J.W. Wartick

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

dh-extremist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies- I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

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

SDG.

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

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Book Review: “Faith Founded on Fact” by John Warwick Montgomery

fff-jwmJohn Warwick Montgomery (hereafter JWM) is about as evidentialist as they come, and Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics is a collection of his essays which shows, through application, his apologetic method from a number of contexts. Here, I will go through the book to highlight main points of the individual essays and the book as a whole. Then, we’ll discuss some of the main theses in the text. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know what you think of JWM’s theses.

Central to JWM’s apologetic methodology is the notion that one need not presuppose the truth of the Bible in order to defend it. For him, one may make the appeal to the skeptic by going to the skeptic and battling their reasoning on their own grounds. He states his thesis succinctly:

Few non-Christians will be impressed by arguments… in which the Christian stacks the deck by first defining ‘rationality’ and ‘internal consistency’ in terms of the content of his own revelational position and then judges all other positions by that self-serving criterion. (xix, cited below)

JWM surveys various attacks on the practice of evidential apologetics and argues that they fail (28ff). Although he deals with various liberal objections to apologetics, the core of his concern is for the objections raised by those who feel as though the evidentialist approach does injustice to faith. In response, he notes that any approach which removes Jesus from historical investigation–from hard evidence capable of being explored by all–reduces Him to a “historical phantasm” and does injustice to the reality of the incarnation (34-35).

The possibility of miracles and the argument of Hume engages in “circular reasoning” for Hume’s argument relies upon “unalterable experience” which is, of course his own experience and that of those who agree with him. Moreover, the definition of miracle has been slanted in such a way as to make it either irrelevant or beyond the realm of evidence by various parties (46ff). A case study of the miracle of the resurrection provides proof that miracles may be examined with an evidentialist mentality, for any who wish to deny the notion must relegate history to a place which may never be accessed through evidence (56ff).

JWM analyzes Muslim apologetics and concludes that it provides a number of lessons for Christian apologetists. Among these is the notion that merely showing the falsity of other religions is not enough for an evidential defense (93-94), the notion that “no religion is deducible from self-evident a prioris…” (97), and mere appeal to “try out” a religion is not enough to establish its credibility (98).

One of JWM’s most famous (or infamous, depending upon your view) essays is “Once Upon an A Priori,” in which he launched a broad-spectrum attack on presuppositional apologetics as a methodology. In this essay, JWM argues that when one suggests there is no neutral epistemic ground between two positions whatsoever–as presuppositional apologists do–”Neither viewpoint can prevail, since by definition all appeal to neutral evidencve is eliminated” (115). Because there are no neutral facts, there can be no appeal to facts to make one’s case; instead, all one is able to do is argue in circles against each other… “appeal to common facts is the only preservative against philosophical solipsism and religious anarchy…” (119). Instead, Christians must, like Paul, “become all things to all” people (122) in order to make the case for Christianity.

The practice of apologetics, for JWM, is intended to break down the barriers to belief. But the evidences are so strong that they obligate belief in Christian theism. However, the work of the Spirit is the work of conversion. The “evidential facts are God’s work, and the sinner’s personal acceptance of them… is entirely the product of the Holy Spirit” (150).

After an essay appealing to Christians to continue to use mass communication to spread the Word, JWM turns to “The Fuzzification of Biblical Inerrancy.” By “fuzzification,” he means (following James Boren), “the presentation of a matter in terms that permit adjustive interpretation” (217). In its application to inerrancy, it means the constant adjustment of inerrancy to make it invulnerable to attack in often ad hoc ways. What one is left with is “inerrancy devoid of meaningful content…” (223). In order to combat this, JWM suggests explicit definitions of terms such that one has a firm grasp upon what is meant by inerrancy, rather than a constant modification of the term and meaning.

There are a few areas of disagreement I would express with JWM’s theses. First, his apparent dismissal of the practice of taking the “falsity of one religion” as proof of another (93-94). He is correct in that the falsity of any given religion does not entail the truth of any other one. However, it seems to be the case that the falsity of any one religion does entail that any which have not been proven false are inherently more probable. Second, I think his reaction against presuppositionalism has led him to reject all of its tenets a bit too vehemently. For example, it seems to me that in his rejection of the notion there can be “no neutral ground” he also seems to jettison the notion that facts are interpreted no matter what the facts are. However, at times it is difficult to distinguish whether he is making a statement in a vaccuum or against a context. In relation to “facts,” he clearly holds the facts are determinative enough to demonstrate Christianity; but he also holds that people will not accept said facts other than through God’s action. Thus, perhaps the gulf between his position and that which he rejects is not so wide.

These disagreements aside, I also have enormous respect for and agreement with much of the content of Faith Founded on Fact. JWM effectively disposed of any apologetic method which inherently ignores the value of evidentialist reasoning, and he did so through not only apologetic but also theological reasons (i.e. it turns Christ into an “historical phantasm”). Moreover, his critique of presuppositional methodology–though at times off base (as noted above), does not entirely miss the mark. In particular, his critique that presuppositionalism voids any kind of objective method for determining facts is troubling for those who have presuppositional tendencies (readers should note that I myself think presuppositionalism has some merit–see my posts on the topic).

Faith Founded on Fact, put simply, is fantastic. In this review, I have only surveyed a small number of the areas I found to be of note throughout the work. JWM is witty and clever as usual, but he also raises an enormous number of points to reflect upon whether one agrees with his views or not. He offers a number of ways to approach apologetics from an evidentialist perspective, while also offering some devastating critiques of those who would allege that evidentialism fails. The book is a must read for anyone interested in apologetics.

Links

“How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” – John Warwick Montgomery on Conversion- I summarize and analyze an incredible lecture given by John Warwick Montgomery which I had the pleasure of attending at 2012′s Evangelical Theological Society Conference. JWM argues for an evidential view of religious conversion.

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

Source

John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy Inc., 2001).

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.

Sunday Quote!- The War Between Science and Religion

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

The War Between Science and Religion

I recently finished reading Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition. I have a review of the book coming in some time, but for now I’ll say it was an uneven experience. Lots of high points; many low points. One high point was Alister McGrath’s discussion of science and religion and the alleged war between the two:

This conflict is often expressed more generally in terms of the phrase ‘science and religion’, which unhelpfully reifies both notions, attributing concrete identity to abstractions. Science and religion are not well-delimited entities, whose essence can be defined; they are shaped by the interaction of social, cultural and intellectual factors, so that both notions are shaped by factors that vary from one cultural location to another… the historical evidence suggests that it was actually [two 19th century works not by Darwin] which crystallized a growing public perception of tension and hostility between science and religion. (144, 145)

I think this quote is particularly thought-provoking due to its two pronged approach to the “science vs. religion” mentality. First, I think McGrath is certainly correct to note that the reification of the terms is unhelpful, to say the least. People often say things like “science says ___” or “religion says ___.” Such statements turn either science or religion into separately existing, distinct entities which somehow make proclamations. In other words, they remove either concept from the people putting for the concepts under the umbrella terms “science” or “religion.” I find this unhelpful, and as McGrath later notes, only use the terms out of convention.

Second, exploring the historical origins of an idea like the “war” thesis between science and religion often has astonishing results. One finds, often, that one’s assumptions are challenged and even overthrown by the evidence.

What do you think? What other concepts might we unintentionally reify through our use of terms? How might we seek to avoid doing this?

Links

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

Source

Alister McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics” in Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition edited by Andrew Davison (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011).

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”- The Longing for Purpose and Truth

ca-winter“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opened to a tune of a $300 million weekend. The film has been “certified fresh” by reviews aggregate Rotten Tomatoes (currently at an 89%). People are talking about the film. Here, we will explore some major themes in the movie from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Purpose

A question which reverberates throughout the film is that of purpose. What is Captain America’s purpose? He struggled with this himself; in a world far different from the one he sprung from, what place did he have?

It’s a kind of struggle that all humans experience at some point: an existential crisis of place. Where are we in the world? What is our purpose? How do we pursue it?

These questions speak to a longing for something greater. They are questions which address the core of human nature: awash in a universe which at times seems empty and without purpose, we mirror the uncertainty Captain America displayed. Yet the film itself speaks to the fact that there is real purpose in the universe. In “The Winter Soldier,” friendship and loyalty play major roles. The revelation that The Winter Soldier is, in fact, Bucky, a friend from the Captain’s past, leads to a poignant scene in which the Captain refuses to fight his friend due to an earlier vow. Purpose, it seems, is grounded on relationships. It is grounded in persons.

Ultimately, of course, the Christian worldview holds to that same concept but on a cosmic scale. Purpose in the universe is grounded on a person: God.

Human Nature

The depths of human nature are plumbed in the film, as it is discovered that Hydra, an evil Nazi organization, has managed to infiltrate Shield at the highest levels. At the core of the film’s portrayal of human nature is the notion that we are ruled by various fears. We are overwhelmed by chaos, and, if given enough of it, will succumb to any amount of limitations and control in order to turn away from the pit of destruction. Hydra helped bring about as much chaos as possible in order to push humanity to the brink.

It is a conspiracy theorists dream come true: the highest levels of intelligence infiltrated by an evil institution bent on wiping out all threats to its ultimate power. But the fact is that the plot twist was not really that unbelievable. But the strength of the scenario is how very believable it was. The notion that humans would give in to extreme injustice in order to flee from those things which scare them most really wasn’t unbelievable. The fact that both Hydra and Shield were working to eliminate “potential” threats ahead of time sealed the deal.

The commentary on human nature should not be missed: humanity is inherently fearful. Separated from a sense of tranquility and order, we often cling to things which are patently unjust in order to try to overcome our current situation. Think about it frankly: do you really think the scenario in this movie is all that preposterous? That’s what makes it so powerful. It’s not preposterous. In some ways, it’s already happening.

ca-winter2Captain America: The Moral Compass

The portrayal of human nature discussed above leads naturally into the question of justice. Captain America acts as a kind of moral compass in the current Marvel universe. It is hard to resist the reasoning from both ends–Hydra and Shield–regarding the nature of humanity. In one scene, people are asked whether, if able, they would “press a button” to prevent violent hostage situations, terrorism, and the like. The appeal could have some nodding along with it. But think about it, touching that button would kill those who had yet to do anything wrong.

Thus, Captain America seems initially naive when it comes to this moral reasoning. After all, why would he be so opposed to a system that could prevent the loss of life and ruination of people? But the Captain doesn’t stop the chain of reasoning there. Instead, he calls for a view of justice towards all people; one in which even the “bad guys” aren’t assumed to be irreparable. Its a strong message, and one which resonates with the Christian worldview in powerful ways.

Think of Jonah, who would have preferred to see Nineveh burn than to see them repent. But he knew that God was a loving God, eager to show love and mercy to repentant sinners. Or consider the cry of Ezekiel to “turn” from wicked ways and repent to avoid certain death (Ezekiel 33:11). These themes echo in “The Winter Soldier” as the notion that simply terminating people who may be threats is explored.

Viewing the Captain as a moral compass has some interesting outcomes. For example, though Joss Whedon (director of “The Avengers”) is an avowed non-theist, in that flick, Captain America quips to Thor: “There’s only one God, and… he doesn’t dress like that.” Though an offhand remark, it is interesting to see that Captain America affirms there is “a” deity at all, let alone “only one.” This, from the man who in the face of pressure from all sides, refused to kill the man he promised to protect.

Regarding the Winter Soldier, I have to say that I see shades of the biblical Jonathan and David in the relationship here. There is a mutual vow to protect each other. The two are enmeshed in conflict and end up on opposite sides. Ultimately, they are forced to choose between destroying the other or honoring their loyalty to each other. Again, I’m not saying this is intentional, but the theme is there.

Conclusion

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has much for Christians to discuss. It’s an extremely compelling tale filled with themes of justice, loyalty, and friendship. In order to effectively engage the culture, we should use it as a springboard to start discussions about the deeper things. Let me know your thoughts on the movie in the comments.

Links

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

Check out my other looks at films from a Christian perspective. (Scroll down for more.)

A Christian Look at “The Avengers”- I examine a number of themes in “The Avengers” which Christians and non-Christians can discuss.

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies- I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

The image is copyrighted by Marvel and I make no claim to rights. I use it under fair use.

SDG.

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

 

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.

Sunday Quote: Do we need to agree with past thinkers?

readinggenesis1-2-CharlesEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Do we need to agree with past thinkers?

I recently read through Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversationwhich has given me a lot to reflect upon. One quote that struck me was from Jud Davis:

A beloved teacher once said, “If you cannot find at least one ancient, one medieval, and one modern commentator who shares your view, it probably means you are wrong.” Over the years, I have thought long and hard about this statement, and I believe it is exactly right because if you could not find such examples, you would be forced to say, “Everyone before missed it until me.” (215)

I thought this was an interesting quote because it says much about how one approaches theological issues. First, there is some concern regarding this passage for me because it seems that some truths are indeed missed by everyone until someone discovers (or rediscovers) them. Second, there is a real concern for whether one innovates in doctrine and thus becomes a heretic. That is, innovation in theology is often divergence from established truths. These established truths are often established exactly because they follow from the text. Thus, an innovation which says, for example, that Jesus is not God is rightly denounced as heretical.

Based upon these conflicting concerns, I think it is permissible to say there is some tension within the practice of historical theology and exegesis. We must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of either ignoring the voices of the past or being too cautious to reconsider the evidence for certain positions. Going to either extreme would be dangerous. The most prominent danger, in my opinion, is the danger of using a passage like this to squelch debate or exploration. Ultimately, the text is the arbiter of truth, not established interpretations. If someone comes up with a “new” look at a text, it is important to consider it on its own terms rather than reject it because it is new. The weight of unanimity in the past should be seen to increase the standard of proof for those who disagree, but it should not be used to silence those who seek truth.

What are your thoughts on the balance between historical scholarship and new interpretations?

Links

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

Source

Jud Davis, “Unresolved Major Questions: Evangelicals and Genesis1-2″ in Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation edited J. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013).

Abortion Clinics, Pro-Life Activism, and “Abolish Human Abortion”

aha-posters18Recently, the Facebook group for the activist group known as “Abolish Human Abortion” shared a note to fellow pro-life activists providing critique and advice. Here, we’ll analyze that post to see how accurately it represents their opponents and what we can take away from how to argue the abortion issue.

I’ll link to the entire post (see above; see it also reproduced in the comments below) so that you can read it for yourself and see if I unfairly represented anything. I’ve also kept a copy of it on file to reproduce it in the comments. I welcome comments so long as they follow my comment policy.

Tone

First, I want to say that I do appreciate some of what AHA has done and continued to do. Many of their posters are helpful (such as the one featured in this post or in my post on Bonhoeffer’s view of abortion), and they provide some solid analysis of the abortion issue from a worldview perspective. No one reading this post should think that everything I think about AHA is negative. I have had positive interactions with AHA in the past and hope, as they do, that one day we can end abortion. I also favor the immediate end of abortion to gradually ending it. My contention is that gradual legislation is actually effective (this claim will be borne out below).

Second, note that any response to me should operate under a fairly similar tone. I have actively worked to end abortion through protest, prayer, writing, and other avenues. I hope that one day we can end abortion. Attacks on me as a person because I disagree with the method of another pro-life group should be seen for what they are: obfuscation.

Third, I will not respond to anything not in the comments here. I simply don’t have time to go actively seeking responses to my posts, so if you have something to say, write it here and please be brief.

Analysis

The  author of the note, T. Russell Hunter, begins with a claim: “When hospitals all across America start paying doctors to perform abortions within their walls, it will be the triumphs of pro-life legislation which drove them there.” This claim is that which Hunter contends to support. Let us analyze the rest of the note to see if this claim is borne out therein.

The first piece of allegedly supporting evidence is this: “Passing laws that temporarily shut down abortion clinics because they are not close enough to hospitals only strengthens the abortion industry…”

Think about that claim for a second. First, does it support the claim that hospitals “all across America” will start performing abortions? Second, does it provide any evidence whatsoever? Finally, let’s put this claim in perspective with some facts. Planned Parenthood has said, of the closure of several clinics in Texas [paraphrasing], “…the requirement could leave the state of 26 million people with as few as six abortion centers.” That same article notes how many abortion providers have failed to meet the new requirements put in place by laws in Texas. Think about that: if there are only 6 abortion centers in a state the size of Texas, do you think that the number of abortions will increase or decrease?

Another claim made by Hunter: “Abortion is not health care and we should not be fighting it by passing health-code rules and regulations.”

Given how much AHA likes to parallel ending abortion with the abolition movement, I think it is fitting to point to the way William Wilberforce–who effectively ended slavery in Great Britain–worked against slavery. For some time he tried to get votes passed to outright abolish slavery. Ultimately, however, abolition was assured when a bill was passed forbidding military aid to be provided to slave ships due to the war with France. The move was effectively a sleight of hand because several British ships operated under neutral flags, so the slave trade was crippled and slavery was abolished not long after that. You can see this story beautifully dramatized in the film Amazing Grace.

What does this bit of history tell us? It tells us that such means actually are effective. Thus, when a state like Texas passes new legislation to ensure the heath and safety of women who are at abortion clinics, and those new regulations cause a state with 26 million people to shut down abortion clinics, the pro-life cause does benefit.

Two claims of supporting evidence provided are: “4. Some ‘clinics’ will close, but those remaining will pick up the slack; 5. Shutting down clinics doesn’t halt abortion, it just makes people who choose to sacrifice their children drive further.”

I’d like to ask AHA to provide statistics to back up these claims. Rather than just throwing out speculation that women who choose abortion will just “drive further” (remember, Planned Parenthood is concerned a state like Texas [look at its size on the map!] will go down to just six clinics), back it up. Yet AHA expects us to believe through mere speculation that these women will “drive further.” I wonder what evidence they have to support that. Moreover, the evidence actually counters this claim. (From the article:) “Kansas is one state that is an example of how closing abortion clinics saves lives. Since 2001, every time an abortion clinic closed in Kansas, the number of abortions significantly dropped the following year.” That’s a fact. What has AHA provided to support their claim that closing clinics is not effective?

Unfortunately, the rest of the note essentially follows this same theme. There are a number of claims thrown out there with no evidence. Consider this tidbit: “Do you not see that the abortion industry only gets stronger as they build bigger and better clinics to meet your pro life standards. Do you not see that they (like you) just raise money from their so-called defeats? Have you not come to realized that no matter how many clinics you shut down, millions of babies are still being aborted every year. Do you not see that the devil himself would allow you to take a few pieces off the board so long as he constantly has you in check mate?”

Again, facts speak louder than empty leading questions. The number of clinics closed has not been offset by the number opened. The number is, in fact, down 74% since 1991. And, when clinics close, the number of abortions decreases.

Consequentialism or Pragmatism- Getting it Done?

The main problem with AHA’s reasoning is that they take an all-or-nothing mentality. You can observe that in the leading questions noted above. In particular, “Have you not come to realized [sic] that no matter how many clinics you shut down, millions of babies are still being aborted every year[?]” Yes, it is true that millions are being aborted. However, when pro-life legislation continues to reduce the number of those being aborted, that is cause to say that pro-life views are being furthered. I don’t know of any pro-life organization that’s saying “Hey, we got some clinics to close! Let’s stop working to end abortion!” That’s not how pro-life groups are approaching the issue. However, many of these groups are happy that when clinics close–as they are–the number of abortions decreases.

The fact that AHA is not happy about this says something, I think, about their own mentality when it comes to the issue. AHA demands only legislation which will immediately end abortion. They are seemingly unaware of how historically (as noted above with Wilberforce) working through other means can actually be more effective.

It is this seeming historical illiteracy (see also here) of AHA which worries me enough to make me want to respond to a note like the one I wrote on here. By failing to acknowledge the success of gradualism and, in fact, working against gradualist approaches, AHA is working against facts. Lives are being saved when abortion clinics closed. That’s something anyone who labels themselves “pro life” should celebrate.

Conclusion

AHA has not provided evidence to support the claims made in the note I analyzed. Moreover, several of the assertions made therein are actually contrary to observed facts. AHA seems to be either historically ignorant or willfully obfuscating the way in which abolition was brought about. Although I would also far prefer the immediate end of abortion, I think any who are pro-life should agree that when legislation closes abortion clinics–which lowers the number of abortions and therefore saves lives–it is cause for celebration rather than chastising those who worked to pass the legislation.

I reiterate that I know of no pro-life organization which is saying that the work is done once legislation which may close abortion clinics passes. The work will continue until we have brought an end to abortion. Groups like AHA should stop trying to muzzle those who have actively worked to save lives.

Finally, I admit I wrote this post with a heavy heart and only because I’m deeply concerned with the way that AHA has continued to aim criticism at pro-life individuals or groups which are actively saving lives. I was very excited when I learned about AHA over a year ago but have, unfortunately, felt burdened to caution others away from the group because of the way it continually fails to provide facts to support their attacks on other pro-life persons. We must learn from history and we should celebrate when lives are saved. I long to return to a point where I and AHA could stand together as we work side-by-side to end abortion. Unfortunately, as long as AHA fails to recognize that gradual steps actually do save lives, that day will not come.

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!

How Abolish Human Abortion Gets History Wrong- Here, a pro-life individual notes some of the historical errors in evaluating abolition and abortion AHA has put forth. It is worth seeing the response to some counter arguments made by AHA as well.

Abolish Human Abortion’s Revisionist History- Clinton Wilcox provides a more thorough analysis of the use of the term “abolition” and how abolitionists themselves actually worked incrementally to bring about the abolition of slavery.

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: “In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism” by Winfried Corduan

ibg-wcRarely does a book come along which forces a reader to completely rethink how they’ve viewed a whole slew of interrelated topics. Winfried Corduan’s latest work on the origin of religion is just such a book. I’ve waited some time to finish writing the review simply because it’s taken a while to reflect upon its content and reread and absorb many of the arguments to support the conclusions Corduan provides. Here, I offer some thoughts which can only touch upon the wealth of information in this fantastic book.

The Thesis

Winfried Corduan’s central thesis is simply stated:

Regardless of how one explains the origin of human beings, one cannot get around the fact that the first religion of human beings was monotheism, the recognition and worship of one God.

The way Corduan defends this claim is initially through analysis of competing claims of major thinkers in the past and present on the origin of religion. He then provides a positive case for original monotheism.

Critical Examination of Competing Views

Corduan surveys a number of major thinkers in anthropology who have proposed various ways that religion may have arisen and developed. A central thought throughout many of these thinkers is the notion that cultures, like organisms, evolve. Thus, the thought was that the earliest stages of religion would be “primitive” while later stages of religion would be more complex and perhaps people would even move beyond religion.

The various theses Corduan examines are each interesting in their own light. Max Müller’s theory that mythology is corruption of human language is wonderfully imaginative, though ultimately bereft of real evidential backing. E.B. Tylor’s application of Darwinism to the development of religion remains highly influential but also provides insight into how a paradigm may corrupt and even create evidence. Andrew Lang set the stage for later thought about how religion may have developed, but unfortunately his theory suffered from assumptions that anyone not “developed” like the Europeans was clearly inferior or lower on the evolutionary scale. Thus, his theory suffered from its own brand of self-confirmation and key blind spots.

A telling critical insight Corduan provided which applies to many of the evolutionary perspectives on the origin of religion is that the field evidence gathered for these hypotheses operated under a critical assumption: “nineteenth-century anthropology proceeded on the premise that the ancient past has preserved itself. We can still see it in full bloom in the cultures of tribal people. Human beings who are now living on a stone-age level must have preserved stone-age culture, they argued.

But of course this doesn’t follow at all. It is perfectly possible for such “stone age” societies to in fact be extremely complex and advanced. In fact, Corduan provides much evidence to suggest that this is exactly the case. Highly complex rituals and traditions are often found in these allegedly primitive societies. Moreover, many of these societies show kinds of vestiges of original monotheism, which itself provides counter-evidence to the hypothesis that these societies support the notion of evolution of religion.

A Case for Original Monotheism

Corduan’s case for original monotheism incorporates many aspects of Wilhelm Schmidt’s work. Thus, he dedicates a few chapters to analysis and defense of Schmidt’s theories. Schmidt’s theories are based off of his analysis of how cultures shift. Corduan provided fascinating and practical examples to look at how cultural movement works. One application of this to the origin of religion is that societies shift and push competing cultures either to adapt and integrate or to be pushed more to the fringes. Early settlers are often supplanted by later explorers who stayed in one place and developed before moving on. Allegedly primitive societies are often found in the deserts or at the outskirts of society because they were the first to move on and thus developed only as they settled in ever-distant areas. However, this cannot be used to support the notion that a “stone age” level of a society today entails the preservation of cultural behaviors and practices from such a time period.

The shifting of cultures through “culture circles” thus is used to evaluate how religion may have developed and moved across the Earth. Most importantly, Schmidt worked with the anthropological data that other researchers used, but he approached it without the dogmatic stance that the development of religion must have been Darwinian. This assumption led many other researchers to reject or downplay aspects of the observational evidence because they did not fit the theory. Schmidt discovered, however, that a number of cultures had vestiges of monotheism from earlier times. This resulted in Schmidt hypothesizing that one possible explanation for the shared original monotheism of these cultures could have been an actual deity.

Corduan then provides analysis of a number of critical responses to Schmidt as well as more modern evolutionary or simply agnostic approaches to the origin and diversification of religion. Finally, he surveys a number of world religions to see if aspects of original monotheism may still be found therein.

religious-symbolsInteresting Avenues to Explore

Other avenues are opened as Corduan analyzes specific cultures, such as Egypt or China, and finds that Egypt’s brief affair with “monotheism” may not have been as significant as some take it or that China’s modern religious thought perhaps reflects an original monotheism beneath the surface.

The application of various aspects of anthropological research and the rejection of agnostic approaches to the origins of religion also open up new avenues for research and exploration. If we don’t assume that we can’t know something, how might we approach the project of discovering how religion may have originated and spread? Corduan, of course, provides Schmidt’s theories as one way, though he also integrates insight even from those scholars with whom he disagrees. Thus, he provides a rather integrative approach to the question.

The analysis of various anthropologists who have thought on issues of the origins of religion also open up new ideas to explore, books to read, and evidence to consider.

Avenues for exploration like this are found throughout the book in droves. I mean that: there is so much in this book that makes me want to know more, to learn more. That is coupled with the fact that it made me realize, again, how little I do know regarding entire fields of research and study. In the Beginning God is a call not only to re-evaluate one’s presuppositions, but also a vast treasury of topics to explore.

Of course another extremely interesting thought to examine is that if monotheism were the original religion of people of all sorts, might this have implications for apologetics? Ultimately, Corduan answers in the affirmative. He argues that at least some aspects of this study point to the existence of a monotheistic deity as a possible explanation for the data. He does not think that the anthropological study provides a comprehensive case for the Christian truth, but he does ultimately argue it can be one factor among many to show the truth of Christianity.

A Final Defense

The immediate reaction of some might be that Corduan’s bias yields his results. Similarly, in Schmidt’s time, some alleged that missionary influence led to the purported evidence for original monotheism. However, it should be clear that although everyone has a bias, the evidence presented by Corduan seems impossible to dismiss as simply the wishes of a theist. Rather, he has provided sound reasons for thinking that original monotheism is a relevant hypothesis which perhaps outstrips its opponents in terms of explanatory scope.

Conclusion

In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism  is a simply incredible read. Each new layer of the text provides new insights and discoveries, each of which builds off the body of the text already perused. Corduan has provided critical insight into the state of modern anthropology regarding the origins of religion. He has also established original monotheism as a significant rival theory to those schools of thought. The book will shift paradigms, cause wonder, and provide resources for you to explore and engage with wonderfully exciting topics. Corduan has truly created a masterwork, and I can’t recommend it enough.

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!

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

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

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).

SDG.

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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.

Peter Enns on Definitions and Inerrancy

5vbi-counterpointNot long ago, I finished reading Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, a book in the Zondervan Counterpoints series which focused on the plausibility and meaning of inerrancy. Peter Enns was by far the most critical of the doctrine of inerrancy, and his essay largely put forward the position that we should not merely modify but simply get rid of the notion of biblical inerrancy. Here, I want to focus upon Enns’ methodology throughout the work.

We’ll look at Enns’ contributions to Five Views… a bit backwards, by focusing first upon his responses to the other authors. What I found was that time and time again, Enns demanded definitions for individual words from the authors he was responding to. Sometimes, these demands were warranted, but overall it seemed Enns would just call on the others to define their terms and say he didn’t know what they meant otherwise. Moreover, even where he did not demand definitions, he often put scare quotes around seemingly random words in his responses. This latter point is more a complaint about writing style than substance, but it was extremely distracting! On p. 61, for example, Enns put quotes around three words–”many,” “history,” and “accurate”–the latter two for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

However, what I want to focus on is Enns emphasis on the importance of definitions. Here are just some examples of Enns’ method in application:

“…’true,’ ‘error,’ ‘erroneously,’ and ‘falsehood’ are all left floating. I am not sure what Bird means by them–at least at this point” (Enns’ response to Bird, p. 182).

“For one thing, we have the perennial problem of what ‘affirm’ actually means, and Vanhoozer’s subsequent thoughts did not clear this up for me. Further, ‘eventually’ raises flags…” (Enns’ response to Vanhoozer, p. 245).

Now, as I noted, surely some of this is fair. It is true that it is important to wonder at the meaning of “truth,” as we know from the oft-quoted words of Pontius Pilate “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Thus, I am not saying that Enns has no point when he called for definitions throughout his critical engagement with his co-authors. Surely, definitions are extremely important. And it is because of the importance of definitions that I wonder why on earth Enns failed to even allow for different definitions of inerrancy in his own contribution to the book.

Think about this for a second: despite spending significant [what is meant by significant?] portions of his responses calling upon definitions from his co-authors, Enns himself titled his contribution: “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does.”

Yes, that’s right, the man who called for definitions of individual words like truth, falsehood, error, affirm, and more himself eschews the hassle of defining inerrancy, the central topic of not just his chapter but the subject of the book! I’m astonished by this. How can someone who has demonstrated such concern for details himself just lump all inerrantists together and say that “well, however they define it, it doesn’t work”? Well, what does Enns mean by “inerrancy”? Enns does interact with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (hereafter CSBI) and apparently takes this for his norm regarding the meaning of inerrancy, but without any explicit definition of inerrancy, readers are left wondering whether Enns really is so concerned with definitions after all.

Enns, of course, brings up a number of interesting points and several challenges to inerrancy with which those who hold to the doctrine must interact. However, without any distinction between inerrantists, Enns is left doing that which he accuses others of: making statements which are hard to understand because he hasn’t defined terms. One obvious difficulty with Enns’ approach comes to the forefront when he assumes that inerrancy is necessarily committed to a literalistic hermeneutic: “The implication [of the CSBI on historical matters] is self-evident: inerrancy means, first of all, that literalism is the default hermeneutic of the CSBI… Taken at face value, this means that any comparison of Genesis with other ancient Near Eastern origins stories… is ruled out of bounds” (88). Enns qualified the last statement by noting that only those comparisons outside of CSBI conclusions are ruled out.

But of course the CSBI itself does allow for the comparison of genre, cultural contexts, and more in regards to interpretation of the text. Moreover, the CSBI allows for not just young earth creationism, but for other approaches to the text as well.

Thus, it seems to me that Enns’ lack of concern for possible nuance to definitions of inerrancy–his rejection of defining terms despite his insistence that others must do so–leads to great difficulties with his own critique. I have not here engaged in the core of Enns’ argument. As I said, many of his points are thoughtful and engaging. However, I think that his method seems a bit disingenuous: he demands that others define terms, but when it comes to the central topic of the entire book, refuses to acknowledge that any distinctions within the doctrine of inerrancy can combat his conclusion that the Bible is not inerrant.

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!

“Theological Colonialism”? On theological issues which are ‘only popular in America’- Here, I evaluate the claims made by Michael Bird in his essay in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. More particularly, I consider the notion that doctrines which are allegedly only popular in one place of the world are somehow restricted in importance.

Source

Peter Enns, Responses and “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does not Describe What the Bible Does” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 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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