apologetics

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The Wheel of Time “Winter’s Heart” and “Crossroads of Twilight” – A Christian Reflection

cot-jordanRobert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, “The Wheel of Time,” has much to reflect upon from a Christian perspective. Here, I’ll be examining books nine and ten, “Winter’s Heart” and “The Crossroads of Twilight.” There are SPOILERS from both books here. Please do not share spoilers from later books for the sake of readers.

Violence and the Sword

In Winter’s Heart, we find that great restrictions are placed on the use of weapons in Far Madding, a city which has great buffers against use of the Power. The question is, does violence cease when weapons are taken away? A guard in the city explains the reasoning:

“No need for any man to defend himself in Far Madding… The Street Guards take care of that. Let any man as wants start carrying a sword, and soon we’d be as bad as everyplace else…” (538)

However, the guardsman apparently was scarred–from some previous conflict. Moreover, the pages preceding this quote and afterwards spoke of how violence continued whenever the Guards were not immediately in sight. Yes, it may have been thwarted to some extent, but people still found ways to fight and murder. How is it that in a place which attempted so much to restrict violence, violence was perpetuated? It seems that it is because people continued to find ways to do violence, despite said restrictions. The world is in need of redeeming from its own self-centeredness and focus on doing harm.

Deism

Perhaps the most lengthy theological discussion which has occurred in The Wheel of Time yet is found in Crossroads of Twilight, as Rand reflects upon the way things are playing out:

Did he think the Creator had decided to stretch out a merciful hand after three thousand years of suffering? The Creator had made the world and then left humankind to make of it what they would, a heaven or the Pit of Doom by their choosing. The Creator had made many worlds, watched each flower or die, and gone on to make endless worlds beyond. A gardener did not weep for each blossom that fell. (558)

The quote speaks to a kind of deism found in The Wheel of Time. The Creator laid down the pattern, which continually repeats throughout history. It weaves as the Creator willed it. But the Dark One continually tries to make the pattern “fall into the shadow.” One wonders, then, whether Rand al’Thor is correct here. After all, the Creator has held off the Dark One from utterly overthrowing the Pattern–perhaps only through setting it up in such a way that it could correct things. But even that much foresight refutes the notion that the Creator would not have cared whatsoever about the suffering of men cursed to insanity.

I look forward to seeing how theology develops in the Wheel of Time as the final battle approaches.

Fatalism

The Pattern itself is something which garners much discussion, and it seems to point to a kind of fatalism found in the beliefs of many in the universe. For example, Perrin has a discussion with an Aes Sedai about how the Pattern weaves in Crossroads of Twilight:

“You are ta’veren, yes, but you still are only a thread in the Pattern, as am I. In the end, even the Dragon Reborn is just at thread to be woven into the Pattern. Not even a ta’veren thread chooses how it will be woven.” [Annoura–the Aes Sedai–said]
“Those threads are people,” Perrin said wearily. “Sometimes maybe people don’t want to be woven into the Pattern without any say.”
“And you think that makes a difference?” Not waiting on an answer she lifted her reins and [galloped off]. (588)

The notion of fatalism is prevalent throughout the series, but one wonders whether it will hold sway. After all, it really does appear as though some people are able to change things for the better or worse, even working against the Pattern (or going outside/beyond it).

Back to Our World

These themes hare found in many discussions outside of the world of fantasy. Is God so distant that we may not approach Him? Are our destinies simply wrapped up in uncaring fate? Can we stop violence by taking away all weapons? These are questions which speak to moral and transcendent spheres of reality, and interaction with them is beneficial. The Christian view would note that the “Creator” in fact cared so much about creation–each individual–that God sent the Son to redeem the world. It’s a powerful message–one which goes beyond that found in the world of fantasy and takes us into a new plane of reality  in which we are redeemed people living in Christ.

We need not worry about fatalism or the possibility of evil overcoming a plan simply wound up and left to unravel. Instead, God intimately cares for and about each individual.

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

Robert Jordan, Winter’s Heart (New York: Tor, 2000).

Robert Jordan, Crossroads of Twilight (New York: Tor, 2003).

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.

Kathy Tyers’ “Firebird Trilogy” – Faith, Humanity, and Conflict in the Far Future

firebird-tyers

Kathy Tyers’ The Annotated Firebird trilogy is an epic space opera spanning several planets as they are embroiled in an interstellar and cultural conflict. Here, I analyze the series from a worldview perspective. On my other site, I have offered a review of the trilogy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Faith in the Future

Throughout the trilogy, faith is front-and-center. The characters come from different faith backgrounds–Firebird is from a culture that worships the Nine “Powers”- essentially deified character traits; Brennan is from a people of exiles who have psychic powers and look to a coming Messiah from his line; others have no religious affiliation. This sets up a way to generate conflict among the characters but also have development.

Firebird is confronted by the notion that the “Powers” she worships are ultimately impersonal and thus seemingly without any power. Moreover, she is intrigued by  a system which is not based upon what she does but rather on the grace of a Holy God. It is a struggle throughout her conversion to accept this notion–that she herself does not need to do anything to earn her salvation. Her path of faith is one that is extremely interesting because it shows how the Christian worldview can come into dialogue with other religious traditions on a number of levels–on the level of salvation/soteriology; on the level of deity; and on many other levels.

Brennan’s walk of faith is quite different as he was raised a believer. His character’s viewpoint is filled with brief prayers to the “Singer”–a primary name for deity in the book. These asides never throw off the pace of the book but rather offer ways for the readers to engage in the genuine faith of the characters therein. It’s also a call to believers to take their own faith lives more seriously. How often do we offer a brief prayer over some issue or of thanks throughout the day? How might we integrate our faith better in our daily walk?

Overall, the picture of faith in the Firebird trilogy is one that expects truth in religious belief as well as evidence, confronts rival views in a compassionate way, and is lived out.

Humans who are “Waste”?

Another major theme in the trilogy is that of human lives and the way they are often deemed waste. Firebird’s society is run by a monarchy and nobility which dominates all life and expects to be viewed as ruling with divine right. This is used as an excuse for devaluing the lower classes. Moreover, Firebird herself is considered a “Wastling”- one who is far enough back in succession that they are dedicated to serve until they die in combat or commit an ordered suicide because they are no longer deemed useful.

This is, of course, an unjust state of affairs. It is one that must be confronted on a systemic level, and this is only beginning when the trilogy wraps up. However, I think the reader cannot help but reflect upon the notion that in our own society, we treat some people like “wastlings” to be discarded as unneeded and unwanted. We do not value human life as we should–as created in the image of God.

Another aspect of this devaluing of life is found in the society of the Shuhr–a people who are the radical offshoot from Brennan’s own society. They practice genetic cloning and seek to make themselves immortal. The way they pursue this is through the creation and mutilation of embryos. Frankly, this disrespect of human life is little different from our own society’s, which allows for the murder of the unborn on demand. By putting this theme into science fiction, Tyers confronts our own worldview in a dramatic fashion.

Brief Autobiographical Note

Permit me a brief autobiographical aside:

I remember when I was younger–probably about 12 years old–shopping a table at a book sale that was going on in the parish hall at my church. I saw the cover of this book that looked like science fiction and reminded me of Star Wars. I had to have it! There were three of them, a trilogy! I begged my parents and with some extra chores loaded on I received the books.

I devoured them almost instantly, used Legos to try to build spaceships from them. I went to a Christian bookstore and demanded more science fiction from the author. The bewildered staff searched in vain to find anything else from Kathy Tyers. Without any more to read, I forgot the author but the trilogy entered that hallowed place of unassailable nostalgic bliss that we create in our childhood.

Then, when I saw a newly released edition with notes from the author pop up in my recommendations on Amazon, I was instantly intrigued. Lo and behold, sequels were on the way! I purchased the trilogy again, but didn’t read it, fearful I would penetrate that nostalgic bubble and perhaps discover the series wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped. Finally, after over a year of owning the book, I opened it up, read it, and now offered this look at the series. Check out my review of the book on my other interests site.

Conclusion

The Annotated Firebird is an excellent edition to pick up in order to experience the whole Firebird trilogy. It is a series which resonates strongly with the Christian worldview, but more importantly it does so without ever compromising on the story, world-building, or characters. Tyers has created a masterpiece.

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!

Microview: “The Annotated Firebird Trilogy” by Kathy Tyers– I review the trilogy with a brief look at the plot and some positives and negatives in the book.

Popular Books– Check out my looks into other popular books (scroll down for more).

Source

Kathy Tyers, The Annotated Firebird (Colorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord [Enclave], 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.

“A Crown of Swords” and “The Path of Daggers”- A Christian Reflection on the Wheel of Time

path-of-daggersRobert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, “The Wheel of Time,” has much to reflect upon from a Christian perspective. Here, I’ll be examining books seven and eight, “A Crown of Swords” and “The Path of Daggers.” There are minor SPOILERS from both books here. Please do not share spoilers from later books for the sake of readers.

Men and Women

Throughout both books–and indeed the entire series–there is an undercurrent from many characters that “men always ____” or “women always ____.” What is interesting is that Jordan frequently flips these phrases around so that men are saying women are impossible to understand, but women then turn around and say the same about men. There is parallelism here which I believe was intentional.

The notion that there is a kind of “gender essentialism” is one which, unfortunately, is frequently pushed in Christian communities. I’m not saying at all there is no such thing as distinct genders; rather, my point is that what we conceive of as being gendered is often not the case at all. I actually found myself jarred at times when the women in the Wheel of Time novels would complain about the men being “impossible” or “gossipy”–after all, is that not what women are generally conceived as? But of course these patterns of behavior are not essential to male or female but rather aspects of personalities. Thus, it seems Jordan has a streak of feminist thought running through his works, though it is at times very subtle and even concealed. His writing speaks to the absurdity of labeling all people of one gender or the other as acting in specific, deterministic ways.

In the Service of…

Another concept which frequently occurs throughout these books is that there is complexity to relationships and loyalties particularly concerning evil or “The Dark One.” Many of the Forsaken follow after their own ends, to the point in which they frequently oppose each other, which itself seems to work against the will and ends of “The Dark One.”

Thus, it seems that for “The Wheel of Time” the service of evil is ultimately an irrational end which leads to chaos and disorder. It moves against the Pattern–the idea that there is a unity of time which continues to be woven together to make reality–and it also ultimately seeks to defeat itself just as much as it fights against the forces of the Light.

Belief, Evil, and Pragmatism

At one point in The Path of Daggers, Rand is surveying his arrayed forces and he considers their loyalty (and lack thereof). But in this considering, he notes:

they feared him [Rand] far more than they did the Aiel. Maybe more than they did the Dark One, in whom some did not really believe… (327-328)

The people, it seems, were more concerned with firmly holding their own wealth or gaining positions of authority and power than they were with the true evil which threatened the world. Unconvinced by the coming tribulation, they instead sought favor from the most powerful man in the world. The condition, it seems, is one which mirrors our own at points. Rather than being concerned with evil facing our world, or rather than fighting injustice, people are obsessed with gain that cannot be carried over across death and the grave. The true powers which threaten the world are left to expand and strengthen,while people seek their own gain.

It is a kind of pragmatism which infects us: injustice is “over there” and we are “right here,” so why be concerned with it? The notion that there is a spiritual realm with any sort of power is shrugged off, ignored, or even scorned as ancient superstition, unworthy of concern. Like the people who surround Rand in the book, we convince ourselves that evil has no power in the world and “[the Dark One”] could [not] and would [not] touch the world harder than he had already (328).

Conclusion

There is much to consider throughout the “Wheel of Time” series. Fantasy resonates with reality in sometimes tangible ways, as anyone who reads fiction frequently knows. How do you approach books from a worldview perspective? What do you think of the themes above, and what others have I not discussed from these two books?

I will be writing on later books in the series when able. Until then, I covet your thoughts!

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.

Handel’s “Messiah” as Apologetic

hmcgp-stapert“I should be sorry if I only entertained them [the audience], I wish to make them better.” – Handel 

Handel’s “Messiah” is one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed. It has been performed constantly since he wrote it. There is no doubting the enduring popularity of the piece and the way it brings comfort to God’s people. It is often played during the Christmas or Advent seasons and has become a way for many to hear the message of Christ during this time.

One aspect that is not often explored, however, is the way the piece may be seen as an apologetic for Christianity. Calvin Stapert, in his work on the piece, Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People, notes how the work was written in part as apologetic. The biblical selections which were put together to form the lyrics of the performance were selected by Charles Jennens, whose brother had committed suicide during some doubt-inducing talks with a famous deist (77-78, cited below).

Moreover, Christian apologists during this time–during the height of Enlightenment–were beginning to realize that simply making arguments from natural revelation or reason alone was in some way to not engage with the Deists who were at large. After all, Deists could agree God existed. The question was which God and whether God was personal. So although the arguments of natural theology were helpful, they could not do all the work on their own, and Christian apologists set about the task of proving Christianity through the Scriptures (75-77).

By simply putting forth a different narrative than that of the Deists, Handel and Jennens challenged the notion that God was impersonal. Moreover, they pressed home the need for a savior due to our own futile raging against God. The beauty of he piece serves to enhance its apologetic narrative, making it entice the heater to keep listening. The music forges links between the notion of he need for a savior and the Incarnate Son.

The Messiah, then, is part of this project. It is a story of prophecy and the way that God sent the Son into the world, incarnate in the flesh, to bring about salvation. It is a masterful interweaving of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment. More than that, it is an apologetic voice in the wilderness.

Source

Calvin Stapert, Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010).

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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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

 

 

“Lord of Chaos” – Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time,” Book 6 and Christianity

loc-jordan“Humanity retreated, and the Shadow advanced.” – Robert Jordan, “Lord of Chaos,” p. 450.

Poignant words. Robert Jordan’s epic series, The Wheel of Time, continued with book 6: Lord of Chaos. In this post, we’ll explore a couple major themes that came through in this exciting fantasy adventure. There will be SPOILERS for book 6 (and possibly those before) in this post. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books for other readers.

The Shadow

One of the strongest themes throughout the book is the pending doom of the rise of evil. Evil advanced throughout the land, and had been making advances historically throughout the region with little opposition. In our world, it seems often that evil continues to exist unchecked. The parallels are palpable as one reads the book. One scene paints this reality starkly. Rand al’Thor is looking over a number of maps:

Borders and names were enough to rank the maps by age. On the oldest [nations were butted up against each other. Then…] Maredo was gone… Caralain vanished…. other nations… eventually [became] unclaimed land and wilderness. Those maps told a story of fading since Hawkwing’s empire crumbled, of humanity in slow retreat. A second Borderland map showed… the Blightborder fifty miles further north too. Humanity retreated , and the Shadow advanced. (440-450)

These names would be unfamiliar to those who haven’t read the series, but the implication should be clear: the maps showed the steady retreat of humanity in the face of the evil forces of the “Shadow.” The picture is breathtaking: one can easily imagine a series of maps showing encroaching darkness. But beyond the mere imaginary, it seems to be a fact that humanity–true humanity–is constantly retreating from evil. The evils of human trafficking, hunger, dishonesty, abortion, and the like continue to be perpetuated, and yet humanity is more interested–much like the people of The Wheel of Time–in the everyday mundane occurrences. Those things which “don’t harm me” are ignored. If we could see a map, we could see the Shadow encroaching as well.

It’s important not to completely focus on doom and gloom, however. In Lord of Chaos, the Dragon is Reborn, and the opportunity to defeat the Shadow is approaching. But those who know of prophecies know that this Dragon may also bring much destruction to the world. The Christian narrative presents a picture less bleak: evil is already defeated through our Lord. Final victory is inevitable.

Destruction of Life and other Injustice

The wanton destruction of life is found through much of Lord of Chaos. The forces of evil are not the only ones who are killing the innocent, however. Even those who call themselves the “Children of Light” bring about much evil through their actions. One scene which illustrates this is found in the way that a “Child of the Light” decided to deal with those who had sworn to the Dragon–the coming defender of the world:

He had managed to kill some of [the Dragonsworn], at least, though it was hard fighting foes who melted away more often than they stood, who could blend into the accursed streams of refugees… He had found a solution, however… The roads behind his legion were littered now, and the ravens fed to bursting. If it was not possible to tell the Prophet’s trash from refugee trash, well then, kill whoever clogged the way. The innocent should have remained in their homes where they belonged; the Creator would shelter them anyway. (611)

There is much injustice in this passage. First, the victims are blamed for their destruction: the reasoning is that they brought it upon themselves. Unfortunately, reasoning like this is frequently found today when people comment on various tragedies. We should not blame the victims, but rather go to their aid. Second, there is a kind of notion that “the Creator” (God?) would be pleased with this destruction, or at least could not be bothered to intervene. Again, this kind of reasoning is sometimes mentioned: God will sort them out, why bother with the possible consequences of bombing targets in civilian zones? Why deal with the plight of the refugee? Third, this plight of the refugee is found throughout the book. What of those who have been displaced by violence and war? In the book, it is actually Rand al’Thor who is the one who cares most about them. In our world, it should be the Christian who rushes to aid the defenseless.

Prophecy

The world of “The Wheel of Time” continues to be deeply steeped in fulfilled prophecy–whether coming fulfillment or already culminated. The emphasis on prophecy plays into the notion in Jordan’s world that there is a “Wheel of Time” which leads to a kind of cyclical universe model.

For our purposes, it is worth simply considering the notion that prophecies may have unexpected fulfillment. Rand does not always meet the prophecies of the Dragon in expected ways. Similarly, the way that some prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled is not the way that many at the time (or now) expected.

Onward!

We have seen that Lord of Chaos brings up a number of interesting themes. From here, we shall move onward into more books in the series. What are your thoughts on these themes? Do you have any other major themes you can think of as being found within the series? Remember- no spoilers for later books!

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.

Humanity on the Brink in Ben Bova’s “New Earth”

bb-ne

Ben Bova’s New Earth is a spectacular novel that mixes hard sci fi with a touch of space opera. I recently investigated a major theme of the novel: the notion that we may find hope in the stars. Here, we’ll explore some other major themes of the book, including exploration, the possibility of human extinction, and xenophobia. There will be major SPOILERS in what follows.

Exploration

A major theme found in New Earth is the urge to explore and possible benefits thereof. In a conversation between Anita Halleck–a wealthy investor, and Douglas Stavenger–the semi-retired leader of Selene, the independent sovereign nation on the moon, this theme is drawn out most poignantly:

“It’s a big universe,” said Stavenger.

“But what good is it [exploration of “New Earth”]?” she demanded. “What does it accomplish? So they explore another planet. Does that help anybody? Does that solve any real problems?”

…”There are always problems on Earth.[” said Stavenger. “]And here in Selene, too. That shouldn’t stop our push to explore.”

“Where will it end?”

“It won’t end. We keep on exploring, keep on learning. That’s where new knowledge comes from, the frontier. And new knowledge always leads to new wealth, new benefits for everyone.”

“Very philanthropic.”

“Very practical,” Stavenger corrected. (83)

There is some debate now over funding for NASA, for example. What good does it do to send people to the moon? Surely that funding could be better spent on, say, relieving world hunger. In fact, this exact argument is made within New Earth, because the planet Earth is itself suffering from catastrophes caused by global warming, among other issues.

Yet Bova, through Stavenger, makes an argument for exploration: the drive to explore, the imagination; these are things which drive invention and innovation. As Stavenger put it, the drive to explore leads to new wealth and new technology for everyone. It is interesting to see this debate play out in fiction, though this was largely where it dropped… However, one could argue that the ultimate revelation, that humanity was truly on the brink of destruction from the coming apocalypse from a local star, is itself an argument for the success of the project of human exploration.

Environmentalism 

Our home planet is in serious trouble in the time of New Earth. Global warming has devastated the environment, causing flooding across coastal regions, precipitation cycles to reorient and move. Drought and inundations of rain alternatively destroy their respective climate zones. Humanity flees the shorelines.

Through this bleak look into humanity’s plight, Bova issues a call for humans now to work against environmental catastrophe. Of course, some dispute the trend towards global warming, but even if global warming is some sort of myth, it seems to me that we must work toward caring for creation in such a way that we minimize our destruction of ecological systems. We are God’s stewards on Earth and so we should work to take care of the gifts of God’s creation.

Of course, in New Earth the consequences of forsaking this gift of God–our charge to care for the Earth–are put into fictional perspective. The destruction to the planet leads to destruction of human life.

Xenophobia

The resistance the human characters have in New Earth to the information presented to them by the “humans” on New Earth is interesting and, in my opinion, helps to characterize the reality of human nature. Many of the humans on the excursion to New Earth are deeply suspicious of the alien life they have found. Moreover, the way they react to the friendliness of the aliens reflects a culture that the aliens (and the sentient machine) view as deeply barbaric. The human tendency to be distrustful, it is said, is due to their evolutionary history and the way that such distrust helped survival.

However, I think this same portrayal has theological significance. Humanity is fallen, and our past is littered with the results of our fallen nature. It is not at all hard to imagine humans reacting just as those did in New Earth. The reality of human nature is such that one cannot but think that no matter how tactfully and amiably such aliens approached us, the reaction would probably be negative. To trust the aliens to tell us about a coming destruction for which we should prepare to survive is to take it to another level.

What does this say about human nature?

Conclusion

Bova’s work New Earth is one of my favorites from one of the masters of science fiction. I’ve already discussed how it explored the issue of hope from the heavens in materialistic literature. Now, we’ve seen how it explores other issues which are both current and historic. Let me know what you think of the themes brought up in the book!

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!

Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals– I write about creation care from a number of perspectives offered at a recent panel of prominent evangelical thinkers in this area.

Book Review: “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Steven Bouma-Prediger– Several issues related to the environment and Christian theology are drawn out in this extremely interesting 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.

SDG.

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

Book Review: “Pascal’s Wager” by Jeff Jordan

pw-jj

For some time, I’d been wanting to put some effort into studying Pascal’s Wager. I picked up Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God by Jeff Jordan in order to familiarize myself more with the philosophical grounding behind the argument. Jordan approaches the Wager through a lens of analytic philosophy and, I think, demonstrates that the argument has some force to it.

Jordan’s work has great scope. Several aspects of the Wager are brought to light.  He analyzes several different formulations of the argument, while also noting where the argument has been changed or modernized. For example, the notion that Pascal’s Wager was infinite bad vs. infinite good is a more recent innovation than Pascal’s original argument.

He studies the argument contextually to determine whether the Wager was intended as a generalized theistic proof or an argument for Christianity. Numerous objections from leading critics of the Wager are put to the test. Ultimately, a version of the Wager developed by William James is put forward as an argument that passes the philosophical muster. Jordan analyzes this argument from many angles, ultimately demonstrating that it overcomes the challenge of the “many gods” objection and provides grounds for Christian faith.

The value of Pascal’s Wager may is increased by the fact that many aspects of Jordan’s work are applicable to other arguments or areas of interest for philosophers of religion and apologists. For example, Jordan raises significant challenges to the notion that philosopher’s fictional deities may actually be counted as evidence for a “many gods” objection (75-76; 80-81). Another example is a rather interesting argument he derives from the work of James Beattie (1735-1803- Jordan notes Beattie is at times rightly accused of misrepresenting Hume’s arguments) about whether attempts to deconvert might bring about pragmatic wrongs (190-194). These and other tantalizing topics command even more interest than the book might otherwise have had.

Simply put, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God is a phenomenal thought-provoking work that will have readers rethinking their evaluation not only of the (in)famous Wager but also of a number of related topics. Even at its steep price tag, the book is a bargain.

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!

Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Examined– I outline and defend one of the versions of Pascal’s Wager which Jordan brings up in this work. I find it to be a very interesting argument and a great addition to the apologist’s toolkit.

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.

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

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

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

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

Prophecy

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

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

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

Messiah and The Pattern

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

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

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

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

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

Men and Women

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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.

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.

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.

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