apologetics

This category contains 185 posts

Problems for the Minimal Facts Argument for Jesus’s Resurrection?

The minimal facts argument for Jesus’s Resurrection is one of the more popular arguments I’ve read–and learned–in apologetics-related circles. Basically, it goes like this: there are certain facts which the majority of scholars agree upon regarding Jesus’s resurrection such that, when considered together, make the resurrection the most reasonable or only possible explanation of the facts. I have personally used this argument to great effect and for some time thought it a fairly strong argument. However, I believe there are some problems with the argument. These make me hesitant to continue using it as I did before.

I was considering the minimal facts argument recently and something a philosopher* said stuck with me. Namely, that the minimal facts argument conflates sociology with epistemology. Now, what does that mean? Essentially, it means that the argument attempts to use a sociological method–counting up which scholars believe (or don’t believe) a certain historical fact occurred–in place of epistemology–“it is reasonable to believe x.” I’ve oversimplified this, because I want readers to think more about the problem than about my wording of it. This is important, because A) I’m not an epistemologist and so don’t have the skillset to present the point as well as one with training in that area would and B ) I think it’s still a powerful objection that needs to be weighed instead of debating my own wording of the argument.

It shouldn’t be downplayed that this at least appears to be a major problem. The minimal facts argument essentially smuggles in a kind of epistemology along with the sociological data. In other words, the skeptic–or Christian–is expected to move from “the majority of scholars believe these facts” to “these facts are reasonable for me to believe.” Or, minimally (sorry), that “it is reasonable to believe these facts.” But without an epistemic support system, once the argument is laid bare like that, it seems almost farcical. While I’d not go so far as to say it’s logically fallacious,** it does have the look of an unwarranted move.

Another way the argument conflates epistemology with sociology is just that–it essentially treats the counting up and tallying of scholars*** as a genuine way to find and ground knowledge. And while this may not seem entirely unreasonable–after all, I would tend to see a significant majority of immunologists agreeing that a vaccine is safe and effective as a good reason to believe that myself–the move itself needs more argument. Moreover, because the argument is dealing with historical facts, it has additional wrinkles to the move from “scholars think x” to “it is a fact that x.” The aside about vaccines is a good counterpoint, because it is possible to physically test and confirm scholars’ opinions in that regard. However, for an historical fact, the opinions of numerous scholars about whether an event took place stands on somewhat less firm ground. As someone interested in historiography, myself, I realize it is tenuous ground indeed.

In most popular versions of this argument, there’s a kind of hand-waving that occurs regarding these minimal facts. The argument goes that a “majority of scholars” agree upon whatever fact. That fact may be, for example, that the disciples believed Jesus appeared to them after his death. Another fact may be that Jesus died from crucifixion. Now, let’s say of 100 scholars of history, 95 believe the first, and 95 the second. That’s a great majority! They may not be the same 95, of course, but 95 is still a solid number. The more facts that get introduced/discussed, the more acute this problem seems. So, let’s say you introduce the empty tomb, and 85 scholars believe in that. Are they all included in the other 95? If not, does it seem to take away something from the argument? I believe it may, though I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly what the problem is.

Another issue with the argument, and the epistemology/sociology point is relevant here, is that the opinions of scholars is subject to change. I’ve read before how in many fields of science it often takes a generational shift before a theory can be fully accepted, despite massive evidence for its being true. The reason is because people tend to cling to what they know–or believe–to be true even in the face of evidence to the contrary. What this means for historical scholarship is that it is entirely possible, generation to generation, that the “majority of scholars” could have rather large shifts in opinion. If, for example, death by crucifixion were to drop off the map for a majority of scholars in relevant fields, would that mean it is unreasonable to believe that Jesus died by crucifixion? Hardly. But according to how this argument is used, it would be. Or, perhaps, it would seem to be.

Questions about what is meant by “majority” abound, though in the strictest and strongest versions of the minimal facts argument, the entry point for “majority of scholars” is kept quite high instead of appealing to any amount over 50%. When one considers this, though, it again makes the problem of arbitrariness loom. Who gets to determine what percentage of scholars is required for reasonable acquiescence on the part of laity? And are those scholars in the minority inherently irrational for disagreeing?

There’s also the question of how the scholars themselves are being represented. For example, is it really true that all scholars lumped together as agreeing about Jesus’s death by crucifixion actually agree to the same minimal fact in the same way? Maybe. But it’s hard to know unless one is presented with exactly how the question is presented to the scholars and what they said in response. This seems a minor point, until one begins to explore what could be meant by it. Jesus died by crucifixion seems straightforward, but the mental baggage that comes with that sentence for many people is huge. Of course, one could potentially counter this by saying “But what is truly meant is, on the simplest level, simply that Jesus died by execution on a cross. Surely that’s simple enough that we can know whether a scholar believes that or not.” I basically agree with the heart of that, but still wonder about things like whether those scholars would agree about what is meant by “Jesus,” for example. I don’t mean whether they believe Jesus is God in human flesh–that’s beyond what I mean. Instead, I wonder whether some of those scholars in the “agree” category might say “yes, there was probably a first century man named Jesus who was executed by crucifixion.” But would they agree that was the Jesus born of Mary, with Joseph as (surrogate) father, and even other details? I’m not so sure about that. And that does make a huge difference. Moreover, without seeing the method behind how we got “majority of scholars” in agreement about this very basic historical claim, it’s difficult to analyze it in any meaningful way.

All of this is to say that I think we ought to be quite careful in our use of the minimal facts argument. I’m not entirely convinced we should be using it at all, to be honest. Much scholarly work needs to be done to lay the groundwork for the argument, and a surprising amount of that groundwork needs to be on the side of epistemology, because one of the biggest problems is that the argument itself doesn’t seem to do the work it claims to be able to do. Finally, because it is unfortunately the case that questioning people’s beliefs happens when one questions established apologetic arguments, I want to very clearly say that I believe Jesus physically rose from the dead and that that is an historic fact. I am just unconvinced that this argument is the way to establish that.

*The philosopher was Lydia McGrew. I credit her with being the on to point out this problem to me and several others. I’ve expanded on some reflection on that here.

**I’ve seen some claim it is basically an argumentum ad populum or appeal to authority, but the former is inaccurate given that the argument is, in its strongest form, based upon actual scholars in relevant fields and the latter is a mistake because appeal to authority is only fallacious when it is done, er, fallaciously.

***I mean this literally, because some apologists (notably Gary Habermas) have done extensive work literally tallying up opinions of scholars in relevant areas to make the argument.

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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.

Genocide and the Challenge of Apologetics: Randal Rauser’s “Jesus Loves the Canaanites”

There are times we read things in the Bible and we blow past them, not registering the content as disturbing because we have absorbed some explanation for its content that automatically allows us to keep moving. Randal Rauser’s Jesus Loves the Canaanites: Biblical Genocide in the Light of Moral Intuition confronts that practice in regards to the apparently genocidal passages in the Bible. Rauser analyzes the text from the perspective of international law in regards to the definition of genocide, compares it to the modern example of a close-in genocide in Rwanda, analyzes various apologetic approaches to the text, and finally, offers his own possible reading. Fair warning to readers- because the book discusses genocide, there is frank description of brutal violence, including violence of a sexual nature, and this includes discussions related to children.

For my part, Rauser’s powerful look at international law’s definition of genocide and application of the same to the text of Scripture is one of the strongest aspects of the book. Rauser notes that genocide does not necessarily require the intent to actually kill every single person of a demographic; rather, according to the definition of genocide, it also may simply be the action of removing or changing a group to ensure that group does not exist in an area. Rauser moves from the definition of genocide to its application in modern examples, and takes a very deep look at genocide in Rwanda. The reason he uses Rwanda as an example is because much of the killing took place up close and with weapons or implements used by hand (eg. a machete). This modern example, then, is closer to what would have occurred according to a plain reading of the narratives in the Bible.

Rauser notes the intense psychological distress not just upon the ones against whom the attack came, but also upon the perpetrators. This latter point is extremely important, and not one that I personally had reflected upon much. My own training in apologetics had inoculated me somewhat against the horrors of mass killing if one takes the texts at face value, but I had never before considered the immense psychological toll the killing would take upon the killers. Of course, now that I’ve written that, it seems obvious, but think about this, as Rauser does, in terms of the text. God has a chosen people whom he commands to destroy/remove an entire people group from the land in which they’re entering. After striking down tens or hundreds of individual men, women, and children with their own hands and whatever weapons they’d have had, their bodies covered with the blood of those who cried out for mercy, but were not spared, the Israelites are expected to have blissfully settled in and happily enjoyed their time in the land without ever a thought of the cruel, inhuman violence they had carried out to get there. It’s preposterous to think that could happen, and reasonable to assume the Israelites would have had an enormous amount of PTSD, sociopathy, and other mental health problems that would arise with their own actions, let alone the continued act of dehumanization or rationalization of their activity. This would surely have had a generations-spanning impact on the psychological health of the Israelite people, and thinking that God would have seen that as worth visiting upon God’s chosen people requires serious reflection.

By the time Rauer’s intensive analysis of the violence inherent in taking the text at face value is done, it is clear Christians options are somewhat limited. Though it is possible to bite the bullet and accept the immense mental damage done to a few generations of Israelites to secure the land for God’s people, it should cause extreme discomfort to do so. Hence, Rauser turns to various apologetic attempts to explain the text.

The first few attempts essentially accept the text as it stands and try to justify the violence. Thus, apologetic approaches that see the Canaanites as irredeemably evil or corrupting in influence against the Israelites argue that they had to all be killed in order to end this potential menace to their society. Of course, such an approach runs up against the problem of mental harm to the Israelites themselves, but it also seems quite extreme. Surely the sick and dying, the children, the infants do not pose such a threat to the incoming people of God! But according to this reading, they too must die. It seems cruel at best, but illogical as well. Attempts to argue for the truth of the text as just war reasoning also appear to fail. Readings of the text that see it as hyperbolic are somewhat less problematic, but Rauser points out that even most of these readings require acceptance of killing of the most vulnerable people in the land.

Rauser’s ultimate approach is to see the text as something to formulate disciples who love God and neighbor. These texts, argues Ruaser, cannot be seen as straightforward narrative because “When contemporaneous documentation and archaeological evidence fomr the region do not support the claims of documents composed centuries later, the wise course is to go with the weight of documentary and archaeological evidence. And that means that we should conclude based on the evidence that the conquest of Canaan likely never occurred in the manner described” (Kindle location 4652). Though Rauser only briefly notes this documentary and archaeological evidence, this reader has read the same problem with a straightforward reading of the text elsewhere. It is worth wondering then, why the text was written. Rauser notes the difference between the intended meaning of the text and the plain sense reading of the text and argues that if we approach the text from a perspective of believers seeking wisdom, we can then see it as teaching us to love God and others.

Rauser’s approach, then, has at least some in common with the approach of Webb and Oeste in Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? (my review here). The latter argue that the text is intended to move readers towards redemption and an ending of war, though Webb and Oeste accept much more of the narrative as written as historical reality than Rauser suggests. Rauser interacts with some other views that are somewhat similar to his own, rejecting some aspects of each. For example, his overview of Greg Boyd’s The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is largely positive, but notes that Boyd seems to fail to account for the lack of archaeological evidence in his own analysis.

What Rauser’s book does best, though, is force the problem for apologists. It is all too easy to look the other way when confronted by texts of horror in the Bible. Rauser turns a microscope on these texts and shows how they provide unique challenges for apologists. Additionally, he shows how most of the major options and explanations fail to account for the texts themselves in a satisfactory way. Much of this is through his analysis of moral intuition–we can sense when something seems off about a moral explanation. The alternative Rauser offers takes into account archaeological evidence as well as a few strands of explanatory power that have been offered through church history. Rauser’s account, I think, offers perhaps the only way to read the text faithfully while not subscribing to some kind of selective errancy.

Jesus Loves the Canaanites forces readers to look with open eyes upon the text of the Bible and think about in in far deeper ways than they may have done before. For that alone, it’s worth reading. But Rauser offers extensive interaction with and critique of apologetic methods, historical and modern, related to the biblical text. He also offers a possible solution to the text that maintains its integrity and inspiration. Much more could be said about Rauser’s various analyses of apologists, readings of the text, and own view, but this review should, hopefully, encourage others to go and read the book. It’s a must read for anyone wanting to look more deeply at these texts.

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.

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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.

Apologetics Has Issues

A picture of a goldfinch I took. All rights reserved.

I recently had an experience that forcefully reminded me of the deficiencies with apologetics, or, perhaps more accurately, apologists. For background, I have a degree in Apologetics myself, and have studied it for over a decade. I’m not a leading apologist–I don’t show up in lists on the internet of most popular apologists or anything of the sort. But I do have expertise. I’ve put in my time, got the degree, talked to the people.

About two years ago, I wrote a post called “What’s Wrong with Apologetics?” There, I highlighted some of the main problems I’ve observed with apologetics and apologists myself. These included things like “We believe we are experts when we’re not.” The words I wrote 2 years ago feel even more true and relevant today.

The interaction that reminded me so strongly of that post was centered around a statement a Christian made which was controversial. When I challenged some of the most outspoken people to post evidence for their claims, they posted a link to a video of a Christian with no relevant expertise and no published peer-reviewed work in the field. Once this was pointed out, the response was that because this person in the video had allegedly studied the field for a decade, it meant they were an expert, and that what mattered were the arguments, not the person.

Honestly, this is what led me to the somewhat disturbing conclusion I’ve been circling for years. We apologists are just not very good at holding ourselves to the same standard to which we hold others. In other words, I think perhaps the biggest issue in Christian apologetics is that we have a double standard.

1. We have a double standard when it comes to who we trust. People in general tend to trust sources which agree with positions they already hold. Apologists seem to think we’re immune to this, but we’re not. The example I mentioned above is a good one. The video shared happened to put forth a position that those sharing it agreed with. Thus, it didn’t matter that the person involved had no relevant credentials. They were just right, and their credentials were either artificially inflated in order to make them more relevant (“They have studied this topic for decades!”) or simply dismissed as irrelevant (“It’s the arguments that matter, not who’s making them.”)

Fellow apologists, there is absolutely no way we would accept this from someone with whom we were reasoning. For example, Richard Dawkins has written about religious-based topics for decades. He has no relevant degree in theology whatsoever, but he has certainly written entire works dedicated to telling people Christianity and religion in general is just obviously silly and wrong. Now, imagine if an atheist came along and said that because Dawkins had “studied the topic for decades,” he was an appropriate expert when it came to telling us what Christianity is or how to define it. That would be absurd. Yet that’s exactly the kind of thing we very frequently when it comes to discussing things on our side.

2. We have a double standard when it comes to objectivity. We are all too quick to believe that we have an objective position. That is, we think that we are capable of rising above our own subjective consciousness and have a position which is capable of judging all others. That’s just not possible. The notion of “neutral ground” when it comes to big questions is impossible, and to criticize others for pointing that out is, frankly, absurd. We have to acknowledge that we have biases, and certainly attempt to be as neutral as possible when it comes to analyzing facts. But we also must be aware of the fact that we cannot be truly, totally, entirely impartial.

3. We don’t take emotions seriously. This is another serious problem for apologists. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen apologists decrying emotions. Whether it’s saying that an opponent doesn’t need to get emotional or whether it’s downplaying the emotional attachment we get to the questions at hand, we have to be honest and take emotions seriously. Frankly, to think otherwise is to make ourselves inhuman. If you don’t feel a deep, abiding love for Jesus Christ–something intimately connected with your emotions–and you’re doing apologetics, you should probably rethink what you’re doing. Our love of Christ and worship of God deeply involve our emotions, and we cannot just remove them from the equation when we’re reasoning with others. Moreover, the Bible itself offers direct refutation of this strange distance from emotions so many apologists attempt to accomplish. One of the shortest verses in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” Weeping is an intense emotional experience. Surely if our Lord and Savior expresses his emotions, we shouldn’t sneer at the emotions of others.

Conclusion

There continues to be so many things wrong with apologetics. But it’s still something that I think can be useful. I hope these points will help fellow apologists think about what we’re doing and how we’re presenting ourselves as we make a case for Christ.

Links

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I raise a number of pitfalls apologists ought to avoid.

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.

“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.

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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.

——

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.

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