Current Events

This category contains 191 posts

“We Believe in Dinosaurs” – The Ark Encounter Examined

The Ark Encounter is a controversial attempt to create a monument to what one group of people sees as biblical truth. “We Believe in Dinosaurs” documents the making of the Ark, both before and after, through several different lenses–a creationist working on the project, a geologist opposing it, an atheist protesting it, a woman who speaks in defense of creationism, a business owner hoping it will revitalize the town, a pastor who sees it as too closely uniting church and state, and a young Christian man who’s changed his mind. Recently, I had the chance to watch the documentary on PBS. It’s also available on Amazon.

One thing that makes the documentary so fascinating is that range of voices and perspectives it presents. Doug Henderson is the lead project designer at the Creation Museum and in the documentary he helped design the exhibits and leads a team making animals to go on the Ark, among other things. He’s a fully convinced Young Earth Creationist who believes the world is about 6,000 years old and that a global flood can account for the geologic record of our planet. He admits to having some doubts in the past, but that he resolved those doubts through a firm reliance on what he sees as the correct way to interpret the Bible. One of the most poignant moments of the documentary has him appealing to the camera with the notion that “I’m not crazy” and that he’s just as normal as anyone else, he just believes the Earth is young. It’s a rare, emotionally vivid moment in creation-evolution debates where the facade of certainty is stripped away and, as a viewer, one can witness that these are real people with real concerns. It’s powerful.

David Macmillan used to be a young earth creationist, and even donated enough to have his name on the wall at the Creation Museum. His own journey led him to question the truth of young earth creationism and he points out that it was a questioning of the rigidity of interpretation as well as scientific findings that caused him to change his view. As a viewer, he related to me quite a bit because his journey is very similar to my own.

Dan Phelps is a geologist who thinks the Ark Encounter is anti-science and has done the work to demonstrate it. But he rose to prominence in opposition to the project not because of geological disputes but due to his taking issue with tax dollars being used to supplement the building of the Ark. What was most alarming to him was that the Ark Encounter’s job applications at every level, whether project leader or janitor, required strict adherence to the full statement of faith of Answers in Genesis. This meant not only that atheists need not apply, as his op-ed got titled, but also that no Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, and even many, many Christians need apply either. To have this kind of hiring policy while also getting government money was alarming, and the documentary follows the fight against this government funding. Ultimately, this battle was lost and the Ark Encounter received grants and other aid from both state and local governments, despite claims both that the Ark is an evangelistic tool and the strict hiring practices.

One of the most alarming parts of the film is found when Jim Helten, President of the Tri-State Freethinkers (an atheist organization) who raised money to make billboards slamming the Ark Encounter and Creation museum as the “Genocide and Incest” museum is interviewed for the radio. What’s alarming about this is the way the Christian reacts to the atheist in this encounter. Jim alleges that the Ark implies incest and genocide because the flood kills everyone not on the ark, whether innocent or not, and then that the world has to get repopulated through incest because only Noah’s family was on the Ark. One can debate the nuance (or lack thereof) of Jim’s interpretation, but the Christian on the other end of the line turns around and immediately consigns Jim to hell. He says he’ll pray for Jim to not be in hell, but finally becomes unhinged and says “and there’ll be a million serpents biting your legs for eternity” as though that’s a reasonable response to Jim’s charges and his efforts to put up somewhat inflammatory billboards. Jim points out that he’s being threatened with eternal torture for asking for evidence. It’s another one of the moments that the documentary does so well of creating times to think and reflect and wonder. How is it possible that an ostensibly Christian person would think such a response was justified–and where did the line about the serpents come from?

A major aspect of the documentary is showing the Ark Encounter’s impact on the local community. It’s not clear what explicit promises were made, but it is clear that the people of Williamstown, Kentucky were given the impression that the Ark Encounter would bring a business boom to their community and help revitalize a downtown that Jamie Baker, interviewed in the documentary, said was so slow at times you could almost see tumbleweeds. The documentary covers several aspects of this hope, showing one group singing a song about their excitement related to the Ark Encounter. Just a few years later, that same place is a vacant facade, to go along with all the other places for sale or rent in a downtown that hasn’t been helped at all. One person in the documentary said they were promised shuttles would bring people into town to eat and shop, but that they only rarely see even a car driving through.

It is not clear, again, what promises were made to the people of Williamstown, but whatever hopes were raised have since, apparently, been crushed. The Ark Encounter isn’t helping the community in a monetary way so far as one can tell from the documentary. This, despite the city selling 78 acres of land to the Ark Encounter for $1 and giving them $175,000. This may not seem like a big problem–businesses make promises and bully people into helping them turn a profit all the time. But the Ark Encounter is an ostensibly Christian exhibit! Its staff has to subscribe to a strict statement of faith. One would expect integrity and openness from such people, not attacks on people who question their practices and attempts to block or obfuscate information related to their exhibit.

“We Believe in Dinosaurs” is a fascinating, challenging watch. It presents many sides, both sympathetic and not, related to the Ark Encounter. I haven’t even gone over several other people who show up in the documentary, and there’s much more there. I highly recommend it to anyone, given its broad range of interests from religious freedom, church and state issues, questions about science and faith, and more.

Links

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

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!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!

SDG.

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

“Just Mercy” – A Christian look at the movie

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

Cliched Reality

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

Systemic Racism is A Thing

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

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

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

The Old Rugged Cross and Spirituality

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

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

Conclusion

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

Links

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

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

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

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

SDG.

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

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

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

The Breaking of Swords

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

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

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

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

Evil Begets Evil

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

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

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

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

A March of Saints?

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

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

Frozen 2: A Christian Perspective- Changes, Safety, and Love

Frozen 2 released on November 22, 2019 to a smashing success. The first movie is among the most beloved films from Disney in recent times, and the second had much to live up to. Here, I offer a look at some major themes in the movie, evaluating it from a Christian perspective. Let me know what you thought in the comments! There will, of course, be SPOILERS in what follows.

My Love is Not Fragile – Seeking the Unchanging

A major theme throughout the film, whether it’s “Some Things Never Change”–one of the headlining pieces from the soundtrack, or the constant question of whether love can endure through hardships and whether promises can be counted on.

Perhaps the most poignant line in the movie for me was when Kristoff was talking with Anna near the climax. Anna apologizes for leaving him, and his response is “My love is not fragile.” It’s a strong affirmation of the strength of his love for Anna. Love is perhaps the central theme of the interactions of the characters–whether it’s friendship, the love among family, or the love of a relationship, it is presented as being the kind of thing that doesn’t change.

Of course, we also know that that kind of love does change–it waxes and wanes, and can even fade away entirely. Relationships break, conditions are set where there ought to not be any, people lie, cheat, and betray each other.

From a Christian perspective, though, we also know that love is something unchanging, because it reflects the nature of God. God is love, and God’s love is not fragile–it is the sturdiest, most powerful thing in the universe. Because of God’s love, we are saved. Frozen 2, then, reflects that truth for us–even as we may wonder at the changing nature of the world around us, we can remind ourselves that “some things never change” and that that is where we can ground our hope.

Colonialism and Having it All?

Another central theme of the movie is that of conflict between Arandelle and the Northuldra people. It turns out that Elsa and Anna’s grandfather made a treaty with the Northuldra but betrayed them, angering the spirits of the forest and leading to a break between the two peoples that appears irreparable. But the time in the woods has led to a kind of uneasy truce between the soldiers from Arandelle and the Northuldra people in the enchanted forest.

As Elsa and Anna discover the truth of the past, it is Anna who takes direct action to heal the division, realizing that the building of a dam to benefit Arandelle was also a way to destroy Northuldra’s way of life. She gets the massive stone giants to destroy the dam, and Arandelle itself is saved by Elsa’s magic. In a way, this is an everybody wins kind of scenario. It is through the direct intervention of the spirits (more on this below) that the waters settle in a way that doesn’t continue to threaten Arandelle.

In our own world, we have many situations like Arandelle and Northuldra, many situations where one group of people have taken advantage of another, marginalized them, even actively killed them. How do we work to heal those wounds? Perhaps the most important first step is to listen–really listen–to the “other” and take seriously their concerns. Direct action may even be necessary–action that might place one’s own interests at risk. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that peace is something that must be dared, and as Christians we need to be willing to dare that peace. We need to be willing to dare that we can help make amends for past mistakes, and try to bring healing in places where there has only been hurt.

Spirits and the Spirit

I mentioned the forest spirits already, but it’s worth reflecting on them again. Each of the spirits is explained through natural phenomena, in a way. The fire spirit is a kind of salamander creature that burns, the wind is… wind, water is the movement of the waves, and earth is the power of the ground in earthquakes and some stone giants. Yes, these are mythical and magical elements, but they can also provide a way for looking at the world by Christians as well. We know that in God all things live and move and have their being (Acts 17:28), and the Spirit of God is working in our world still. Even as we find natural explanations for things like the wind an the movement of the earth, that doesn’t mean that God is absent; rather, it means that God is working with God’s own creation, sustaining it and nurturing it. When we destroy God’s creation with our greed or our inaction, we are dishonoring God.

Conclusion

Frozen 2 is a very different film from the first installment. It is deeper, older, and wiser. It has more inside jokes for adults, and it has themes that most kids probably won’t entirely understand. It is a way to speak with kids about the nature of God through God’s unchanging love and God’s sustaining creation. It also gives a way to look on the complex past of human relationships and how we need to work for reconciliation.

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

“Harriet” (2019 film)- Faith and Freedom – A Christian look at the movie

“Harriet” is a fantastic film about the real life of Harriet Tubman. What struck me most, though, were the themes of faith and freedom found throughout the story.

Faith

Christianity is a central theme in the movie. Near the beginning, we witness an African American pastor preaching about how slaves must obey their masters no matter what. In a stunning twist, this pastor later turns out to be part of the underground railroad–a nod to the real life pastor who did the same in Tubman’s life. As a cover, it was brilliant: who would suspect the man who preaches about how slaves will burn in hell for running away would also be assisting that very act? The fact remains, though, that many, many white pastors supported and buttressed the enslavement of fellow humans through the use of just such Bible verses. What the Civil War did with theology is its own, fascinating story, but that battle between a literalistic reading of such passages and seeing the visions of freedom in narratives like that of Moses is played out in an engrossing way in this movie.

The use of spirituals throughout the film is also intensely personal and moving. The scene showing Tubman leading a raid that freed many slaves during the Civil War towards the end of the movie juxtaposed with her singing “Wade in the Water” is perfection itself. Too often, we tend to spiritualize spirituals, along with our hymns and liturgy–even what the Bible itself says. But there is no question that there are real life applications of these verses and these words that people sang. It would be impossible for those enslaved to not see themselves paralleled in the stories about Moses–let my people go! And it would be right for them to do so as a challenge to a simplistic reading of verses that tell slaves to obey masters. These kind of deep, complex issues aren’t fully explored in the film, but the fact that even begins to raise them makes it one of the most fascinating movies I’ve seen recently.

Harriet Tubman is portrayed claiming to have visions from God, and this claim is apparently paralleled in her real life. Several historians today believe this was a condition of epilepsy or something like it that was caused by the actual injury documented in the movie from the weight being thrown at Tubman’s head. But Tubman herself saw these visions as being from God, though perhaps not quite in the way the film portrays–as they warn of specific dangers before they happen. Is it possible that Harriet was used by God in this way? It seems the answer must be yes, for her life was clearly one of fighting for justice as a life of faith. Whatever messy theological problems come from that are questions for a different time, though they are worth reflecting upon. If our theology can’t account for the real, lived experience of people who claim to be used by God and demonstrate that in their lives, it probably is in need of some revising.

Freedom

Freedom is a basic human right,and throughout the film, we see Tubman repeating the phrase “be free or die” (and variations on it). This is true to the real life Tubman, as well. What is fascinating, again, is that this theme of freedom is not tied into a secular, abstract sense of freedom, but a theological, almost liturgical sense in which freedom is something that God will bring–bringing justice against the enslavers.

The constant sacrifice of the freedom of fellow humans is a theme that isn’t quite as strong in the film, but the horrible ramifications of the Fugitive Slave Act are vividly portrayed. The Fugitive Slave Act is one of the most heinous laws passed in the history of our country, and its contentious nature helped drive the country towards Civil War. What is particularly fascinating is the subtle jab at the “Lost Cause” that is taken towards the end of the movie. The “Lost Cause” thesis was a rewrite of history by those with Southern interests in mind to argue the Civil War was about states’ rights rather than about slavery. (It manifestly was about slavery, including trumping states’ rights in order to save slavery.) In the film, Tubman notes that the lost cause was the enslavement of other humans–a cause which is as morally bankrupt and “lost” as it is possible to be.

Reflections

There is no doubt that “Harriet” has me thinking about some of the deep questions of faith and freedom. I already put one biography of Tubman on hold at the library and eagerly anticipate reading it.

There were a few things that I did think were negatives in an otherwise excellent film. One was the character of Bigger Long, a black slave catcher. There is no direct evidence that any black slave catcher was involved in trying to thwart Tubman, to my knowledge (please point me to a historical source if you have one). It seems like this selection was made, apparently, to make it so that not every “bad guy” in the movie was a white person. Though it is true there were some African American slave catchers, they were obviously much less common than white ones. The decision to make Bigger Long an example of such is odd.

I also loved the scene with Harriet giving her speech to Seward and a crowd gathered there as they debated what to do about the Fugitive Slave Act, but was disappointed to see someone clearly portraying Frederick Douglass get scolded by Tubman as not remembering what it was like to be enslaved because he was too important now. The character of Douglass (who I don’t believe ever is explicitly named as such, but the hair styling and time he talks makes it quite clear) is shown giving a stirring call to thwart the enslavers just before this. This sensitivity on my part may be because I think Frederick Douglass is one of the most important, fascinating figures in all of United States history, rather than as a negative point. See my work reflecting on Douglass as a prophet of freedom.

“Harriet” as a whole is a fascinating, intense film that shows the evils of slavery without becoming voyeuristic about it. It also does an excellent job highlighting the difficulties with faith and freedom in our country’s history, as well as in the real lived lives of those back then. It also calls us to do better now for our society and overthrow the bonds–real or imagined–that thwart freedom and faith today.

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

“The Fires of Heaven” 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, we continue the series with Book 5, The Fires of Heaven. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Power Corrupts, and Politics and Religion? 

In The Fires of Heaven, we are introduced to the Prophet of the Dragon, Masema. He has used Rand’s name to build himself a power base, and it is unclear yet whether he actually believes the things he says about the Dragon Reborn or not. What does seem clear is that this is a case of power corrupting. Masema goes mad over violations of protocol, he believes he has the right and the need to restrict even what people wear, how they act, and the like. His unification of religious belief and political power has become a corruption that is dangerous even for those who are trying to help Rand. In our own history, the unity of political and religious power has often played out in totalitarian ways as well, with absolute power corrupting and leading to danger for any who disagree.

The question of how the church and state ought to interact is an ancient one, and one heavily tinged by cultural referents. In the United States, it has become influenced greatly by the notion of “separation of church and state,” a dogma repeated so often it has become enshrined in the political sphere. There are many, many perspectives on the question, and my own preferred one is that of the Lutheran view of the Two Kingdoms–that the Kingdom of God is able to offer correction to the Kingdom of the World, but that the Kingdom of the World must not interfere with the Kingdom of God. Similarly, the realm of the world is generally to be left to the governance of human reason, only called upon to repent when needed.

With The Fires of Heaven, one might ask what kind of divisions of the political and religious are being suggested. There is certainly a sense of unease about Masema and his policies, but what will happen going forward? What kind of commentary might Robert Jordan be offering here?

Sacrifice

Moiraine gives her life up (maybe?) to defeat Lanfear. Birgitte nearly does the same to fight another Forsaken. Here we have the theme of sacrifice playing out rather clearly, though the implications of these sacrifices won’t be found out for some time yet. In Birgitte’s case, it leads to a linking of Birgitte with Elayne as a Warder. The theme of sacrifice hasn’t played prominently so far in the series, and it is clear Moiraine’s sacrifice is totally unexpected to Rand, who was blindsided by it.

Actions have Consequences

Balefire gets much discussion in this book, with its possibility of burning away threads of time and altering the past in unpredictable, terrifying ways. This ties into a broader sense of consequence throughout the series, in which actions have consequences that tend to be far ranging. Whether its simply walking through a town as a Ta’veran and causing weddings, accidents, and more or burning away an enemy permanently, there are serious repercussions for actions in the world. One can’t help but think of our own world, in which some of the smallest actions can have wide ranges of impact.

Conclusion

I have to say I thought The Fires of Heaven was a bit slower moving than the previous books. Despite its massive length, there also didn’t seem to me to be as much to discuss from a worldview perspective. What did you think of this novel? What worldview issues did you notice on reading it? Let me know in the comments.

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.

The Death Penalty and “Just Mercy” – Bryan Stevenson’s personal look at capital punishment

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who has dedicated his life’s work to challenging bias against people of color and poor people in the criminal justice system. His book, Just Mercy, is a deeply personal look at the death penalty, and one that I think many readers would at least be challenged by. I came to the book as part of a book group in which we choose one book pro- and one book con- a position and then discuss it. I used to be for the death penalty, but a deeper look at the statistics about how the death penalty is more likely to be used and carried out against people of color, the possibility of using it against innocent people, the extreme cost of the system, and the failure to make it meet standards of avoiding cruel and unusual punishment moved me against it just a few years ago. Like many topics, it is one where I felt a deeper study of the complexity of the issue led me to a different position than I once held. The book has some graphic depictions of violence in it, and I will try to avoid those in this post, but the topic itself can be emotionally jarring.

Stevenson’s book is stunning. Yes, it is emotionally jarring, but filling in the cracks between the emotional arguments are a number of real stories that have to be accepted by those who favor the death penalty as consequences of the system. For example, there are stories included in the book of the unjust way people were sentenced to death, including children. One of these stories talks about a black 14 year old accused of murder who was then put in a courtroom that was segregated (by keeping all African Americans who were not on trial or witnesses) to face trial, defended by a lawyer with political aspirations who called no witnesses for the defense. The prosecutions “only evidence was the sheriff’s testimony…” that the child had confessed. He was convicted by an all white jury and sentenced to death in the electric chair (158-159). Yes, this is an emotional story, but it begs several questions about how the criminal justice system is set up in such a way that each of these steps could have been allowed to happen. How can we accept the death penalty as a viable punishment when people are sentenced to death on such flimsy evidence and such a clearly uninterested defense? What of the racial tensions in stories like these? Do these matter when people’s lives are at stake?

Of course, executing children seems counter-intuitive in the extreme, even if the child in question commited a heinous crime. As Stevenson points out, there is an “incongruity of not allowing children to smoke, drink, vote… and a range of other behaviors because of their well-recognized lack of maturity and judgment while simultaneously treating some of the most at-risk, neglected, and impaired children exactly the same as full-grown adults in the criminal justice system” (270). Restrictions on the death penalty for children seem to be one of those areas that perhaps even those on both sides of the issue could come to agreement on.

The primary story throughout the book, though, is that of Walter McMillian, who was convicted of murder despite having dozens of witnesses who could place him at his own home at the time of the murder. The case was another in which an all-white jury was selected. He was sentenced to death based on the testimony of people who said he committed the murder, despite conflicting accounts and, again, many witnesses who saw him elsewhere. Actually, he was sentenced to life in prison, but the judge, Robert E. Lee Key, overruled the sentence and gave him capital punishment. He spent 6 years on death row before being released on lack of a case. Following this case throughout the course of the book, one is exposed to the many difficulties facing poor people of color when it comes to defending their cases. People who can afford top-tier lawyers are less likely to receive the harshest penalties. People who are white are also less likely to face capital punishment. These statistics suggest trends that need to be corrected for true justice to be accomplished.

Central to Stevenson’s book is the concept of just mercy, as the title implies. How can we have justice that also includes mercy? He hints at it when he discusses human brokenness, a passage that can serve as a way to close this look at his work: “simply punishing the broken–walking away from them or hiding them from sight–only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity” (290).

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.

“The Shadow Rising” 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, we continue the series with Book 4, The Shadow Rising. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Allure of Evil

Robert Jordan has already developed some strands of plot through the series in which it is clear that evil isn’t always easily identified. In The Shadow Rising, though, he takes it to another level, and does this by making a more real picture of the allure of evil. That allure is found in the person of Lanfear, who has teased Rand through the earlier works in the series and now shows herself more fully as one of the Forsaken. The ways in which evil weaves itself into our lives and being is not as easily spotted as some may think.

Trust in Security and State

Another aspect of this allure of evil is the way in which we tend to put our trust and interest in the desire for security rather than peace. I have written more extensively about this theme elsewhere, but here in The Shadow Rising we see it illustrated to perfection. Back home, Perrin finds that the people of Two Rivers have come to giving up their own peace of mind in exchange for the security and protection allegedly offered by the Children of the Light. But this protection comes at a high cost. It may mean that Trollocs don’t kill them in their beds–maybe–but it also means that they have to submit to the inquisition that comes with having the Children in town. They don’t tolerate differences of opinion; they love throwing accusations of darkfriend around. This resonates with contemporary culture as well, as we use labels like “liberal” or “fundamentalist” to deride others and silence their opinions. Moreover, in the United States, we have consistently exchanged true peace for the security that is allegedly offered by guns, by keeping the feared “other”–immigrant, asylum seeker, refugee–out of our country, and by constant arms races that seek “peace” through force. But that kind of security also comes at a stiff cost. Is it worth it?

Moreover, if we put our trust in the state or in any other powers of the world (Children of the Light, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party), we have essentially elevated those powers to the place of God. Rather than trusting in God, we trust in the idol of the state, the leader, the organization. That is indeed idolatry, and frankly is something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, called blasphemy.

Cool Moments

Okay, setting aside the theological and philosophical inquiries for a moment, how many really awesome moments happened in this book? We once again run into Verin, and series veterans will know who she is and enjoy the interaction with Perrin here. Perrin gets married!? Yeah, he does. Faile is totally perfect for him, too. Rand makes it rain in the Waste. Nynaeve fights against a Forsaken, and wins! There are just so many awesome moments here that it is hard to contain them all. Which ones were your favorites?

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.

Ted Chiang’s Religious Vision and Critique in “Exhalation”

Ted Chiang is one of the more well-known names publishing science fiction and fantasy short stories today. His short story, “Stories of Your Life” was the basis for the film “Arrival” (which I discussed here). His latest collection, Exhalation: Stories is another thought-provoking, moving collection of stories that will make readers think deeply about many questions. What struck me is that, despite Chiang being an atheist, his is remarkably knowledgeable about religion and, though he challenges various religious traditions at points, he also writes stories that resonate with them. I wanted to discuss his religious vision and critique in this book. There will be SPOILERS for some of these stories ahead.

Omphalos

Readers who have done a lot of digging into the esoteric origins of young earth creationism will recognize the title of this short story a nod to one of the most obscure but also earliest examples of young earth literature, Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot by Philip Henry Gosse. In Gosse’s book, written before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, he argues that the fossil record was actually created with the appearance of age and thus doesn’t give evidence of the actual age of the earth. Gosse effectively introduced the argument of “appearance of age” into the young earth creationist repertoire of arguments for their position, and he did it before the evidence for evolution had reached the stage it has now.

In Chiang’s short story, he imagines a scientist interacting with the world that genuinely does appear to be young. In this world, fossils are found that show no evidence of prior age. Tree rings do not falsify a young earth. The evidence on the planet all gives way to yielding the result that the Earth really is young. But some evidence isn’t fixed. The multiplicity of language begins to show that it is from accident rather than by design. Moreover, some question comes into mind as to why the universe was created–was it really made for us, or for some other group of beings somewhere else? The evidence for the miraculous continues, but the purpose of the character we follow in the story begins to get called into question. This leads to the challenge that if this person was not created with a specific purpose, they are left to their own devices to find purpose, and they choose to search… for purpose.

“Omphalos” serves as a lens to question: what would it mean if the universe were not made for humans? (I don’t think it was, and wrote this article to that effect, though it has diverged some from my current views in 6 years.) Chiang’s story is a masterful look at how we might perceive the universe differently as what we think collapses around us. It also asks questions about purpose in a universe in which we don’t have our own, unique purpose. It’s a thought experiment but one that needs to challenge us.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate

The first story in the collection, “The Merchant…” is a series of smaller stories about how some different rings that allowed for time travel impacted people’s lives in a fantastic setting with explicitly Muslim religious expression. As the stories told by the merchant make the reader understand, the longing to be able to change the past and set events right to make up for mistakes is strong. But the concluding lines of the story make clear the point:

Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough. (36)

I have read this story before in another collection of Chiang’s, but it still struck me as forcefully as it did the first time. The deep yearning to change the past is found in so many of us now. But it is a longing we can’t fulfill. Yet even without magical rings that allow for time travel by passing through them, we can still find what is enough: repentance, atonement, and forgiveness.

Exhalation: Self-Destruction and Miracle

The title story of this collection, “Exhalation,” was a Hugo Award winner for best short story. In this story, there is a society of mechanical beings with brains that work based on pressure of the air. One of these beings discovers that its society is beginning to slow down in computations and the reason is due to the way they’re using their resources, pumping air from one place to another, which changes the air pressure and thus their capacities. From this, the being basically finds the second law of thermodynamics and posits that all things will eventually move towards equilibrium–dooming its society.

This short story has many intriguing threads. First, the notion of self-destruction by actions that are initially seen as good or profitable or beneficial. Clear parallels exist between this story and our own, as humanity continues to destroy the good creation of God through our own efforts to seek ease of transportation, luxury, and profit over all else.

Another startling aspect of “Exhalation” is the conclusion towards the end, that life itself is miraculous, because it manages to survive in a universe that is bent upon ultimately driving it out (the second law of thermodynamics means there will be an inevitable heat death of the universe). Life does seem to be a miracle: its diversity, persistence, the emergence of consciousness, and the very fact that life exists stand out. Though there may be natural explanations for these stages, the wonder of them cannot be totally explained in such naturalistic means. There is a sense of the miraculous in life.

Conclusion

There are many other themes found throughout this collection of stories, as well as his others. Questions about what it means to be a person; what mental life is like; how we destroy ourselves; and more. What are some themes you’ve picked up? What stories resonated with you? Check out Exhalation: Stories for some though-provoking stories.

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.

“The Dragon Reborn” 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, we continue the series with Book 3, The Dragon Reborn. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Creator, The Dark One, and the Pattern

There are extended portions in The Dragon Reborn that finally begin to draw out the relationship between the Pattern–a kind of stand-in for fate–as well as the Creator and the Dark One. The most extended discussion makes it clear that in this world, the Dark One and even the Creator are subject to the weaving of the Pattern. The Pattern itself runs along the Wheel of Time, setting a course for thousands of years, including the actions of individuals throughout the Pattern. Though the Pattern is active, weaving itself around individuals that have been picked out mysteriously as ta’veren, in the broadest sense, it is predetermined.

This leads to a kind of fatalism among the characters that many of them are constantly striving against. Rand is the most clear example, but the three ta’veren we’ve encountered–Rand, Mat, and Perrin–all work actively to try to thwart the pattern. Yet even their efforts seem to be taken into account and woven therein.

Again, even the Creator is explicitly said to be subject to the pattern, and this becomes an interesting point of worldview later in the series as speculation about the exact meaning of this abounds. Contrasted with the Christian worldview, in which God is radically free to act as God wills (though of course there is some debate about what this may mean), there is a great divide here between the world of The Wheel of Time and the real world.

The Creator

Now that we have some more insight into the notion of a Creator in “The Wheel of Time,” what is interesting is that the Creator here does not necessarily seem to be some kind of omnipotent or omniscient being. We already noted that the Creator seems bound by the Pattern, but we find here that the Creator seems to be a kind of demi-urge; an almost deistic creator who makes the world but then allows it to play out as woven by the pattern. “The Dragon Reborn” really only gives us a few hints of how this plays out, and so we will look at any other time the Creator appears to see what more is revealed.

Prophecy Fulfilled

Another dimension to all of this discussion is the notion of prophecy, which we find out from multiple Aes Sedai exists in huge amounts in the world. There are many, many prophecies of the Dragon, several of which appear to contradict. So for Rand to come and fulfill what is said to be the first step to revealing the Dragon Reborn remains yet something that some people reject. I can’t help but think about the prophecies of the Messiah in the Bible and how many yet did not believe in Jesus. Prophecy in The Wheel of Time can seem confusing and require the eyes of believers to see it. Is the same the case when it comes to Christianity? One example may be that of the virgin birth, a prophecy that was apparently fulfilled in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 7:10-17–the context shows that it was an immediate sign for Ahaz). Prophecy, it seems, is not as black and white as some would like it to be. It can take some discernment to draw out the meaning fully.

Conclusion

The Dragon Reborn is another fascinating step in the world of “The Wheel of Time.” Reflecting on its worldview, it is here we begin to find some of the greatest deviations from Christianity, particularly in its elevation of the Pattern/The Wheel over the power of the Creator and the character of the Creator. However, it is interesting to see how this notion of fatalism truly begins to play out in later books. We’ll delve into those as we go. For now, let me know your thoughts up to this point in 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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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

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