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Book Review: “Ministers of a New Medium” by Kirk D. Farney

Ministers of a New Medium: Broadcasting Theology in the Radio Ministries of Fulton J. Sheen nd Walter A Maier by Kirk D. Farney reads in part as a biography, in part as a love letter to radio broadcasting, and finally as a deep look at the impact of broadcasted theology in the rising popularity and height of radio.

Before Farney dives into the radio ministers themselves, he briefly draws out the history and surging popularity of radio. He notes the penetration of radio into American homes and the way it was essentially set up to be a purveyor of truths to the masses. Broadcasters were seeking religious programing and as radio continued to soar in popularity, they became more specific about that which they were seeking. Enter Sheen and Maier.

Fulton J. Sheen was a Catholic priest and Walter A. Maier was a pastor of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Though they came from different theological backgrounds, their focus on bringing Christianity to the masses through radio was shared. Farney first gives deep background for each of the radio ministers. Then, he draws out extensively the content and tone of their messages. For Maier, for example, there’s some discussion of continuity and shifting tone during World War II as he integrated more patriotic themes into his prayers and messaging (237ff). But Maier also did not shield the United States from criticism, drawing parallels between the Nazi treatment of the Jews and the United States’ towards Native and African Americans (239). Sheen bemoaned the state of universities and the alleged elitism of the intelligentsia (158). One could see easily how messages like these could resonate broadly.

I would have liked to have more critical interaction with the material presented. The strength of Farney’s work is in the lengthy, detailed presentation of the beliefs of the radio ministers. There is no shortage of anecdotes, quotes, and specificity related to the messages Sheen and Maier conveyed to the masses. But there is very little by way of analysis. It’s a kind of “just the facts” approach that left me longing for some analysis. That said, it’s clear that analysis is not the focus of the work. Instead, Farney is focused upon cluing readers into the broad messages and background of these two radio giants.

Ministers of a New Medium is a fascinating read, cluing readers into a somewhat forgotten era of broadly popular evangelism. Recommended.

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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.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” – A Christian worldview perspective

The immensely popular Avatar begged for a sequel nearly from release, and after 13 years, it’s finally arrived. “Avatar: The Way of Water” landed in theaters, and I won’t make a secret of being a huge fan of the franchise. But what might the movie have to say about worldview? Quite a bit, actually. Here, I’ll take a look at the movie from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS throughout this post.

Family

It would be impossible to write about the film without reflecting on the way it discusses and represents family.

Jake seems obsessed with the notion of a father protecting his family. One of the later lines in the movie reflects this, and is a repeated comment: “A father protects his family.” The line, repeated near the end of the film, is somewhat ambiguous. Is James Cameron trying to put forward this line as a truism, or is he offering a subtle critique of Jake’s patriarchal tendencies, as with the critique of his militarism? I lean towards the latter. After all, Jake himself acknowledges his failure to protect his family, but still hangs together as a family and acknowledges the strength of that. Additionally, Neytiri did a huge amount of the protecting of family, especially in the final few scenes.

The importance of familial attachment is a major theme in the film. “Sullys stick together” is a recurring theme. But what does it mean? There are so many scenes that reflect on this. Neytiri tells Jake at one point that the family is not a squad–it’s not a military unit. It’s a unit based upon love, relationship, and bonds that go beyond those even of a squad. Jake’s attempted military style leadership isn’t working, and it is what causes some of the rifts in the family.

The loss of Neteyam was one of the most impactful scenes in the movie. When Jake and Neytiri bond with Eywa towards the end of the film, they see a younger Neteyam frolicking and playing with Jake years before. It’s both healing and unbelievably sad all at once. We know that we will see our loved ones again, but the time in between is one for healing and sorrow.

Colonialism and Peacemaking

The question of pacifism looms throughout the film. The people of the water aren’t involved in the conflict with the sky people (humans). They keep to themselves, living lives that remain tranquil despite conflict on the other parts of the planet. But can they ignore the plight of other peoples? Such a question must rank among the deepest in philosophy, and even the whale stand-ins, the tulkun. The tulkun shun even their own if they participate in a conflict, weighing the damage done by any conflict against those who decided to participate in it.

Colonialism from the sky people–the humans–is what drives the conflict. It’s impossible to miss the major themes here contrasting the peaceful nature of the people of Pandora with the militant, capital-driven humans. And as Christians, I wonder about lines like no one can serve God and money or what good is it to gain the world but lose one’s soul?

Seizures and Religious Experience

Kiri, the daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine’s Avatar, is imbued with unknown power and skills. She seems to commune with many aspects of Pandor’as natural world in ways no one else does–or even notices at times. Late in the film, she is able to bond with anemone-like things in the coral reefs and cause them to fight against a human incursion. Fish gather around her. Glowing sea creatures do her bidding even without a direct bond.

But in the midst of all this, she makes a bond with Eywa which leads to seizure-like symptoms no one else experiences. The human scientists are brought in to assess and help, but they are ultimately powerless to awaken the comatose Kiri. However, they do discern it was a seizure that caused her state and warn Jake that Kiri must not bond with Eywa in that fashion again, because she could have another seizure underwater and die. They also directly link seizures to the part of the brain that is active in religious experiences. I have an interest in religious experience and neuroscience, but certainly no expertise in it. With that caveat, I found this an extremely interesting and specific point for Cameron to raise in the film. As viewers, we have privileged access to Kiri that the scientists did not, and we also know there’s more going on than what seems a physicalist explanation. While it is true that activating certain parts of the brain can yield religious-like ecstasy and experience, that in itself does not demonstrate that no genuine religious experiences happen. Indeed, the later parts of the film with Kiri genuinely interacting with the world in seemingly unexplainable ways seems to show Cameron agrees here, and that something more will loom larger later. For now, though, we’re left not knowing where it’s going.

One last note on this, though. In the first film, we had the groundwork laid to see a kind of unity of science and religion. The “direct line to Eywa” of the tree, detected by scientific means in the roots and throughout Pandora and the clear way there is some kind of unifying intelligence on Pandora shows more is going on here. Is Eywa going to be depicted as deity? Or will there be some kind of unifying theory presented in the future? In our world, some try to unify science and religion quite a bit. There are many views about how to and even whether to do this (see my post on differing positions here). We know that God works in the world, but whether science can or even should detect that work is an open question.

The Way of Water and Eywa

The Way of Water itself is a central theme of the film, and certainly one of the driving aspects of its worldview.

“The way of water has no beginning, and no end.
“The sea is your home before your birth and after your death.
“The sea gives and the sea takes.
“Water connects all things. Life to death. Darkness to light.”

The way of water certainly seems connected to the previous film’s depictions of Eywa, the balance of all life, and the harmony and disharmony. It’s easy to contrast this with traditional Christianity, but parallels may also be found. Interestingly, the contrast can mostly be found with platonic views of the human soul, which hold that human souls are imbued with objective eternality after creation. In some Christian beliefs, all humans are eternal by virtue of creation, not by virtue of God granting immortality. The debate over this would go beyond what I’m trying to discuss here, but it’s interesting to see the parallels with eternality of the soul here. However, as depicted in both this film and the previous one, there’s not a sense of reincarnation or eternality of necessity here. The Way of Water, instead, is a kind of way of being, living in harmony with nature rather than attempting to dominate it. It’s acknowledgement that we all share commonalities. And that, I believe, is something Christians can embrace–the knowledge that we all, as God’s creation, share in the broader creation God has made. Thus, when we harm creation, we harm God’s good order and work against what God brought forth.

Interestingly, the humans who are hunting the tulkun are seeking immortality. A substance from the brain of the tulkun stops aging for humans, thus granting a kind of immortality that is seen as valued above all else. The disordered seeking of self-immortality is one aspect of humanity the film highlights very well.

Eywa is in the background throughout the movie, and I still wonder where James Cameron is going to go with this plotline. Above, I mentioned some more specific aspects of the religious and scientific aspects of the film. But we don’t learn much regarding where Cameron is taking this specific aspect of the plot beyond that. It will be interesting to see in the next several films what happens.

Conclusion

There is much more that could be discussed about “Avatar: The Way of Water.” I found it a deeply provocative film, reflecting the best science fiction which both enthralls with mesmerizing visuals and asks big questions about humanity. It feels to me like a kind of “Empire Strikes Back” middle movie, in which the “bad guys” have much more power than the “good guys,” and we’re left with a somewhat ambiguous ending. I cannot wait for the next one.

I’d love to read your own thoughts on the movie. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Links

“Avatar” – A Christian reflection on the film– 7 years ago I wrote about worldview level issues in the original movie. Note that some of my views may have changed.

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

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

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

SDG.

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

Book Review: “Ending Human Trafficking: A Handbook of Strategies for the Church Today” by Moore, Morgan, and Yim

Human trafficking is a global issue, but one that is difficult to understand without researching the topic. Ending Human Trafficking by Shayne Moore, Sandra Morgan, and Kimberly McOwen Yim seeks to provide individuals and especially churches with resources to understand this awful practice and to help thwart it.

After an introductory chapter, the authors dive into a history of human trafficking as well as groundwork-laying for understanding it today. One of the most important takeaways from these early chapters is that human trafficking probably doesn’t look like you might expect it. People can be living what seems like entirely normal lives on the outside while being trafficked–sometimes even without really knowing it themselves. This makes the topic incredibly complex and also makes it that much more important to dedicate time towards understanding it.

Much of the rest of the book is dedicated toward the goal of integrating understanding and advocacy related to human trafficking. Prevention, protection, prosecution, partnership, policy, and prayer are all aspects that individuals and churches can work towards related to the topic. Identifying risk factors for trafficking is an important task, but the authors also work towards prevention as a goal. The authors also identify and discuss several myths related to trafficking (such as the belief that people who are trafficked are necessarily immigrants). The book as a whole then provides a broad perspective on human trafficking and how to not just understand but also work against it.

Ending Human Trafficking is a necessary and important book that will help people work against this global plague. Recommended for church and individual libraries, but, more importantly, for actually taking action on.

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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.

Book Review: “The Religion of American Greatness” by Paul D. Miller

Paul D. Miller’s The Religion of American Greatness is a conservative pushback against Christian Nationalism. Miller is a professor at Georgetown, was on staff for the National Security Council, served in the Army, and has background in a number of related topics. He’s written for The Gospel Coalition, The Washington Post, and others.

Miller’s perspective is valuable because he’s a sympathetic reader. He clearly understands and has read the material related to Christian nationalism, but as a conservative he doesn’t just remain unconvinced, but rather clearly believes that Christian nationalism is fatally flawed on a number of levels.

Chapters in the book explore cases for and against Christian nationalism, look into the Bible and nationalism, and even explore more current events like the Trump phenomenon. Miller’s views on things like identity politics reflect his more conservative starting point, which may make him more sympathetic to readers already starting on the right end of the political spectrum. Yet even for readers of a more liberal bent, this book serves up a number of excellent analyses and insights into Christian nationalism that will provide them with discussion points that may resonate with those with whom they disagree.

There are numerous excellent insights found throughout the book. For example, Miller notes repeatedly that one issue with nationalism is that it tends to define nation states by shared cultural heritage, but this does not reflect the actual composition of nations that exist. That means that Christian nationalism must either advocate for a kind of voluntary or force dividing of people along preconceived cultural lineages or modify its proposals related to nationalism (see, for example, page 33ff). Some readers may wish Miller would drill down into that argument further–after all, the Christian nationalist definition of nations seems to almost demand a kind of ethnocentric division of humanity and, combining that with its belief that Christian culture would be some kind of inherent feature of some nations, would inevitably yield ethnic hierarchy–but Miller’s argument is more focused than that, and, as noted above, is directed in such a way as to convince some who might not listen to those arguments from implication. Miller does, however, note many of the difficulties inherent in such definitions, such as the existence of people who cannot be placed neatly within any of the broad cultural categories nationalists use. Of course, on this latter point, one again may wish for some kind of note that nationalists then almost have to be forced to a kind of kin-ism, in which only people from certain ethno-cultural groups should interact or, at the least, have children together. But what Miller does is place the arguments of nationalists on the table, where the implications can be drawn out. He nails them down with words from their own writings, and notes the problems even from within their own perspectives. Miller’s analysis thus avoids the head on [and, in my opinion, accurate] accusations of racism and related problems that may drive off some readers while still showing the implications are there.

Another excellent section is Miller’s chapter on the Bible and nationalism. Here, for example, he analyzes the claims of nationalists related to the nation of Israel, often seen as a kind of model for what Christian nationalism ought to be. The Bible itself vitiates against Christian nationalism, for it undercuts the very definitions nationalists attempt to use in order to construct their perspectives. Israel, the Bible teaches us, was a mixed multitude from the time it emerged from Egypt (121). This directly contradicts nationalist tendencies to demand shared cultural background for the formation of nation states and identity. Going on, Israel intermingled languages (Hebrew and Aramaic, among others), mixed familial bonds, and more. The thing that set it apart was merely its relationship to its God; not any kind of shared cultural background (121-122). Insights like this can be found throughout the chapter, and, indeed, the book.

The Religion of American Greatness is a needed response to Nationalism from a background that at least some people within that movement will listen to. It’s the kind of book well-worth reading for people of any background, and certainly could be recommended or bought and given to people who are interested in the topic. I recommend those interested in the topic have a copy on their shelf for reference or lending whenever possible.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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.

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