apologetics

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“Winter’s Heart” by Robert Jordan- A Christian (re)reads The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, I continue my series exploring the books from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Winter’s Heart

I’m reading this novel for the third time, and this time I listened to it. It’s amazing to me to see how differently I approach different issues it raises 5 years after I first wrote about it on this blog, and nearly 15 years since I first read the book. For one thing, I remember friends at the time I first read it saying it was a rather tedious read. But I have quite enjoyed the novel the three times I read it. But this third time did highlight some of the problems with Jordan’s later books in the series. There’s so much fluff in this novel. It could have been edited down to be about half the length and still gotten all the major points across. I don’t know if this is a result of me reading much more speculative fiction since even 5 years ago or what, but I just noticed some of the problems more than I did the first and second go-rounds.

Another difference is in myself, and that is explored more thoroughly below, in the section titled “Peace and Security?” It is fascinating to me that my own growth as a person can be measured against my reaction over time to this fantasy series. The intense strength of the imagination on formation should not be underplayed.

Self-Image

The concept of self looms large throughout the whole series, but perhaps especially so in Winter’s Heart. Whether it’s Rand still making sense of his own powers and authority as the Dragon Reborn or the women who are in love with him trying to navigate their own feelings about him and each other–the notion of self is critical throughout the novel. But self-image is part of this, too. Characters throughout the book are obsessed with how others view them. did their demeanor give something away? Did they dress properly? Or, “No, I won’t be dressing that way.”

Is this obsession with self-image a product of Jordan’s fluffing the novel and including so many additional details? I’m not sure, but it was something that stuck with me.

Peace and Security?

When I wrote about Winter’s Heart on this blog last time, I centered in on the situation in Far Madding, where weapons were highly restricted from being carried around openly. I noted the following passage:

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

I focused, as Jordan seemed to, on the fact that violence still continued wherever the guards were not. The implication, though I didn’t spell it out, is that Far Madding is foolish to prevent people from bringing weapons of all sorts into their city. It didn’t prevent violence, after all!

But now, looking back on what I wrote, and thinking about Christian responses to violence, I think that I, like Jordan and the naysayers of Far Madding and controls on weapons, confused Peace with Security. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was killed by the Nazis, wrote about the fact that “Peace must be Dared.” He wrote:

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be made safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war.

(DBWE 13, 308-309)

Placing trust in weapons and feeling secure means that we have essentially traded security for peace. Instead of peace, we have sought safety. Peace means daring to thwart war by daring the great venture–calling peace down on our neighbors.

Conclusion

Winter’s Heart is maybe the “fluffiest” entry in the series so far, with plenty of length conversations and descriptions of clothes and locales to make it feel bloated. That said, readers who enjoy verbose descriptions of a fantasy setting we’ve grown to love–and if you’ve come this far, I hope you love The Wheel of Time–will glean quite a bit to love from this novel. Those most interested in worldview and the main plot will have to wade through quite a bit to get there, but Jordan’s series remains thoughtful and compelling.

(All Amazon Links are Amazon Affiliates Links.)

Links

The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on The Wheel of Time (scroll for more).

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.

Androids overthrow their god- “Tower of Glass” by Robert Silverberg

The best fiction makes us think about the real world in new and challenging ways. Robert Silverberg’s Tower of Glass is one book that has made me think quite a bit. Silverberg is one of the greats of New Wave science fiction that had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. In Tower of Glass, originally published in 1970, Silverberg offers up a plot that has echoes of the Tower of Babel, as well as Christian theology and other questions being raised. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. There are sexually explicit scenes in the novel. 

The core of Tower of Glass‘s plot is that an alleged alien communication has been received on Earth and the wealthiest man in the world is trying to build an immense tower that will allow him to communicate via tachyons with these purported aliens. The man, Krug, was made wealthy by his inventions, the androids. The androids are separated in a kind of caste system by their abilities. They’re not robots, because they’re made of organic material, but they’re effectively a kind of specialized clone, so far as I can tell. These androids and their interactions with humans are the other major part of the plot. 

The central question of the narrative, on a surface level, is whether androids and humans are equal. There is a political party dedicated to android equality. The androids themselves have developed a religion. It directly parallels Christianity in many ways, with its own symbology, liturgy, and hymns. It also has a distinctly trinitarian quality in which Krug is seen as a Christ figure for them, while they also worship a transcendent Krug. At one point in the novel, we’re told humans have cast off religions as a kind of relic of the past, but the plot itself leads to asking whether that is truly a way for humanity to transcend its roots or abandon reason. 

Manuel, Krug’s son, is having an affair with one of the “Alpha” (highest functioning) androids, Lilith. The name is intentionally a reference to the woman from Jewish mythology, and the parallels between her manipulation of Manuel and the Talmudic Lilith are certainly a thread to pursue. After one scene in which Manuel has sex with her as he’s trying to reassure himself that he believes androids are equal with humans, she convinces him to go to his father to speak with him about android equality. Manuel brings one of the android holy books to his father, showing Krug that he is the center of their religion and hope for equality. Krug utterly rejects this, essentially undercutting himself as the androids’ god. The androids revolt, going on a mass rampage that will change the Earth forever. Krug kills his most loyal android, Thor Watchman, after he discovers Thor has caused the great Tower of Glass to topple. Krug then rushes to the spaceship he’s been building to try to get to the aliens for whom he’s building the tower. A few loyal–or perhaps nostalgic–androids aid him, and send him to the stars in the final scene of the book.

There are layers upon layers of meaning in this novel. I’ll start at the end. The Tower of Babel was described in the Bible as an attempt by humanity to reach the heavens–the realm of the gods. The Tower of Glass was an attempt by Krug to reach out to possibly mythic aliens, an obsession that he becomes increasingly enamored by as the novel goes on. The collapse of the Tower of Glass happens as worldwide rebellion strikes, sowing confusion, chaos, and fire. Babel’s construction was halted by confusion caused by the scrambling of languages in the biblical story. Krug takes it one step farther, finally escaping Earth in a real and symbolic rise into the heavens, the realm of the gods, as he pursues his own ends. We don’t know how his journey will end, but the possibility that he will simply be burned to a crisp by the star on the other end of the voyage is very real. The symbolism of the event in the novel is ambiguous. Accompanied by the fall of the Tower of Glass, it certainly resonates with the story of Babel, but in what way? Is the Glass like Babel–its own attempt to reach the gods in space and try to claim their arcane knowledge? I don’t know, but it’s this kind of science fiction that I love. It’s the kind that keeps us thinking.

The android equality movement and the question of the humanity of androids also looms large. The resonance of their clearly false religion with Christianity begs the question of what Silverberg is trying to say about human religion. Again, at one point Manuel notes that humans have essentially left religion behind. And with the religion of the androids being clearly false, one wonders what is being implied by this. The very object of the androids’ faith ends up a false god, fleeing from the planet during its greatest crisis, pursuing his vain dream of communicating with aliens. Yet the inherent need for a faith remains in the androids, as they send their theologians scrambling to make sense of the world events. And we also have to wonder about what humanity has done with the freedom granted by the androids. We don’t see much of broader society outside the narrow path Silverberg leads us on in the novel. But it seems that the humans we do encounter are self-obsessed, lazy, and even jealous of each other in some ways. They care little about anything except their own pleasure. Which people more closely reflect humanity in the novel? Is it the androids, with their faith seeking understanding, or the humans, who rely, essentially, on slave labor for all of their accomplishments?

Silverberg’s novel is clearly not a defense of religion. Indeed, it may be seen as an attack on religion. It could be argued either way. But what is clear is that we often make our own “towers” that we worship, creating idolatrous visions of what humanity can become if we simply try hard enough–or exploit enough resources and others–to do so. Tower of Glass is the kind of science fiction that makes us think more about our own lives and actions, and that’s the kind I love most. 

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here. This is a link to my other site that focuses on my non-theology or apologetics related interests.

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!

Popular Books– Check out my other posts on popular books, including several other science fiction works. (Scroll down for more.)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

SDG. 

“The Path of Daggers” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (Re)reads The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, I continue my series exploring the books from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Systems of Power

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

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

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

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

Of course, broadening these insights, it is easy to see how this might apply to systems of power more generally. Far too many people are dismissive of how we are capable of setting up systems that continue to exclude or oppress for years and decades to come. Yet the Bible teaches us that we must fight oppression, even in the very systems and powers of the world that are set up.

The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.

Ezekiel 22:29

We need to seek out how oppression works, even if it is unintentional, and seek to end it in any form. We need to be less afraid of the powers of the world than we are of doing justice and walking rightly with God.

The people of the Wheel of Time became more afraid of Rand than they did the very real (Satan-like) threat of the Dark One. That was because they feared what might happen to their wealth, their things, and their worldly lives more than they feared eternal consequences. They cared more about themselves than about others. As Christians, we are called to the exact opposite, though too often we also stumble. When calls come to end oppression and seek justice, it is too often Christians who are the first to try to dodge or diminish those calls. We should obey the word of God and fear God rather than humans.

(All Amazon Links are Amazon Affiliates Links.)

Links

The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on The Wheel of Time (scroll for more).

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.

Ancient Apologetics: Justin Martyr, Tatian, The Epistle to Diognetus, and More

Frances Young’s chapter, “Greek Apologists of the Second Century,” found in “Apologetics in the Roman Empire,” is a study of many of the earliest Christian apologists.

Justin Martyr (100-165) is the first to be treated, and his First and Second Aoplogy are among the earliest Christian apologetic treatises in existence. Writing from Rome, Justin addresses a number of charges made against Christians as though they were on trial (82-83). His first goal is to demand a fair hearing for Christianity, calling on those Romans who were pious to look upon Christian piety and those who were philosophers to love the truth and hear it from Justin. Then, he offers a challenge to the practice of condemning Christians for their beliefs while also trying to show the superiority of Christian ethics and beliefs (83).

Tatian (120-180) was a pupil of Justin Martyr and was from the East, though thoroughly Hellenized (85). Tatian follows his tutor in offering a plea in his Oration to the Greeks for fairness to Christians, but he includes in his own apology an attack on idolatry. He is among the first who argued that the good found in Greek philosophy, mythology, and the like were, in fact, derived from Moses, whom Tatian argued came before Moses. While Justin offered a kind of supersessionist view of Judaism, Young argues that Tatian did the same with regards to Hellenism.

The Epistle to Diognetus is difficult to place regarding time and authorship, having been spuriously assigned to Justin Martyr. After a survey of the possible origins of the work, Young notes that it is worth reviewing because it offers reasons for inquirers to understand “why Christians reject ‘the deities revered by the Greeks'” while also going so far as to “make light of death itself” (88). It is less a defense of these beliefs than it is a call to join in joyful acceptance of these beliefs as truths.

A major aspect of the defenses these early works offered was to argue that Christianity had robust ties with the ancient past, rather than being an entirely new faith. Thus, many Greek apologists argued the Hebrew Scriptures were more ancient and correct than the writings of Homer and other classics, even while dismissing Judaism as superstition or as something completely replaced by Christianity. This reflects the importance of tailoring the message of Christianity to one’s audience. At the time, any new belief was seen as deeply suspicious, while ancient beliefs were better established and more likely to be true. Regardless of whether or not these apologists were correct, they knew their context and offered an apologetic that suited it.

In our own time, it is easy to see some of these apologetics works as simplistic or useless–what has Rome to do with us? But it is worth seeing the major theme of exhortation tied into these early works. Justin Martyr called on philosophers of his time to truly act as though they were lovers of truth, which would mean they had to at least give a hearing to beliefs they might otherwise have rejected outright. In our own time, Christianity is sometimes dismissed for scientific or ethical reasons, but could we not take insight from Justin Martyr and others by offering a similar exhortation? We might say, “If you are lovers of knowledge, how can you reject even the chance of finding some new truth?”

Questions

  1. What insights might these early apologists have for us today?
  2. In what ways can the Christian apologist tailor their defense of Christianity to the needs of their time and place? How might we do so now, where we are at?

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.

“Lord of Chaos” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (Re)Reads The Wheel of Time

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

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue the series with Book 6, Lord of Chaos. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Shadow

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

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

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

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

Destruction of Life and other Injustice

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

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

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

Prophecy

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

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

Onward!

We have seen that Lord of Chaos brings up a number of interesting themes. From here, we shall move onward into more books in the series. What are your thoughts on these themes? Do you have any other major themes you can think of as being found within the series?

Links

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

SDG.

——

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.

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 12

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above

Chapter 12

Fisher turns to a rather brief aside in this chapter about whether the charge that Christianity is inconsistent with the Old Testament is accurate. Readers of this brief chapter may come away with many questions, and again the most important thing is that Fisher is here not concerned with many of the deeper questions on issues he considers to be less important. His book is intended as a brief introduction to Christian evidences, not a comprehensive theology or apologetic. Modern charges about the Old Testament include its character, charges that prophecies weren’t fulfilled, that it is purely fable rather than having any truth in it. When one considers many modern objections, it is actually rather surprising how on point Fisher’s swift dismissal is.

Many objections to Christianity from the Old Testament might be covered by noting, as Fisher did, that there is a progression of revelation and that Christians are not to go beyond the words of Christ when it comes to trying to make sense of many passages in the Old Testament (92-93). Fisher explicitly notes that questions of authorship and dating are questions to which Christ and the apostles pay no attention. Readers can see this in a couple different ways. Some may take it as seeing the modern obsession with source criticism or finding which parts of the Old Testament were composed in which order is an irrelevant and perhaps even wrong-headed endeavor. Others may see those things as quite beneficial but instead note that the findings of modern scholarship related to the composition of the Old Testament do nothing to challenge the Christian faith. For my part, I think the latter are more correct. Modern scholarship can and does challenge many traditional interpretations of the text, but when it comes down to it, the foundations of the Christian faith do not stand or fall on whether Moses wrote by hand every word that has traditionally been attributed to him or not.

Fisher even goes beyond this and argues that Jesus’s teaching on divorce shows progressive revelation and that part of the Old Testament law did not reach the “Christian ideal (93). From this, he argues that God has been gradually revealing His will and plan to all peoples in the times and places where they are.

And that is the point, I believe, that Fisher is averring to here. He shows what seems a remarkable disinterest in questions that obsess Christians today–whether progressive, conservative, or of any other leaning. Why? Because he’s getting at the point that these questions don’t matter when it comes down to Christ crucified, a point he makes more explicit closing out the chapter (94).

Study Questions

1. What do you think of Fisher’s assertion that dates and authors are not important to Christ and the apostles?

2. How might we avoid going beyond the text when it comes to trying to establish the authority of Scripture?

3. Do you think Fisher’s arguments here are sound? Why/not?

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.

Ancient Apologetics: Apologetics in the Roman Empire

The book “Apologetics in the Roman Empire” is a fascinating study of apologetics not just from Christians, but also from Jews and various other faiths in the Roman Empire (the period covered in the book is from 31 BC to 337 AD). It is an important read because it helps place Christian apologetics in its context at the time, which helps readers understand some of the specific issues and topics covered, as well as why they were addressed in the ways they were addressed.

In the introduction, the editors note that, though “we might have expected [Christians] to have presented themselves simply as carriers of a novel faith, in fact [they] articulated a complex relationship to earlier traditions” (4). The authors claim that the New Testament books were not written “specifically to convinced outsiders of the veracity of the Christian religion…” but rather were almost entirely for convincing “small groups committed to Christ of the plausibility of the step they had taken” in already committing to Christianity (ibid).

Because of this, the earliest Christian apologists had two major boundaries with which to wrestle: they had to interact with Jewish traditions, hashing out the “continuity between the Jewish Scriptures and the beliefs and practices of Christianity” while also navigating the other religious traditions of the environment from which Christianity sprung, largely religions of the Greeks (5-6).

Loveday Alexander’s chapter is entitled “The Acts of the Apostles as an Apologetic Text,” and in it, she argues that Acts may be the book most particularly aimed at any kind of apologetic for Christianity. She notes that there are several ways that apologetic can be taken, especially in the context in which Acts was written: was it an internal apologetic that defended Paul against other theological interests (16)? Was it a self-defense against Judaism? Was it addressed to the Greeks in order to evangelize? Perhaps it was self-defense of Christianity against political charges from Rome, or as a way to legitimize or self-define Christianity.

Alexander notes that while Acts is not an apologetic discourse, specifically, it can be seen as part of the literary apologetic tradition, in which the stories therein function as legitimization and self-definition for the group, while also offering defenses aimed at some of the goals noted above (21-24). Ultimately, then, Alexander sees strands of all of these forms of apologetic in Luke. It functions to try to bring unity to Christianity, legitimizes Paul against those who would downplay or undermine his importance and theology, and offers a way to see Christianity as a legitimate religion in the Roman context.

Our next look at Ancient Apologetics will examine several early Christian apologists and their interactions with the world around them.

Questions:

  1. Are there any books of the New Testament that you see as oriented towards apologetics? If so, in what ways are they related to apologetics? To whom are they directed?
  2. How might acknowledging the context in which the early Christians lived help us to understand their apologetic?

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.

“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.

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.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 3- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866)

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 III

Campbell’s reply

Campbell here rises and responds to Owen by going back to the propositions he seeks to prove, namely, Owen is trying to demonstrate that all religions are founded upon ignorance; that all religions “are directly opposed to the never-changing laws of nature”; that all religions are the “source of vice, disunion, and misery of every description”; that religions are the “only bar” to human society forming in a way of charity and intelligence; and that religions can no longer be maintained but by “the ignorance of the mass of the people, and the tyranny of the few over that mass” (30).

Each of these propositions, notes Campbell, is independent of the others and requires its own set of proofs. The twelve facts that Owen alleged (p. 22-23) themselves require establishment and also interpretation–how are they to be applied in such a way as to demonstrate the five propositions Owen seeks to demonstrate against religion? After some other preliminary concerns, Campbell also notes the difficulty of pinning down exactly how Owen is using key terms in the debate. This may seem to be a kind of obfuscation on Campbell’s part, but given the broadness of Owen’s claims, it is important, as Campbell notes, to understand how Owen is using terms like divine, religion, morality, virtue, and the like. Owen throws these terms out alongside what he calls proofs without really going into how these are proven. If it is true that all religions lead to vice–what is it that is meant by vice? One might think that it is a vice to waste one’s time going to a worship service every week, but that is only a vice if the worship itself is to a false god and truly a waste of time. Indeed, some modern studies have suggested that going to church can improve mental health, suggesting that even if there is no God, the practice itself may have pragmatic benefit.

Looking back to Campbell and Owen’s time, the terms in question are therefore very important, and coming to agreement on their use is beneficial. But again, one wonders if the debate  will be able to get off the ground if it begins to circle the questions of exacting definitions of every term.

Campbell then moves to the offensive and suggests that he could affirm each of Owen’s 12 facts and still have no trouble maintaining his belief. He notes several reasons for this, including that the facts pertain to the physical and so cannot prove or disprove the metaphysical; that the facts, if granted, do not seem to have a specifically logical connection to any of Owen’s 5 theses; and that the facts themselves require organization into premises (33-34).

Owen then Rises

Owen surprisingly suggests that:

it did not, nor does it now, appear to me that I stand pledged to prove the fallacy of the Christian religion, separated from all other religions. To me they all appear one and the same in principle and in general practice, except the difference in the rites and ceremonies, which I deem mere
form. (35)

After some back-and-forth over the exact nature of the debate, Owen continues, asserting once again that Campbell and others are not to blame for their alleged ignorance in being Christian any more than anyone of any other religious tradition is to blame for their own. Each, he suggests, is merely the product of their time and circumstance, such that if one were born to a family of Buddhists, one would be Buddhist. Thus, Campbell happens to be Christian, but one can’t blame him for it (37). Here, it is worth noting something that Owen has yet to acknowledge. Namely, that his own birth is also a product of time and circumstance, and so perhaps his own beliefs are a product of the same whims of history that he alleges all religious believers succumb to. After all, if he believes that the chance of one’s birth is truly a logical reason to doubt the beliefs one has, then what makes his own system of beliefs excluded from the same charge?

Owen’s reading of his address digresses into areas of his own personal interest, including the allegation that two sciences are now capable of being spread globally: the science of “influence of circumstance over human nature” and the science of the “means of creating infinite wealth and of its equal distribution” (38). He alleges that if all humans would just embrace this knowledge, the need for religion would disappear, all revolutions would cease, etc. It seems possible that if we could truly generate infinite wealth and distribute it evenly, that might end a number of societal ills, but whether Owen truly possessed such a knowledge remains to be seen.

Campbell answers that Owen has yet to establish an argument for his positions, and the meeting adjourned for the moment. Here, we, too, will await the next installment.

Questions

  1. Does the chance of one’s birth provide a reason to doubt one’s beliefs? If so, how? If not, why not?
  2. How important is it to establish definitions in a discussion like this debate?

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.

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