Archive for

“Just Mercy” – A Christian look at the movie

“Just Mercy” is a film based upon a true story that is shocking and utterly challenging to viewers. I’d like to look at the film from a worldview perspective. I’ve already written about the book, as well. There will be SPOILERS in our discussion here. I’m not going to summarize the plot, but a summary may be found here.

Cliched Reality

I was struck by a couple reviews I saw talked about how the plot was cliched. There’s the trope of the corrupt, racist sheriff. There’s the unapologetic DA. The judge who participates in defending the system. But what such complaints ignore is this is a true story. The tropes become more than the alleged cardboard cutouts here–the racist sheriff was re-elected six times after Johnny D. is exonerated. The narrative of racism is supported by the fact that Johnny D. was hated by the white community for sleeping with a white woman. It was an unforgivable sin, and they decided he needed to pay with his life, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, cliches are real.

Systemic Racism is A Thing

There are some who argue there’s no such thing as systemic racism. The naivete of that sentiment would be quaint if it were not so damaging. Some seem to think that after the Civil Rights era, racism magically was drained of all power. But here we have a powerful portrayal of injustice based upon race with dates that are well within the memory of most adults.

I was especially struck by the comparison of the death penalty to lynching. There’s something to be said for the comparison, too. Laws that appear to be color-blind can be absolutely racist when they are applied in ways that are not color-blind in any way. Black men are much more likely to be sentenced to death. What’s even more alarming is seeing cases like those in this movie. One of them had a jury recommend life in prison, but the judge overrode it and sentenced the man to death. How much power is that to give to one person? To allow the feelings and biases of one person to condemn another to death, even against the recommendation of a jury!

Going along with this, there is the question of who is chosen for the death penalty. When black men are the ones sentenced to death, questions of perceptions (why are black men seen as particularly deserving of capital punishment?), bias (why are black men seen as especially dangerous?), and more must be raised. This is a clear example of systemic injustice. What people often don’t realize is that saying something is systemic racism does not mean that it must be outrightly, knowingly racist. It simply may have racially biased outcomes. See, for example, Kendi’s discussion in How to Be an Antiracist (my review here).

The Old Rugged Cross and Spirituality

There’s no question faith runs throughout this movie. Whether it’s Bryan Stevenson talking at his first meeting with a man on death row about being in the church choir or the call Stevenson makes at the end for a mercy tempered by justice and even a little unmerited grace, faith is a powerful, resonating theme.

One of the most poignant moments in the movie is when Herbert Richardson is led to his execution. Richardson was a Vietnam veteran with clear signs of PTSD. Yes, he killed a little girl, but the very nation state for which he fought and descended into hell abandoned him and left him on his own. Richardson’s stay of execution is denied, and he is led to the electric chair as the haunting melody of “The Old Rugged Cross” plays in the background. He sits in the chair. He is electrocuted by the state that he laid his life on the line for every day. It’s awful. The Old Rugged cross.

Conclusion

“Just Mercy” is a powerful, challenging movie. It challenges assumptions. It challenges bias. It challenges your soul. I don’t think it would be possible to watch this film and be completely unmoved. Please, watch it.

Links

The Death Penalty and Just Mercy– Bryan Stephenson’s personal look at capital punishment– Stevenson’s book is just as powerful as the movie and deserves your attention.

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

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s Christocentric Theology and Fundamental Debates in Environmental Ethics” by Steven C. Van Den Heuvel

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s influence on modern theology continues to grow, as he has clearly become one of the most influential theologians from the 20th century. What is exciting for those who are interested in his theological legacy is the increasing interest in applying his thought to new approaches and modern questions in ways that go beyond mere interpretation and into a broader application. Steven van den Heuvel takes up one of the most pressing and interesting questions of our time by applying Bonhoeffer’s thought to questions of environmental ethics in his Bonhoeffer’s Christocentric Theology and Fundamental Debates in Environmental Ethics.

Van den Heuvel puts quite a bit of work into emphasizing Bonhoeffer’s Christology, laying the groundwork for later development through the book. His interpretation of Bonhoeffer is fascinating, and he ably navigates the difficulties of seeing Bonhoeffer as a true Lutheran while also seeing the innovations he made. Bonhoeffer’s concept of the Christ reality allowed him to both resist and oppose Nazi ideology while refusing to shunt responsibility and action (56-57).

By placing Bonhoeffer in his historical situation, moreover, van den Heuvel explains several difficult questions related to Bonhoeffer’s thought and use of terminology. For example, it might be baffling for many Christians today to see Bonhoeffer react so strongly against “orders of creation” when they are commonly used by many theological strands today. But van den Heuvel notes that Bonhoeffer was reacting against the Nazification of those theological categories as they attempted to use “orders of creation” to make racial hierarchy and integrate it into the church (92-95). Thus, Bonhoeffer insisted on use of “orders of preservation” and developed that terminology over and against the ideological developments that attempted to unite Nazis and Christianity.

After extensive discussion laying the groundwork for Bonhoeffer’s thought, van den Heuvel turns to specific questions of environmentalism. These included detailed look at several environmentalist threads and how Bonhoeffer’s thought can expand upon it and adapt it.

One specific insight is the question of technological advancement. This question is one that was of interest to both Bonhoeffer and Luther. Van den Heuvel shows that, as often was the case, Bonhoeffer followed Luther’s reasoning in seeing technology as a way for fallen humanity to maintain its mastery over nature in ways that are often deleterious (174-175). This question ties into the overall theological problem of the “mastery” of humanity over nature. Too often, Genesis 1:26-28 is used to see the world and nature as something that humanity can abuse and use to the fullest extent. But Bonhoeffer offers corrective here, seeing the fall of humanity as integral intertwined with how we interact with nature. Thus, because Bonhoeffer has a focus on this world, he notes that we live in a fallen world, in which the urge to dominate nature becomes, all too often, a destructive force. Indeed, van den Heuvel notes that Bonhoeffer apparently departs from Luther’s view regarding the Fall here. Where Luther held that the eschaton would bring about human dominance of the world once again, Bonhoeffer did not see that as part of the eschatological hope (175).

Bonhoeffer’s Christocentric Theology and Fundamental Debates in Environmental Ethics is incredibly important because it shows conclusively that Bonhoeffer’s thought is not something that remains in the past, but has real-world applications to today’s contemporary debates. Van den Heuvel has done Bonhoeffer scholarship a service by showing not only careful attention to Bonhoeffer’s thought and interpretation but also through showing how modern theologians can apply his thought to modern questions.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

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

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.

——

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.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 4- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part IV

We left off last time at an intermission (page 40) and pick up there. The moderators interject here to try to reign in the conversation, asking Owen and Campbell to limit the discussion in this afternoon (think about it–multiple days-long debates!) to the first proposition at question, namely “that all religions have been founded in ignorance” (40). Owen begins his defense of the proposition.

First, Owen flatly states that he would not have to defend the proposition that all religions ever are ignorant if humans were not themselves kept in ignorance of “what manner of beings they were, how they were formed at birth, and how their characters were afterword produced for them” (40-41). This bold claim has interest to us today–what more have we learned about these questions than Owen and Campbell might have known in 1829? It seems clear we know more about at least a few of these questions, though one could argue that psychology, anthropology, and biology have digressed–that position would be interesting to see defended. Nonetheless, what does it say that religions persist to this day, almost 200 years later, with possibly more knowledge of these questions than Owen had?

Owen goes on, here making a much more interesting claim: he states that he will demonstrate that humans are different from whatever any religion supposes them to be and that none of the religions apply to humans as they truly are (41). What is interesting to reflect on at this point in the debate is how frequently Owen makes these lofty, impossible to prove claims. Is he really going to survey every religion ever in existence to demonstrate individually that they are all impossible to reconcile with what he believes is human nature? No, of course not. But keep an eye on modern debates over the existence of God or the nature of Christianity as well–how often do the interlocutors in those debates make similarly grand claims without support?

Owen goes on to claim that to prove his contention, we need only to look at ourselves and the facts that we know of right now (41). Here he makes one of the first relevant points to Christianity specifically in the debate so far (though he does so as an attack on “all” religions, apparently): he argues that human beings come into the world entirely ignorant of the state of things and without control over their formation, and concludes from that any religion that teaches humanity is by nature sinful or “bad” (as he puts it) is therefore mistaken. Specifically, Owen asserts that “no being… can ever be made to become responsible for [its] nature” (ibid).

Owen goes on to stress his previous argument that no one is in control of the circumstances of their birth, such that it is an accident of history that people are born into places in which they believe whatever religion they believe (41-43). He asks, “Who amongst us decided that he should be taught to speak English, be instructed in the Christian religion and belong to his particular sect?” (43). He then appeals to the commonality of all humanity in being accidents of birth to find unity: all the things which separate us, he asserts, can be attributed to the accidents of circumstance (I’m using the phrase “accident” here to substitute for his wordier descriptors). Thus, we can turn to our neighbors and unite with them over our shared humanity. It is a powerful call to a humanist faith in the unity of all humankind.

Campbell rises to meet this mixed challenge. And he does so with startling clarity:

Let us try this position with a reference to our existing institutions : all schools and colleges have been founded and predicated on the ignorance of man ; all testimony has been predicated on the ignorance of man; all the books that have ever been printed are predicated on the ignorance of man? Are not these facts? But does the existence of these facts cast any opprobrium [censure], obloquy [public verbal abuse], or disparagement upon books, human testimony, or seminaries of instruction?— These terms, then, have nothing in their nature or import calculated to engender a prejudice against religion. (45)

Campbell goes on in to frankly concede Owen’s point that all religions are founded in ignorance, so long as it is taken by that to mean that all religions are founded on humans who do not have the capacity to control the place of their birth, the circumstances thereof, etc. But rather than concluding that this means the are all false or unnecessary, Campbell flips the narrative on its head and says that this ignorance itself shows the need for religion! The reason, he asserts, is because religion helps us to sort out the many things that happen as accidents of birth and provides a basis for morality and rational sorting out of all the myriad of details that we are made aware of throughout our lives. ” If, then, [people] need a religion at all, they need it because of their ignorance. It was instituted to remove human ignorance, and the necessity of supernatural revelation has ever been predicated on that ignorance” (45).

The question of what human knowledge is gained and what is necessary is “thorny,” as Campbell notes, and he goes on to state that Owen’s position effectively makes all human capacities and reasoning necessary based upon the way Nature operates on them. But nature itself does not explain all things, and the capacity for our observation of all things is not limitless. Metaphysical truths, like many principles of mathematics which seem unquestionable, can become difficult when the test of observation is applied, but that does not undermine the possibility for their truth.

Moreover, Campbell argues that we are not entirely products of circumstance: Owen himself went against the nature of British society from which he sprang. The ceding of all knowledge to circumstance has led to a number of ideas that are difficult to reconcile with reality, according to Campbell. Among these are those philosophers who came to deny right and wrong; others who denied the existence of the physical world; and many other difficult positions. Then, Campbell goes on a somewhat lengthy discourse about not just Owen’s 12 principles (introduced before) but also on how philosophers in general tend to pick a favored principle (or set thereof) and reduce all human activity and thought down to that–an exercise that is often futile, according to Campbell (47-49).

With this, Campbell concludes, and the two retired for the day. We, too, will leave off here (page 51) and pick it up later. For now, think on how the debate of this day played out: Owen asserts that all religions are founded on ignorance due to circumstances of birth. Campbell concedes the point but notes that if that is the argument, all human institutions are also founded in the same ignorance, such that it is hardly a reason to dismiss religion specifically. Moving on, Campbell argues that religion is necessary exactly for the reason Owen asserts it ought to be condemned. A fascinating day for the debate, don’t you agree?

Questions

  1. Do we know more about what manner of beings humans are, how we are formed at birth, and how characters are produced than Owen and Campbell did in the 1800s? Is it historical hubris to suggest we might? And, if so, what does that say for Owen’s thesis that if we just knew about these questions, all humanity would disavow all religions as ignorance?
  2. What do you think of Campbell’s counter-charge that religion is, in fact, made necessary by humanity’s ignorance?
  3. Should the bare fact of accident of birth be an argument against a position–religion, philosophy, etc.?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

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 Man in the High Castle” – A Christian Reflection on the Finale

Amazon recently released the final season of “The Man in the High Castle” and it was full of revelations, deeply moving moments, and the intense buildup fans of the series have come to expect. Here, I’d like to discuss the finale in light of a Christian worldview. There will, of course, be major spoilers for the whole series since we are talking about the finale.

The Breaking of Swords

The climactic scene in the final episode shows the revelation that John Smith has died, and upon finding out about it, Bill Whitcroft, the newly-minted leader of the Nazis in the United States immediately throws off his swastika and calls off the attack on the Western States. An immensely powerful scene follows, in which hordes of bombers suddenly turn aside from violence. The people who are watching in anticipation of their almost certain deaths look on in awe as the bombers turn away and their lives are saved. They set down their weapons on the battlements as the music swells with emotion. It was a conscious choice–a choice for peace rather than war, for turning aside from violence, for the breaking of swords.

The scene also makes me think of a recently released book entitled Beating Guns, in which the authors talk about political topics related to gun control, but also about the eschatological hope of literally beating guns into plowshares. In fact, one of the authors has a group that does that literal act, having truly turned a number of weapons into various garden implements and tools.

Each of these acts–literally working to beat guns into garden tools or choosing to go the way of peace instead of the way of destruction–demonstrates something about Christian eschatological hope that is often missed in the broader discussions of end-times theorizing. Too often, Christians obsess over details of alleged end times prophecy but miss the fact that Jesus has already come and that calls us to a radical renewal and change of the world–one that calls us to peace and overwhelming love.

The call to peace is powerful, and some of the greatest Christian thinkers have made it central to their theology. For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of a radical call to peace that went against security. Rather than having the security that comes with force of arms, Christians are called towards a life that turns the other cheek and trusts in God.

Evil Begets Evil

John Smith is a kind of ultimate tragic figure. There’s an absolutely stunning sequence in this final season as Helen Smith discovers what John is doing. Interspersed with flashbacks showing how John initially tried to resist the Nazi regime until ultimately capitulating to it and even watching his friend get shipped off to a concentration camp, we discover with Helen that John Smith, as he gains control of the United States, is planning for a continuation of the Final Solution. A particularly chilling moment is when she discovers the map for where the concentration camps would be placed. Helen realizes this is for real–John is planning to not just continue but also magnify the atrocities that the Nazis perpetrated.

Finally, Helen confronts John on their ill-fated train ride. She asks him: “How did we get here–you and me, how did we get here?” She has come to the realization, fully owning that what she has done, and what her husband has done, is an incredible evil–a crime that will be remembered throughout all history. When she calls it a “crime” John Smith says, “I know.” She replies, “It has to stop.” His response is absolutely horrifying, not because it is utterly evil–it is–but because of how we can see that this kind of evil is something people can almost fall in to. He says: “I don’t know how.”

He has gotten so used to the state of affairs that he is inoculated to it. Evil is simply a way of living, it is how they live. It has supported and propped up their lives. It is so incredibly easy for we as humans to give in to evil. We allow it to become a norm. We look the other way when we see injustice and we accept it as a fact of life. People will, after all, do horrific things. What can we do?

But we cannot do this. We cannot accept evil as it stands. We must not. We are called to do better. We must tear down unjust institutions, acknowledging that they are part of what makes it so that we “don’t know how” to do any different. We must call for reform, for a setting down of arms, a march of peace. We cannot ever allow ourselves the comfort of that hideous evil to hide behind: ignorance.

A March of Saints?

The ending of the series is surprisingly ambiguous. I kind of loved it. We see the quantum machine opening up, apparently allowing people from all sorts of alternate worlds come in. The march of people coming in from all over is a stark contrast to the restrictive control that the Nazis have been trying to impose. It’s a kind of march of saints as people go looking for each other from across worlds. It is beautiful.

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!

Also see my other looks into television (scroll down for more).

SDG.

——

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

Another Spurious Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quote?

It is extremely important when quoting someone to find the reference for said quotation. I can’t emphasize that enough. It is very easy to attribute a quote to someone and have it spread, especially in these days of instantaneous communication. Slap a few words together, throw quote marks around it, and attribute it to someone famous and it may show up in a book later. One extreme example of this is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who’s quote about speaking and action is pretty much confirmed to be entirely made up. That quote has been proliferated all over the internet, in some publications, and even on the Senate floor of the United States. The alleged quote is:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. -Probably not Bonhoeffer

That quote is really good! Kudos to whoever wrote it. But that person almost certainly was not Bonhoeffer. Some investigating by other people helped reveal the possible origins of this quote, but again, it wasn’t Bonhoeffer. Yet, when one looks for art of Bonhoeffer or pictures of him with quotes, this is perhaps the most frequently attributed quotation.

Another quote that I found alleging to be from Bonhoeffer is:

A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.

I spent a few hours digging through my collected volumes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in English after I searched for a few hours online in vain trying to find the attribution for this quote. What I did turn up in this search is interesting, because it makes this attribution much trickier. Turning to the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in English, one finds in volume 11 his discussion of a history of systematic theology a very similar quote.

Then, as I spent more time trying to find the source, I turned up someone else citing a collection of Bonhoeffer’s sayings that may have quoted it. So then, I searched for that work alongside the quote, which yielded that this quote is said to be from Bonhoeffer’s catechism with Hildebrandt. So, I got out my volume of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works in English that had that catechism–ironically, still volume 11–and looked it up. There it was, black and white, but with a slightly different wording:

A god who could be proved by us would be an idol.

There it is. DBWE 11:260.

A massive fist pump and a lot of theology/academic nerd joy later, I am now able to reveal that this quote is not spurious and does indeed exist in Bonhoeffer’s corpus. To be fair, it should probably be cited as not just from Bonhoeffer but also Franz Hildebrandt, with whom he co-wrote the draft of the catechism.

But this exercise has taught me again something very important that everyone should take to heart. Cite your sources. It will save other people a lot of time and energy. More importantly, it’s a good exercise for you. Another thing I learned: keep digging.

Regarding anyone, don’t just trust a meme with their picture and name on it as being an actual quote. The spurious quote about “silence in the face of evil” has been spread far afield, even being quoted in the US Congress, despite it not actually being from Bonhoeffer. We need to exercise care in assuming quotes are genuine. Also, be sure when you share quotes to include the source–that way you help others and demonstrate you’ve done the work as well.

To celebrate finding the actual source, I made a meme of it for another of my Facebook pages, “Dank Lutheran Memes.” Check it out.

Links

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– Come read all of my posts about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Becoming C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Young Jack Lewis (1898-1918)” by Harry Lee Poe

C.S. Lewis is a champion of the faith whose life story is familiar and oft-retold. Having read a couple biographies of Lewis, I was a bit skeptical of yet another biography of the man coming out–and a multi-volume one at that! What could be added? But then I saw that Harry Lee Poe wrote it, and having enjoyed some works from him in the past, I decided to give Becoming C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Young Jack Lewis (1898-1918) a try.

One thing that immediately sets the biography apart is that it is a look specifically at C.S. Lewis’s younger years. Harry Lee Poe argues persuasively that these early years of Lewis’s life were both incredibly formative and essential to understanding the man he would become. one major aspect of this book is showing Lewis’s own path of faith. The notion of Lewis going from an atheist to a Christian is well-known, but his move from being a Christian to an atheist is less commonly discussed. It’s clear from Poe’s work that Lewis essentially experienced a kind of milquetoast faith that did not appeal to him whatsoever, while eagerly pursuing certain vices as well. Some sordid details of his predilections are touched upon in this regard, and this helps readers understand Lewis more fully as well.

Another aspect of Lewis’s early life that Poe documents as being extremely important to the later man is his burgeoning interest in classics and myth. Whether it was in translating for himself some classic works or his own intense reading through various myths about King Arthur, Lewis’s interest in myth was found and nourished from an early age. There is little question that it stuck with him for the rest of his life and became essential to understanding the man he became. Lewis’s complex familial relations are also touched upon throughout this biography, as the influence of his brother and family on his life is drawn out by Poe in some detail.

Poe writes this biography in a voice that immediately grabs the reader. He is both sympathetic to the subject while also not excusing character flaws. His writing is well-suited to biography and as one reads Becoming C.S. Lewis, one feels as though one is engaged in a conversation with the author about the fascinating subject.

Becoming C.S. Lewis is a fascinating, detailed look at the earliest parts of C.S. Lewis’s life. Poe is a skilled author with a deep knowledge of the subject, and that makes this biography a must-read for those even remotely interested in the life, theology, or fiction of C.S. Lewis. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

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

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.

——

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.

Sacrifice and Sacrament in Dan Simmons’s “Hyperion”

Hyperion by Dan Simmons is a Hugo Award-Winning science fiction novel that reads like a kind of modern Canterbury Tales. The theological depth and beauty of Simmons’s Hyperion is as profound as it is repelling. The stories told in the novel range from horrifying and vulgar to profound and deep. Each traveler has their own purpose for being on the journey, and Simmons draws readers in with these tales. Here, we’ll discuss one story that moved me deeply. There are, of course, SPOILERS in what follows.

Sacrifice and Sacrament

One story, in particular, sticks out for me. That is the story of the “cruciform” told by Lenar Hoyt, a Roman Catholic priest who tells the story of Paul Duré, a priest who was exiled to the planet Hyperion and researches a strange population there. As readers go on, they see through Duré’s eyes, that the people he’s researching are apparently immortal, and that they follow the way of the “cruciform.” This leads Duré to believe he has found something that will bring life to the Christian church at large–rock solid evidence that Christianity is true and that everyone should follow it.

But as the story goes on, we discover that the immortality of these people is something much more horrifying. The “cruciform” is really a kind of parasitic organism that sustains the host humans while draining their will to do anything other than serve it. The price of immortality is unconscionably high. Pain removes the cruciform creatures, but it manipulates the others into killing the host only to resurrect them from whatever is left so that it can continue living. Duré, unwittingly, had consigned himself to an endless existence serving the cruciform.

Duré, though, discovers a way out: he burns himself continually so that the cruciform will at last remove itself from his body. Hoyt finds him and is able to end his years of endless torment by removing the cruciform and allowing him to die at long last. The cruciform was a mockery of Christian salvation and resurrection hope, something Duré himself came to realize. His own death was a kind of sacred sacrament, a burning away of the evil of artificially discovered immortality that brought nothing but misery and a deliverance into the eternal life after.

Duré wrote, in one of the entries after he realized the abomination that was the cruciform:

If the church is meant to die, it must do so–but do so gloriously, in the full knowledge of its rebirth in Christ. It must go into the darkness not willingly but well–bravely and firm of faith–like the millions who have gone before us, keeping faith with all those generations facing death in the isolated silence of death camps and nuclear fireballs and cancer wards and pogroms, going into the darkness, if not hopefully, then prayerfully that there is some reason for it all, something worth the price of all that pain, all those sacrifices. All those before us have gone into the darkness without assurance of logic or fact or persuasive theory, with only a slender thread of hope or the all too shakable conviction of faith. And if they have been able to sustain that slim hope in the face of darkness, then so must I… and so must the Church. (91)

The sure and provable scientific fact that Duré had been seeking when he found the cruciform initially confirmed his faith before the horror of it made him literally burn it away. But what he found in its stead was a newfound hope, however slim, that in the face of darkness and evil, without the most persuasive evidence, his faith could sustain him. It’s a profound commentary on Christian hope, and one that should be read fully to experience.

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.

——

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,641 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason