing that is greater than zero. It was at this point in the book that I realized that Pascal’s Wager is a much stronger argument than I had thought. Not only may it be adequate to ground theistic belief, but it also may serve as a kind of bulwark against anti-theistic arguments as well.

I have argued that Pascal’s Wager may be formulated in such a way that one should believe in God. Now there is, of course, much more nuance and many more objections to each premise. Interested readers should check out Jeff Jordan’s Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God.

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!

Question of the Week: Wagering Much?- In this post, I asked the question of apologists about whether or not they used Pascal’s Wager. The feedback I got was diverse and interesting. Check out the post, and let me know your own thoughts.

Source

Jeff Jordan, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (New York: Oxford, 2006).

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.

On the “Fuzzification” of Inerrancy

fff-jwm[Theological a]djustment is achieved through “interpretation”–in theological parlance, hermeneutics… [I]f the loss of the term “inerrancy”… is fraught with sufficiently dire consequences, there will be the strongest temptation to retain these expressions while giving the Bible such “adjustive interpretation” that negatively critical approaches to it can be employed anyway. (Montgomery, 217, cited below)

The definition of inerrancy has been hotly disputed as of late. The infamous Geisler-Licona controversy, which continues to boil over at points, serves as a poignant example of this (see here for a Christianity Today article on the controversy; see also links below for a few discussions of the same). What is meant by inerrancy? Are we in a new era of Bible wars? These are the questions being asked right now.

I remember reading an essay from a book–Faith Founded on Fact–by noted Christian apologist John Warwick Montgomery entitled “The Fuzzification of Inerrancy.” The quote above comes from the essay, and it has gotten me thinking. Have lines been crossed? Where do we draw the lines anyway?

Montgomery defined “fuzzification” following James Boren. It is the “presentation of a matter in terms that permit adjustive interpretation” (217, cited below). Turning back to the quote above, the term speaks of the need to retain a specific idea essentially at all costs. Thus, when a challenge is raised to that idea, the idea is broadened or changed to incorporate the data raised by the challenge. Montgomery, originally writing in 1978, seems at times prophetic. He spoke of a time when one might see a contradiction, source theory, or even possibly an error in the Bible and simply define it as “a question of hermeneutics, not of inspiration at all!” (218); he worried about a time when “the ‘inerrancy’ with which one  is left is an inerrancy devoid of meaningful content”; and he warned of the dangers of “adjustive interpretation” (227).

I wonder, at times, whether his statements have come to fruition. When I survey various works from evangelicals on interpretation or hermeneutics I find a baffling array of ways we are to understand individual passages or how we are to interpret various passages. Turning to Church Fathers, I find a number of passages in which their readings would be unrecognizable today due to the heavy use of allegory in passages we take to be literal or explicitly historical in genre. Moreover, the question of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy looms large. As with any document, questions are raised about what exactly is meant in each clause or in what way individual denials or affirmations might be meant.

It’s enough to make one wonder whether it is time to go back to a baseline understanding. “I believe the Bible is true in whatever it teaches.”*

The question that will be immediately raised, of course, is “What does the Bible teach?” The overriding desire to restrict exactly what it is the Bible teaches and prevent so-called “liberal” scholarship from finding ground to stand on in evangelicalism has led to an incessant narrowing of the definition of inerrancy, such that clause after clause is piled one atop the other to the point that it is hard to operate within such limits. Moreover, it seems some of these definitions actually prevent development within theology and squelch the impulse to question received traditions in light of new evidence.

The danger that some may think is posed by whittling the definition of inerrancy down to something like “The Bible is true in all that it teaches” may perhaps have some of the concern negated by the fact that it gets the dialogue going. If people return to this question: if someone genuinely, with open heart and mind, asks me “What does the Bible teach?” then I think that’s a glorious thing. Moreover, one may wonder at the purpose of inerrancy: is it a way to declare that the Bible is without error (as it seems to be based on the word itself); or is it a way to define how we go about reading the Bible? After all, if it is simply a declaration that the Bible is without error, should not simply declaring it as such be sufficient?

Perhaps it’s time to de-“fuzzify” inerrancy and get back to the basics. We may ask “What is the thrust of the doctrine of inerrancy?” instead of “What rival theological views may I exclude with the definition of inerrancy?”

Perhaps the danger of “fuzzification” from dehistoricizing texts, critical scholarship, and the like has in fact led to a fuzzification of the definition of inerrancy by making it over-determine the limits within which one may operate. I’m not claiming to offer all the answers, nor should it be thought that I am rejecting inerrancy. Far from it.** What I am instead rejecting is a “fuzzification” of the doctrine: when did declaring the Bible to be God’s Word and Truth become so complex that volumes of books were necessary simply to define what that means?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

*This definition has suggested itself to me from a number of sources, including Nick Peters of Deeper Waters.

**I’m sure some people will take any questioning of current discussion about inerrancy to be denying the doctrine. However, this post is clearly written in order to defend the doctrine. What does inerrancy mean? That’s the thrust of this post, not “Inerrancy is false.” I believe the Bible is true in all it teaches.

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: “Faith Founded on Fact” by John Warwick Montgomery- I review Montgomery’s well-known book on apologetic methodology.

Inerrancy- Check out my other posts on this topic. (Scroll down for more posts.)

The Geisler/Licona Debate- Nick Peters has a number of posts on this controversy if you want to read up on the topic. This post summarizes the debate and offers a thoughtful critique, in my opinion.

The Geisler/Licona Controversy- A quick, easy read on the reasoning behind the controversy.

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.

“All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka – Truth, Human Nature, and Sacrifice

all-killOnce in a while, you read a book and you set it down on your chest after finishing it, just contemplating what happened. You are forced to think in new categories, to explore new dimensions. All You Need Is Kill was a book like that for me. Here, we’ll explore some of the major themes in the work that inspired the film “Edge of Tomorrow.” Check out my look at the film. There are SPOILERS in what follows. I’ll not sum up the plot, but a summary may be found here.

Truth and Taste

Right at halfway through the book, Sakurazaka shifts the focus from the main character, Keiji Kiriya, to Rita Vrataski, the American special forces operative who is known as the “Valkyrie” or “Full Metal *****.” There’s a photographer attached to her unit, who realizes the importance of taste and imagery in the matter of truth:

“Great lighting. Days like today can make even a steel-and-rivets airplane look like a da Vinci…”
“I take great pride in the role I play conveying the truths of this war to the public. Of course, 90 percent of the truth is lighting.” (100, cited below)

The somewhat cynical comments echo with our society which is obsessed with appearances. Models are photoshopped, a good logo keeps products in our memories, and a photo is able to shift entire perceptions of a conflict or event. The notion that 90% of truth may be determined by lighting certainly cannot refer to objective truth, but as far as perceived truth goes, it may be on-target in its emphasis on the way imagery can be manipulated to change our perceptions of truth. It is something to guard against.

Later, the same cameraman notes that a picture of a corpse may inspire revulsion or lawsuits, but “on the homepage of the New York Times, it could win you a Pulitzer Prize” (102). Again, these lines speak to the need to be wary of how our perceptions can shape reality as we see it. A self-critical attitude may help prevent some of the pull that someone may exert over us simply by shifting the perspective or lighting just a bit. I’m not calling for a shunning of imagery or anything of the sort–instead, I’m merely pointing out we need to be aware of how the way we view things visually may impact our beliefs, and be aware of the way that visuals may be manipulated.

The Shifting Sand of Human Experience

Keiji, as he experiences the looping of time, begins to contemplate the notion that humanity really is fleeting:

“Our lives should be written in stone. Paper is too temporary–too easy to rewrite.” (85)

The human condition is at the forefront in All You Need Is Kill because there is an urgency throughout the entire novel–how does Keiji end the loops, how might he escape the cycle, how could he end the threat to humanity? Put against the stark backdrop of extinction, Keiji’s reflection on human nature is poignant: humanity fades away. Our stories may be rewritten. If the alien race wins, there could be nothing left. Keiji longs for an experience of transcendence, a way to continue beyond the day-to-day activity of existing. He looks to be written in stone, but even that is not enough.

All You Need Is… Sacrifice

Ultimately, the only way to end the cycle is through sacrifice. Here is where the novel differs most radically from the film it inspired. Keiji is forced to kill Rita in order to break the loop. He must destroy that which he loves in order to save all of humanity. In a moving scene, Rita forces Keiji into battle with her in order to make him destroy her. As she dies from a mortal blow, she speaks to Keiji’s sacrifice:

“The Keiji Kiriya I know wouldn’t sacrifice the human race for himself.”

Keiji is forced to watch her die, realizing that it was the only way to save the human race. It is a sacrifice of the one for the many: a prioritization of the group over the individual. Though it is not explicitly a matter of self-sacrifice, in a way Keiji did just that: he gave up that which he loved most in order to save all of humankind. It is a theme which echoes powerfully with the Christian tradition.

Conclusion

All You Need Is Kill is a masterful piece of military science fiction. It is vulgar–often very vulgar–but it is also filled with themes that cause reflection and deep thought. It’s the kind of novel that sticks with you afterwards, forcing you to think on it. It challenges paradigms which you know hold sway. For the Christian, it teaches a theme of individual sacrifice being valued over individual satisfaction. To borrow from Anthony Weber in his overview, one may find echoes of John 15:13- “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

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!

“Edge of Tomorrow” – Sacrifice, Brutality, and Choice- I explore a number of themes found in the film based on this book. The two are very different, but reflect much of the same imagery.

All You Need Is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow- Anthony Weber looks over a number of themes in the book from a Christian perspective. If you read the book (or are planning to), check out this look in addition to the one you just read by me! Follow his site, because it is fantastic.

Source

Hiroshi Sakurazaka, All You Need Is Kill (San Francisco: Haikasoru, 2004).

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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