Literary Apologetics

This category contains 13 posts

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.

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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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“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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled With Life? – A reflection upon Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”

bb-farside

Ben Bova’s contributions to science fiction are monumental. A six-tme Hugo Award winner (!!), he is established as one of the most successful and entertaining authors of our time. I have quite enjoyed a number of his works, though I have at times been critical of his portrayal of religion. Bova’s major series, the “Grand Tour,” follows human exploration of the solar system (and at some points, beyond). The series is constructed in such a way as to not require readers to follow it chronologically. They are interlinked and interrelated, but not interdependent. Here, we’ll look at two recent books in this series which look at the discovery of an Earth-like planet. There will, of course, be major plot SPOILERS for both books in what follows.

Farside

After telescopes on Earth discover an Earth-sized planet relatively local to our own Solar System (ten light years away), the race is on to learn more about this planet. Farside portrays the struggles of a number of people in their efforts to build an observation base on the dark side of the moon. Jason Uhlrich seeks his Nobel Prize in his attempts to be the first to observe and chart the planet.

Life has already been found within the Solar System, and now two rivals rush to be the first to discover it in the great beyond of the stars. What is interesting is to note some of the assumptions that go into Bova’s characterization of life beyond Earth. First, one primary assumption seems to be that where there is water, there must be life. Second, life should be expected in all corners of the universe.

These assumptions are the subjects of much debate within the scientific community around the possibility of life on other planets and the origin of life. Regarding the former, there are those who do believe that life will be found in abundance throughout the universe. After all, given that we exist, life cannot be all that improbable, right? The other primary way of thinking is to argue that life is, in fact, quite rare in the universe and our own existence is a wonderfully improbable jackpot win.

bb-neNew Earth

New Earth picks up some time after the events of Farside. Humanity has sent an expedition to “New Earth.” Upon arrival, there is a great mystery: “New Earth” is eerily like Earth itself. It turns out that a machine known as a “predecessor” has created the planet and grown these human-like aliens as a way to break it to humanity that there is, in fact, more intelligent life “out there.” Moreover, there is a catastrophic event coming towards the whole arm of the Milky Way which will wipe out these intelligent species, and humanity needs to help preserve themselves and the other species.

Though skeptical, ultimately all the members of the expedition are convinced, and the book ends with the message reaching Earth and the gearing up to proceed on this mission given by the Predecessor.

Reflection

There are, of course, any number of things that one could nitpick regarding the plausibility of the scenarios Bova envisions (one would be the rewiring of Uhlrich’s brain to “see” via hearing and touch… how does that work?), but here we’ll focus on two aspects of the work: the plausibility of life outside Earth and the mythos of the benevolent alien.

In Farside, readers who haven’t surveyed the body of Bova’s work discover that the Solar System itself teems with life: life once flourished on Mars, and its vestiges remain; on Jupiter, creatures soar in the skies; life is found elsewhere throughout the System. Bova’s vision of the origin of life seems to be that if there’s water, there may be life. Yet one has to wonder about the plausibility of life forming on a planet like Jupiter. How might biochemical interactions with delicate balances of material be maintained for long? What of the distance to the sun? The origin of life requires all kinds of factors to be “just right” and it simply is not enough to fudge the numbers by saying “It could have happened this way.” To develop a hypothesis around ad hoc assumptions is faulty.

Intelligent life, as explicated in New Earth, is even more problematic. It is easier to have single celled organisms than to have the complexity needed for intelligence. Even granting a naturalistic scenario, the conditions must be even more tuned for life and allow for the nurturing of that life for extremely long periods of time. The universe is indeed huge beyond belief but one has to wonder if even that immensity is enough to repeat the conditions which occur on Earth.

Of course, in the end, one must acknowledge that these are tales of science fiction, not proposals about how science fact might be. There is a certain sense of awe and wonder involved in considering whether life could exist all over the Solar System. It seems to me, however, that if that is the case, it probably got there by means of Earth–blown off the surface of our planet by an asteroid and traveled through space to Mars and possibly beyond.

Another major theme found in both books is what I dubbed the “Myth of the Benevolent Alien.” There is a kind of pervasive battle in science fiction between the notions that aliens want us dead or that aliens are going to be ultimately some kind of saviors of humankind. New Earth brings this benevolence front and center: some unknown life form created these “Predecessors” to find and aid intelligent life. It’s a scenario filled with wonder and hope. But it’s also a scenario which I’ve found time and again in materialistic literature.

The way this story goes: wherever possible, life is certain. It’s a kind of appeal to a fantasy of a godless universe wherein it may be possible to find hope and meaning in the stars. As one character (I believe it is Grant) said in Farside: Ad astra! (To the stars!). Second, the actual inherent implausibility of life both leads to this longing (we don’t want to be alone) and to a search for meaning (how did we get here?). My own answer is that theism provides a more plausible explanation of both the longing for meaning, meaning itself, and the way in which life arose. Interestingly, however, the atheistic accusation that theists are engaged in wishful thinking is perhaps mirrored through various declarations made by naturalists themselves (see the post linked above and in the links below).

Bova’s novels thus serve as a way forward in this discussion. By illustrating our longing and loneliness through the fulfillment of our desires (the discovery of life and the notion that we are not alone), Bova grants readers their wishes. However, we ultimately come to realize that these are indeed just wishes. Perhaps, one day, a “New Earth” will be discovered. But even if that happens, it will not be enough to satisfy our loneliness, nor will it answer our ultimate questions. Theism is the ultimate antidote to loneliness, the ultimate answer for our questions.

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!

Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!- I analyze one aspect of materialism: the way that some look to hope in the “beyond” of the outer limits of the universe. Hope, for materialists, may come from the stars. Our salvation may lay beyond our solar system, in benevolent aliens who will bring great change and advances to us.

Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God- The incredible circumstances which allow for life to exist and thrive on Earth are the cause for not merely fictional speculation, but actual reflection upon our place in the universe and how it might relate to the transcendent. Check out this post which surveys the evidence for the existence of God found in “fine-tuning.”

Sources

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

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

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.

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- a Christian reflection on the most recently completed Star Wars series

sw-fotjStar Wars is not normally where I go to begin discussions about worldview. The most recently completed mini-series, however, “The Fate of the Jedi,” was full of material for discussing worldview perspectives. Here, I will only touch on a few of the many themes the series brought up. Some of these include world religions, objective morality, and theism. Of course, there will be HUGE SPOILERS for the Star Wars universe prior and up to this point. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM POSTING COMMENTS FROM OTHER STAR WARS STORYLINES.

I’ll not be summarizing the plot of the Fate of the Jedi series, which you may find by following the links for the individual books here.

World Religions and the Force

A huge part of the early stages of Fate of the Jedi involved Luke Skywalker and his son, Ben, traveling around the galaxy and visiting other various Force-using schools. These different Force-using schools paralleled, in many ways, various world religions. For example, the Baran Do Sages held onto a kind of gnostic way of knowing, where secret knowledge was preserved by a select group of masters to pass on from generation to generation. Another example is found in the Mind Walkers, who try to separate body from soul in order to walk in a completely different reality. Not only does this also seem gnostic in its bent, but it also reflects the notion of the extinction of the self found in some Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. There are a few other schools that the Skywalkers visit throughout their travels, and each has aspects of at least one world religion reflected therein.

Of interest is that the way the series approached the various parallels to world religions is that many of them appeared to be fairly obviously wrong. That is, they had a feel of wrongness to them, but they also seemed to get aspects of reality wrong. The Mind Walkers, for example, allowed their bodies to waste away while they experienced their own way of entering into the Force. One cannot help but sense a kind of aversion to this belief system, in which the body is so totally denigrated. Some of their comments also reflected a lack of concern for distinctions between good and evil. Yet again, this is a distinctive of some Eastern religions, and it is a way in which they are factually mistaken. Those who fail to make distinctions between good and evil, between reality and the mental life; they are operating under a mistaken view of reality.

The Fate of the Jedi, then, does not teach a kind of religious pluralism. Instead, it eschews pluralism for showing that some belief systems do not work. They simply do not line up with reality.

Redemption and Betrayal

The character of Vestara Khai is an extremely interesting figure. She may be the most complex character since Mara Jade. A Sith, she is captured by the Skywalkers, who initially do not trust her whatsoever (and for good reason). Yet, in a kind of typical story of conversion in the Star Wars universe, they begin to turn her to the Light Side of the Force. She realizes that her own life has not been based upon good, and she also acknowledges a distinction between good and evil. Her realization is centered around her relationship with her family and friends (such as they are). For a little while, it seems that Vestara is a true convert.

Yet the reader knows throughout that although Vestara has changed her whole way of viewing the universe, she is not entirely a convert. She still puts herself first. In fairness to her, she does so thinking that she is putting others first, and she often does seem to prioritize the needs of Ben–whom she’s come to love–over herself. But when push comes to shove, she betrays the trust of the Skywalkers in the most dire possible way, by giving away the secret identity of a loved one and dooming her to a life of dodging the Lost Tribe of the Sith. A commentary on the darker side of human nature, Khai’s life in the books also begs the question of where one goes from there: what redemption may be in store for someone who seems to have ruined all chances at salvation?

Prophecy and the Celestials

The notion of prophecy is found throughout the Star Wars universe. There was the prophecy of the “Chosen One”; later, prophecies revolved around the Sword of the Jedi and the Unification of the Force. Each of these prophecies were expected to be fulfilled. In the Star Wars universe, prophecy is the product of the Force. One wonders, however, how this plays out with what is an essentially impersonal force. It seems that in order to give revelation, there must be some kind of personal reality; for prophecy relates to the actions of persons.

Ultimately, readers encounter the Celestials–a group of beings (Father, Son, and Daughter… and later Mother) of extreme power. These beings are tied into the whole plot of the expanded universe books of Star Wars in some ingenious (and sometimes a bit questionable) ways. Although these beings may appear to parallel a kind of pantheon, it becomes clear that they are not. They may be seemingly eternal, but they are also contingent: it was entirely possible for them to be destroyed. Again, it is not these beings who drive reality; it is the Force. The Force is the power in the universe, the ‘all in all’ of the Star Wars universe. Yet, as I’ve argued above, it is hard to envision the force as entirely impersonal. It delivers prophecies and sometimes even answers the call of those in need. The “Trinity” created and driven by the Force ultimately drive the Force themselves in many ways.

Conclusion

The Fate of the Jedi series explores a huge number of issues related to worldview. I didn’t get to nearly all the major issues, let alone the minor ones, which come out throughout the series. Of interest is how the series clearly brought up world religions in such a way as to avoid pluralism, but rather provided ways to distinguish between truth and falsehood in religion. Prophecy begs for a personal being, yet the allegedly impersonal Force provides it. It was great to experience the Star Wars universe in such a way as to have it bring up so many issues of worldview in often thoughtful and, frankly, thought-provoking ways.

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!

“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

Troy Denning, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- Apocalypse (New York: Del Rey, 2012).

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

SDG.

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

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth – A Christian review of the book

Divergent-VRVeronica Roth’s Divergent has been hailed as “the next Hunger Games.” It has hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. The series is on the cutting-edge of young adult literature. Here, I’ll examine the book to explore several themes in relation to worldview within the book. There will, of course, be SPOILERS in what follows.

Factions/Divergence

In the world of Divergent, Factions are the way of order. The people of the city of Chicago came together after a cataclysmic event (left largely unexplained in the book) to try to restore order. The thought was that they would split people into various Factions which each held to a certain primary guiding principle to combat evil and wrongdoing. For example, the Candor Faction felt that lies were the primary way in which evil entered the world. Deception was how anger and hatred could be brought into the world again, with dire consequences. Other factions-Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless-follow a similar structure of thought: each is constructed around the notion that a specific weakness led to the destruction of the world.

However, Tris, the main character of the book, is Divergent- she does not fit well into any one faction. Those who are divergent are considered dangerous because they are not as fully in line with the thinking of a faction, which makes it harder for them to be conditioned behaviorally to fit into any of the differing paradigms. Thus, they are not only dangerous to the system, but also dangerous to life: they might ruin the system which has protected those inside it.

The notion that humans would divide into different groups which each see a certain facet of human nature as dangerous for the thriving of the species is intriguing. It did seem a bit of a stretch for me to believe that people would willingly divide up into such factions and focus on nothing but those aspects of the human psyche, but it helped to drive the plot and it is perhaps more believable in light of Roth’s statement (through Tris, of course) that each faction began to mock even the good aspects of the others. For example, those who were in Dauntless like Tris would often mock the perceived need for Tris to take an extra step to care for others; or they would laugh at the difficulties with telling lies some people had (“You should have been from Candor!”).

Human nature in Divergent is shown to be more complex through those who are themselves divergent. They see beyond the narrow limits of each individual faction and are therefore immune to the conditioning others succumb to.

Family

Throughout the book, Tris repeats the mantra: Faction before Family. However, the mantra does not play out in reality. Instead, Tris find herself continually longing for her family and the familiarity of her former faction. Although she also finds herself becoming loyal to her new faction, the Dauntless, Tris is ultimately saved by the reunification (however brief) of her family.

The theme is rather poignant, for it suggests there is something to the notion that the family is the proper realm of interaction. It’s not that everyone has a perfect family in the “real world,” rather, the point is that in an ideal situation, everyone would have a support structure within a family. This support structure would be a place for ultimate refuge.

Choice

The book’s cover focuses on choice: it is one choice that defines who you are forever, it says. That choice, of course, is which faction to join. But when push comes to shove, so to speak, towards the end of the book, it turns out that a whole series of choices define you, not just which faction you want to belong to. It is not one choice that defines Tris and the others; it is the choices they make in times of crises, alongside those choices they’ve made throughout their lives, which ultimately determines who they are.

The concept of choice in the book resonates alongside the notion of divergence. After all, the Divergent are those who cannot be neatly categorized into any of the factions. Their choices, it seems, have a bit more freedom, or at least freedom from conditioning. I can’t help but think of the choice made in Eden that led to the Fall. Before that fateful choice, humans had a very wide range of choices available to them; afterwards, humans became bound to sin and much more narrow in their vision. In seeking freedom, we became bound; in trying to open more opportunities, we limited them.

Conclusion

Divergent is a very interesting book written by a woman who professes her Christian faith. The book is very dark at times and there are many more themes I could explore. The interest in “choice” and “divergence” related to human nature and sin is fascinating to me. I’m interested to hear your own thoughts on the issue, so be sure to leave a comment below!

Links

Divergent- Anthony Weber over at Empires and Mangers, one of my favorite sites (and one you should follow!), reviewed the YA Book Divergent. He examined it from a worldview perspective. The book is being made into a major motion picture and has been hailed by some as the “next Hunger Games.” That means we’re going to run into it everywhere. What questions can we bring to the table? There are SPOILERS in this linked post.

Be sure to check out my other looks into popular books (scroll down for more posts).

Source

Veronica Roth, Divergent (New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2012).

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.

Abortion, fundamentalists, physicalism, and evolution: Sawyer’s “Calculating God” and some contentious issues

I have already written on Sawyer’s Calculating God and how it presents–in great detail–the teleological argument. However, Sawyer’s scope in this masterwork of science fiction was not limited merely to a discussion of heady philosophical and scientific arguments for the existence of God. Instead, he touched on a whole spectrum of controversial issues, giving answers that were often embedded into the narrative itself, and always thought-provoking.

Fundamentalism, Religion, and Abortion

Sawyer lumps fundamentalism in with the discussions about abortion. Unfortunately, fundamentalism is portrayed in the worst possible light, not unlike in the work of Ben Bova. The religious fundamentalists here are extremists bent on destroying anything that counts as evidence against their worldview. As such, they are first introduced as blowing up an abortion clinic (86-87). Frequent readers of my site know that I write often from a pro-life perspective but also that I am very much opposed to violence in this opposition. Unfortunately, such principled opposition is not portrayed as an option in Sawyer’s work.

Interestingly the discussion of abortion in the book–intentionally or not–reveals some important details about the abortion debate. The alien, Hollus, notes the irony in being “pro-life” while also killing people who perform abortions. Yet in this discussion, Hollus reveals something of note:

Hollus looked at me [Tom Jericho, the main character] for the longest time. “These–what did you call them? Fundamentalist extremists? These fundamentalist extremists believe it is wrong to kill even an unborn child?”

“Yes” [Tom responded].

It may take a moment, but think about it: Sawyer expresses incredulity at this notion through the alien Hollus, yet in what may have been a Freudian slip, calls the unborn “children.” Yes, of course I’m opposed to killing an unborn child! In fact, this dialogue reveals exactly what is at stake in the abortion debate: if the unborn is not a human person, then who cares what you do with it? But if it is, then what relevant status difference is there between a child who is located inside the mother as opposed to outside the mother? Again, I’ve written more on this issue elsewhere, but it is important to note that even in expressing incredulity about this, there is a revealing phrase: child. It is an unborn child killed in abortion.

Disturbingly, the book touches on an issue very relevant to the personhood debate: children who are screened for disabilities. In one scene, Hollus is confronted by a child with Down’s Syndrome. He notes nonchalantly that a similar disease is almost always “screened for” in the wombs of the alien mothers (115-116). Unfortunately, this exact thing is happening right now. Unborn children who are shown as having Down’s Syndrome are being aborted inside their mothers at an alarming rate. I can’t help but see this as a modern eugenics movement: killing those we deem unworthy of life for a genetic reason. The logic that this entails is even more disturbing.

Of course the same fundamentalists who bombed the abortion clinic were also out to destroy any evidence for evolution. They sought to destroy a fossil exhibit which they saw as an affront to God. Thus, I can’t help but think that the way Sawyer presents fundamentalists is a bit disingenuous. Not all fundamentalists are incapable of reason and violent. Indeed, almost no fundamentalists are like this! Thankfully, there are positive examples of religious persons in Calculating God, including Tom’s wife.

In one poignant scene, Tom–who is dying from cancer–struggles with the fact that he has been confronted with evidence for the existence of a god. He considers famous atheists who purportedly went to death, all the while denying God’s existence to the end. Yet Tom himself gets down on his knees to pray. When he does so, though, he considers the words of someone from his past: “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” He can’t help but react violently against this:

Such bull. Such unmitigated crap. I felt my stomach knotting. Cancer didn’t happen for any purpose. It tore people apart; if a god did create life, then he’s a shoddy workman, churning out flawed, self-destructing products. “God,” [he prayed] “I wish–I wish you had decided to do some things differently.” (230-231)

Interestingly, in the book, cancer turns out to actually have a purpose… in the sense of being a side-effect of something great: the ability to fuse genetic codes with other intelligently designed species. Here it seems Sawyer has employed a great deal of imaginative techno-babble to explore the notion of a physical god, but it also has hints of a greater good theodicy akin to that of Swinburne.

Physicalism

The discussion of physicalism in Sawyer’s work is very brief, but enlightening. There is a variety of substance dualism here in the sense of emergence. That is, in Sawyer’s fictional world, intelligence and “mind” emerges from matter once complexity reaches a certain threshold. This is similar to the theories of emergence theorists like William Hasker. I can’t help but find this a bit strange. The people who argue for this type of theory are frequently the same who are very hostile to the notion of anything beyond the physical realm, yet they argue that something aphysical can indeed “emerge” from matter itself. Surely this is a leap of the imagination! That matter has creative force simply because it can reach a certain level of complexity seems to me patently absurd.

Not only that, emergence suffers from a second major problem. Namely, if our “mind” is simply a product of complexity in matter, then our “intelligence” is entirely supervenient upon physical complexity. Indeed, our intelligence is a product of that complexity and therefore cannot operate independently of that matter. Therefore, it is hard to see any kind of properties that our minds would have that would be capable of maintaining free will or even rational thought on this theory. Indeed, I have trouble seeing how this theory would be any different from physicalistic monism.

Evolution

The simple notion of evolution is a given in the book. No, it is not friendly to any who are unwilling to accept the notion of “macroevolution,” as the term is used in relevant literature. All the intelligent beings depicted in the book had evolved from a (potentially distinct) distant ancestor.

Darwinian evolution is simply assumed as truth in Calculating God. Or is it? The deity presented in the book is not very conducive to undirected evolution via natural selection and chance. It is portrayed as hurling asteroids at the planets where life was developing in order to press a “reset” button on the creatures that were currently dominant there. It also shown that this deity prevented other catastrophes from happening on these planets, thus interfering with natural selection. Indeed, the evolution depicted here is eerily similar to intelligent design, wherein the process is guided by a deity with a specific aim.

Indeed, one could argue that the entire book is an argument for intelligent design, albeit divorced from much of the theological framework that many of that movement’s frameworks operate within. Yet I can’t help but find this part of Sawyer’s argument (if, indeed, the intention is to make the argument that theists have it all wrong) is completely off. After all, the “god” of Sawyer’s universe is imperfect and concrete in the sense of physically existing. But this works against his concept of deity as being capable of coordinating the events it brings about. Granted, he could perhaps continue to increase the power of this deity beyond what is clearly outlined in the book, but there are hints that the deity is capable of knowing what is happening on places where it is not present, that it is capable of knowing what will happen with certain directions for evolution, and what will happen at the end of the universe. These work against the notion of God as a kind of blundering physical entity that just happens to be supremely powerful. Indeed, the god of calculating God may not be as hostile to Christianity as it initially seems. It serves as a pointer towards the true God of spacetime.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

Check out my other post on this book: Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”

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.

What would it mean if we discovered life? I have reflected on the possibility: Alien Life: Theological reflections on life on other planets.

Our Spooky Universe- I make the case for the intelligent design argument for the existence of God, which is heavily used throughout Calculating God.

Check out my other looks at popular level books. (Scroll down to see more!)

Source

Robert Sawyer, Calculating God (New York: Tor, 2000).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”

The interplay between worldviews and science fiction is very strong. In any writing, an author’s viewpoint will show through, but I think that it is particularly true in sci-fi. For in science fiction, the author is most frequently presenting a view of the world as it should be or as it should not be. The speculative future can be used as a foil through which the reader views reality in a new way. Often, science fiction will touch upon theological issues.

Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God utilizes science fiction in an extremely thought-provoking way to discuss the possibility and meaning of God in our universe. Before diving in I need to make to things clear. First, just because I analyze a book like this does not mean that I think that everything in it is theologically sound by any means (and believe me, it is not). Second, there will be extremely HUGE PLOT SPOILERS ahead. For those who are just interested in seeing how science fiction can explore faith issues, read on!

Fine Tuning

The most immediately striking and pervasive theme of Calculating God is that aliens show up on earth, and they believe in God. In fact, they take the existence of God to be a scientific certainty. The main character of the book, a paleontologist named Tom Jericho, is very skeptical throughout. Here’s the kicker, though, the aliens have been convinced of the existence of God through the evidence–specifically, the fine-tuning argument. Said argument is presented throughout the course of the book in interactions between Tom and Hollus, an alien paleontologist.

What is surprising is how much depth the book goes into while exploring the argument. Yes, Sawyer does fudge the argument a bit by allowing the aliens the possibility of a grand unified theory of science as well as a few other fictionalized aspects of the argument, but overall the fine-tuning argument he presents is very similar to the modern fine-tuning argument.

Not only that, but the characters Sawyer created go to great lengths to explore objections to and defenses of the fine tuning argument. For example, there is a discussion on p. 144ff (mass market paperback edition) in which Hollus and Tom discuss some objections to fine tuning. Tom is arguing against the probability of God:

“All the actions you ascribe to God could have been the doing of advanced aliens” [said Tom].

“There are… problems with your argument,” said Hollus, politely. “[E]ven if you dispense with the need for a god in recent events–events of the last few billion years; events after other conscious observers had emerged in this universe–you have done nothing to dispense with the relative strengths of the five fundamental forces [its science fiction, so there is an extra force], who designed the thermal and other properties of water, and so on. And therefore what you are doing is contrary to the razor of Occam you spoke of: you are increasing, not reducing the number of entities that have influenced your existence…”

The book is replete with debates like this, and the inevitable conclusion is that, shock of all shocks, God exists. I don’t say that sarcastically, I mean that I was genuinely surprised that the book affirmed God exists. But what kind of God?

God Exists… but?

It should be clear that in Calculating God, God is nowhere near the God of classical theism. In fact, one could almost argue that what Sawyer has offered here is a materialistic supplanting of God. The “god” of this work is essentially a super-powerful alien which is capable of swallowing the enormous energy output of a supernova, while also capable of designing our biology and fixing the constants of the universe during the early stages of the Big Bang.

God’s action is described purely in non-transcendent language. For example, the aliens confirm that god caused ice ages and mass extinctions on all the planets with intelligent life. The way this was accomplished was a matter of some speculation–perhaps God generated a dust cloud by using particles from across the galaxy to shield the planets from light and lower the temperature, or perhaps God redirected an asteroid or two to send them hurtling at the planets with life that needed a ‘jump start’ of evolution (146ff).

So why think that this is an image of god supplanting the classical theistic God? Well, clearly many who use the teleological argument are intending for it to point towards a creator God. What Sawyer has offered is a more naturalistic explanations of these events. Yes, there is a ‘god’ in the sense of a being capable of tampering with the very fabric of our universe, but that ‘god’ is itself trapped within the spatio-temporal boundaries of the known universe. In fact, god is said to subsist by recreating itself via a kind of reproductive method and passing one generation through a Big Crunch (think of a bouncing universe model).

Now what?

Calculating God offers a unique look at theology from a science fiction perspective. The fine tuning argument is presented in full force–even enhanced by some fudging of the science–and it leads to the inevitable conclusion that god exists. Yet this ‘god’ is not at all amenable to the god of Christianity or classical theism. So what should we do with this book?

Well, it is important to note that it is a work of fiction. The author clearly adds in some extra ‘fluff’ to make the fine tuning argument more powerful than it is (and I think it is quite powerful as it stands). And really Sawyer’s shoehorning in of a materialistic entity that is able to fiddle with physics boils down to hand-waving. Again, it is fiction, but it is important to note that Sawyer’s attempt to supplant the God of classical theism simply doesn’t work. Think of it this way: how would a purely physical being, however powerful, manage to transcend the physical universe in such a way as to literally rewrite the laws of physics? Extremely interesting science fiction? Yes. Compelling argument? No.

So where are we left? Sawyer does present the fine tuning argument in a way that is quite compelling, even when one strips away all the layers of fiction over it. It seems to me that, at a minimum, readers are left with a rock in their shoe: how do we explain away all this fine tuning without going beyond the cosmos? Sawyer’s own proffered answer, while entertaining fiction, remains that: fiction.

Other Issues

I have not yet even begun to delve into the depths of Sawyer’s Calculating God. The book covers an extremely broad array of topics related to science and faith as well as the secular-religious [false] dichotomy.  For example, he discusses abortion in a few places, and I think the view the characters favor is very inconsistent. There is also some clear portrayal of the religious “other” as only a fundamentalist who seeks to halt scientific advancements. Yes, Sawyer panders to Christians in a few places, but the overall look at religious persons seems to be fairly negative (apart from Tom’s wife).  I wish I could do justice to each of these topics, so I think I may follow this post up with another touching on more. For now…

Conclusion

Ultimately, Sawyer’s work is a simply phenomenal read. The amount of scientific, ethical, and religious issues upon which it touches is stunning, and readers will be forced to deal with the argument. Sawyer has done an excellent job using fiction for what I think it is called to do: inspire, entice, and force thought. Readers will be uncomfortable. The work will challenge people to really think about the arguments, and to think about the offered solutions.

Links

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.

What would it mean if we discovered life? I have reflected on the possibility: Alien Life: Theological reflections on life on other planets.

Our Spooky Universe- I make the case for the intelligent design argument for the existence of God, which is heavily used throughout Calculating God.

Check out my other looks at popular level books. (Scroll down to see more!)

Source

Robert Sawyer, Calculating God Mass Market Paperback Edition (New York: TOR, 2000).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale

fw-judsonThe roar of our guns was more than my ears could hear. The slaughter in the two rivers was more than one man’s mind could absorb… A sort of madness over came us; we had an infinity of bullets and an infinity of Chinese before us. Every one of our men felt he was killing thousands… Death ran wild. How terrible it is, I thought, that the Yukons should be so good at this. (Judson, 319-320)

Fitzpatrick’s War is a phenomenal read. Theodore Judson takes elements of history, steampunk, and religion and mixes them together to make a compelling story that presses through the imagination the need to contemplate issues of ethics, religion, and warfare. I realize that many of my readers will not have read this book, so I have included an overview of the plot, from which I have edited a few major details for those who want to read the book afterwards. After that, we’ll look at many of the extremely interesting themes found throughout this masterpiece. There are, of course, SPOILERS in this look at the book, starting immediately with the overview.

Brief Overview of the Plot

Fitzpatrick’s War is written as an autobiographic tell-all from the perspective of Sir Robert Mayfair Bruce. He is writing about Lord Isaac Prophet Fitzpatrick, a man who, like Alexander the Great, had conquered the world at a young age and also died young. Bruce was a close friend of Fitzpatrick (whom he calls Fitz) and so reveals a number of less-than-flattering aspects of his personality in his account of the life of the former ruler. It describes Fitzpatrick’s rise to power, his preparations for war during behind his father’s back, and his post-war rule.

Fitzpatrick is revealed as a man who lusted for power and ruled ruthlessly. He participated in assassinations, set up deaths, and mercilessly slaughtered his enemies. He used biological and chemical weapons and burned his enemies to the ground, all simply because of a desire to conquer the world. He had delusions of grandeur, envisioning himself as a kind of modern Alexander who would outdo the other man in every way.

The Timermen are another major player throughout the book. They are mysterious in their motivations and have supreme power over all space travel and most communications. Bruce reveals a number of unflattering details about these people as well.

The book has been edited by Doctor Professor Roland Modesty Van Buren, who is hostile to Bruce’s recounting of the events. Van Buren does not believe that Bruce is telling the truth about the great Fitzpatrick and believes he is instead attempting to make his own name live on through his lies.  Thus, the book is footnoted throughout with Van Buren’s corrections to Bruce’s “lies.”

Religion

Religion is pervasive throughout Judson’s work. The characters constantly quote from the Bible to justify their positions which frequently seem unbiblical and evil. Although the society at large seems to think highly of the Bible, the United Yukon Church itself seeks to take over all religion and has repressed other expressions of religion for quite some time.

Yet Bruce is fully aware of how the Christian faith is being abused throughout the work for evil ends. In one scene, he is speaking privately with Fitzpatrick, who asks Bruce whether God can love someone who will wreak such evil on the world. Specifically, he asks about King David in the Bible. Fitzpatrick wants to know whether he himself is like King David and why God would love someone who so frequently strayed from righteousness. Bruce realizes that it is here that he could have influenced Fitzpatrick to turn from the great evils he would perpetuate. Yet, coveting power, Bruce makes the decision he would regret for the rest of his life and backs Fitzpatrick’s notions of glory and God. He writes:

I would today give up my soul if I could go back to that moment and tell Fitz he could still turn back from his awful destiny. I grant that he had at this date already committed murder. It was equally true that he had not yet made his oceans of blood… The world could have still been saved from his wrath… (204)

Instead, Bruce caves into his own lust for power and desire to please Fitzpatrick. He tells Fitzpatrick:

God loves you… There are a few special men… who, like David, walk through History as Angels walk through thunderstorms. Those about them become wet with sin, while they remain untouched. They may seem to be bad men, these special ones. If we judge them by the standards we hold ordinary men to, they are the worst of men. Ordinary standards do not apply to them. They are doing God’s work here on earth, and as we do not know God’s motives or His ends we cannot judge His servants… You [Fitzpatrick] will be said to be God’s beloved. (204-205)

Bruce regrets this discussion with Fitzpatrick for the rest of his life and struggles with the notion that he can be redeemed.

Fitzpatrick himself seeks a kind of syncretism of all religions, but realizes that it will not ultimately work. He keeps his old tutor, Dr. Flag, around mostly to feel superior about himself. But he had initially attempted Dr. Flag’s project of making all faiths equally valid. One discussion in the book is particularly revealing. Dr. Flag is expounding upon the notion that all religions are essentially the same, but Marshal Jeremiah Truth Hood challenges him on this notion:

“Sir, am I to understand you believe all major religions profess the same core beliefs?” [Hood Asked]

“Yes…” [replied Flag]

“Then that would mean, let us say, that the Chinese and the Arabs share the same beliefs on marriage and family?” asked Hood… “Can we say,” asked Hood, “that Arabs and the Chinese value life to the same degree? Or is human life another secondary question?”

“I mean specific, general matters. You see, such as treating others well.” [Responded Flag]

“You say cultures are essentially the same,” continued Hood. “How would you explain, sir, the different Histories of North and South America? Both continents are inhabited by Christians. The majority in both continents are of European descent…” (364-366)

Hood’s point is well taken. The fact of the matter is that all religions are not the same and to say otherwise devalues the religious persons themselves. The way that Judson presents this dialogue allows for some real insight into the issue: how is it possible to say that, at their core, all cultures or religions are the same when they are so radically different?

Evil, Repentance, and forgiveness

There is great evil in the world, and Bruce’s world is no different. Much of the evil is caused by Fitzpatrick and the war which he created in his lust for power.

Ultimately, Fitzpatrick is reduced to a broken, suspicious man who becomes incapable of even doing the simplest tasks on his own. Marshal Hood is greatly distressed over his own incapacity to make amends for the evils he had done during the War. Hood is sitting with Fitzpatrick and several other Lords when they watch a video from an aerial shot of China and see the destruction their war had done to the country. The bodies  were strewn about and death was everywhere. Bruce, too, feels the need for repentance: “There were no words in my vocabulary I could utter that could justify this abomination, no act of contrition that could ever take away what I had done” (410). Hood himself begins quoting from the Bible, Joel chapter 1. He relates the evils they have done to the crimes that Joel cries out against. Later, Hood is found among the Chinese, trying to help them by growing food and feeding them. It was his way of making amends.

Bruce himself finds forgiveness only through his wife, who speaks with clarity on God’s will and his grace. It seems to me that this theme of forgiveness is grounded thoroughly in the Christian notion wherein people are to forgive each other. We act as God’s agents here on earth, and so we are called to repentance and forgiveness.

Charlotte

Bruce’s wife, Charlotte, is a paradigm example of a powerful, spiritual, loving woman. Van Buren, the hostile editor of the book, has several choice words to describe Charlotte, whom he believes is overstepping her bounds by attempting to be equal to Bruce. She often seems overbearing, but ultimately she strives to be equal to Bruce, and to temper the poor qualities of Bruce’s character. Charlotte is Roman Catholic, a religion which is violently oppressed in Yukon, until Fitzpatrick allows for religious freedom to endorse his own pluralism. Charlotte’s character is important throughout the work as one who provides the positive example of womanhood and the equality of men and women.

History and Doing History

History (always with a capital “H”) is an area of extreme interest in the world of Fitzpatrick’s War. Fitzpatrick himself continues to utter a recurring theme: History is written by the winners. Above, there was a discussion of King David. Fitzpatrick in that same conversation presses the notion that King David rewrote the history books in order to paint him in the most positive light. Later, in his own life, Fitzpatrick would do the same thing. He had the greatest poets and historians of his age come and write histories about him which were highly favorable in their portrayals of himself.

There is active repression of historical knowledge due to the fact that the culture at the time the book is set in believes that the “Electronic Age” (20th and 21st centuries) was a blight upon all History. During one scene, Bruce is being questioned about the Electronic Age and readers discover that only one history exists from that period. The reason is because “[A]ll other Histories of that era were perverted by the strange ideologies of the day…” (35).

As one who has studied historiography (and written on the method regarding Jesus), I can’t help but think of all the issues these discussions raise throughout the book. Interested readers should check out the post linked in the parentheses for one brief account of historiographic method.

Conclusion

I have read few books which have had such a great depth of knowledge about so many subjects as is demonstrated in Fitzpatrick’s War. The book is just phenomenal, and it touches upon so many areas of great importance for Christians and non-Christians alike. As with all great fiction, it does this without becoming overbearing, but instead focuses upon the story. Judson develops wonderful characters whom the reader can relate to, love, or loathe. He explores heady themes with wit and precision. I highly recommend this book to my readers.

Links

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber- I explore two excellent science fiction books alongside each other to see how they speak to religious dialogue.

The Presumption of Pluralism: How religious pluralism devalues all religious persons- I discuss religious pluralism, a topic which is brought up throughout Fitzpatrick’s War and show how it fails.

Check out more of my looks at popular level books. (Just scroll down to see more!)

Hieropraxis is an excellent site which focuses upon a number of cultural issues and how they relate to Christianity. I really cannot recommend this site highly enough.

Empires and Mangers- Another phenomenal site which looks at many popular level works from a Christian perspective. The posts are consistently fantastic. I encourage you to follow this site closely.

SDG.

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