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“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.

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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 Summoning” – The Christological Allegory of Babylon 5

I’ve never watched Babylon 5 before, but I got the whole series on a great sale and have been watching it from the beginning. In this post, please do not SPOIL anything past the episode discussed. There will, of course, be major spoilers for this episode.

“The Summoning” – The Christological Allegory(ies) of Babylon 5

I’ve often argued that science fiction can explore the deepest questions of the human condition. It allows creators to make stories of how humanity ought (or ought not) to be. It also lets people play with themes in ways that are unexpected, subversive, or meaningful in many different ways. Babylon 5 frequently explores religious themes in its episodes. “The Summoning” has several themes come to a head as we see just how deep some of the allegorical background of the show flows.

G’Kar is an alien character who has endured much throughout the series to this point. His people, the Narn, have been at war with another alien species, the Centauri. The Centauri have enslaved the Narn after defeating them. G’Kar has gone from a prestigious ambassadorial post to a pariah on the Babylon 5 space station. Finally, he is captured and put at the whims of the Centauri elite.

The Emperor of the Centauri at this point is Cartagia, a kind of Nero stand-in. He delights in tormenting G’Kar for his own pleasure, and for that of his court. G’Kar endures several ways of suffering which parallel Christ’s suffering. The image I used in this post shows him carrying one of the instruments of his torture in a scene that is surely intended to parallel Christ’s carrying of the cross. In one scene, he is wearing a kind of crown with spikes seemingly screwed into it around his head, akin to a crown of thorns. Though the imagery is somewhat overt, the subtleties behind the imagery is its own commentary on the depth of the show and its allegory of Christ. Cartagia wants to force G’Kar into some expression of pain, and finally resorts to a lashing. No one has managed to survive 40 lashes, and G’Kar is whipped 39 times before he finally cries out in pain. That number may not seem important, until one turns to Deuteronomy 25:3 and sees that punishment is not to exceed 40 lashes. Traditionally, some have said that Jesus was lashed 39 times. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:24, discusses being lashed 39 times on five separate occasions. Throughout this whole sequence in this episode, as well as the few before, we see that G’Kar is a kind of allegory for Christ, suffering in behalf of his people. 

I already mentioned how Cartagia is like Nero, but I wanted to draw that out. His hedonism at the cost of all else is one of the most obvious parallels. His utter contempt for any other people is narcissism, yes, but it’s so over the top and insidious that it takes it to another level. As he smiles, there is an ominous tinge to everything he does. Others try to emulate him to keep him pleased, and end up failing and being discarded or killed. The Nero parallels are there, but he could also be interpreted as a kind of stand-in for love of self over others, the easiest but also most easily corrupting sins. The greatest demonstration of this may be in his willingness to toss aside his own people for the sake of being remembered as a god. Cartagia’s delusions of grandeur could almost be humorous if he didn’t have the will and power to bring about some of his most dastardly plans. Cartagia then–whether he is a Nero, a Satan, or a kind of stand-in for human moral failing that evolves into monstrous evil–is another religious theme here. Is it a commentary on the overbearing power of the nation state? A questioning of the human condition? A nod to the spiritual power of corrupting evil? I think each viewer can take something away from it, and that is the power of a truly excellent work of art.

Babylon 5 is a show that inspires as much as it entertains. It makes viewers think, even decades after the show run finished. A powerful emotional response is almost unavoidable in an episode like “The Summoning,” and I’m sure I’ve missed some details as well for how the parallels might play out. Regardless, it’s a beautiful narrative that leads to reflection on the life–and death–of Christ, as well as how evil can so readily corrupt in heinous ways. 

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– My “Eclectic Theist” site features a number of posts discussing my first watch-through of Babylon 5. Check them out here!

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.

“The Dead Lady of Clown Town” by Cordwainer Smith- Love as Resistance

It’s no secret that I love science fiction. I’ve written on various science fiction works on this site before, and have a second website that is largely dedicated to writings on science fiction (Eclectic Theist). I’ve been on a journey discovering vintage science fiction. Cordwainer Smith is a major figure in that scene, and for good reason. Though he died fairly young, he churned out a number of short stories, novellas, and one novel, almost all of which are set in a shared universe spanning thousands of years. Smith was a Christian who pushed the boundaries in his fiction, using the strangeness of his world.

“The Dead Lady of Clown Town” is one of the stories set in his larger universe. It is intentionally resonant with the story of Joan of Arc, down to a character named D’Joan. In this world, there are the underpeople–animals who have been cross-bred or genetically altered to express various human features–whether physical or mental. The underpeople are used as, essentially, slave labor. They’re discarded and tossed aside whenever their usefulness is undercut. At one point, Smith writes of hospitals for humans that stand empty even as the underpeople are desperate for their care. The reason the hospitals are empty  is because  the underpeople aren’t allowed to be treated in them. They’re underpeople, after all.

The climax of the story has D’Joan being burned alive, but even as she burns, she cries out in love for those who burn her. The other underpeople had risen up with her, crying out and embracing people, calling out that they loved them. The love the underpeople bring unlock all possibilities. Robots come to be aware of their selves; Lords and Ladies are horrified or delighted by turns. Humans run in terror; while others stand around in shock. It’s a dizzying, poignant scene that, even more than 50 years later, evokes images of resistance.

The resistance of the underpeople is one of love. They reach out and embrace those who would seek to hate or even destroy them. Their resistance is built upon a powerful cry that resonates with that of forgiveness and hope rather than hatred and injustice. The underpeople cry “love; love!” and they die smiling. It’s a stunning scene, and one that we cannot help but see parallels throughout time. Smith published this story in 1964, in the heart of the Civil Rights era. It is impossible to not see parallels with Martin Luther King Jr.’s resistance movement and his nonviolence, even while calling out injustice in the strongest terms.

But the resistance of the underpeople is transformational: it changes their whole society, as well as everyone it touches. If we truly desire a just society, we must have a society that is capable of changing rather than rejecting. When those we’ve designated as the “other” reach out to us for embrace, we must not reject them. We must treat them as we wish to be treated.

Set in the context of Smith’s other stories, this is a story that sets off the founding of a religion based on equality of all sentient beings. It’s a beautiful, hopeful future envisioned by Smith. In our own time, as resistance to injustice builds, we have powerful voices also rising up to cry out for those who are downtrodden. May it ever be.

Links

“We the Underpeople”  – Cordwainer Smith and Humanity in the Future– I look at Smith’s vision for the future of humanity, good and bad; bleak and hopeful.

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.)

Cordwainer Smith– Another blogger writes on the themes found throughout Cordwainer Smith’s science fiction.

SDG.

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

Yes, Christians (and I’m looking at you, apologists) should affirm that Black Lives Matter, and here’s why

Image Credit: By George Willis, Navy Agent Pensacola Navy Yard placed July 18 1840. – Pensacola Gazette, runaway slave reward for “SMART” dated July 22 1840,p.3 National Archives and Records Administration Washington DC, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68445221

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous,
    but dismay to evildoers. 

I have an MA in Christian Apologetics. Because of the circles I run in due to my interest in apologetics, I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds of posts bemoaning Christians supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. These posts often center around the notion that the organization Black Lives Matter is inextricably tied to critical race theory, which itself is alleged to be completely anathema to Christianity. 

I’m going to suggest the opposite. I’m going to say Christians absolutely must support Black Lives Matter as a movement because black lives do matter. Full stop. And this argument doesn’t need to be over whether critical race theory may be used by Christians or not. I don’t need to wade into those waters for my point. 

If you’re asking the question “Should Christians support ‘Black Lives Matter’?” the first thing you should ask immediately following that question is a simple one. Do black lives matter? If they do, then you’ve answered the question. And the reason I’m saying this is because the answer needs to be simplified. People have been, intentionally or not, conflating the entire movement with one organization with which they disagree. I’ve directed this post somewhat at apologists because I’m an insider there, and I’m quite frustrated. We need to do better, fellow apologists, at leading the way as people who want to be thought leaders in Christianity. We need to do better. We need to express more care with our thinking, while also expressing more care for following what the Bible actually tells us to do

You see, no Christian apologist worthy of the name would agree that if an organization arose that went around saying #JesusisLord, every Christian ever has to agree with everything that person or organization says or does. yet it is a fact that Jesus is Lord. Right? Right? But it would be absolutely absurd to insist that every single person who ever has said anything like “Jesus is Lord” or #JesusisLord must therefore be intrinsically tied up in whatever the organization or person who made the phrase popular said or did. Indeed, looking at the history of Christianity, we better be very, very careful to make the point that support of a statement–even one made by members of an organization with the same name as a movement–does not entail support of everything in that movement or organization. If that were true, then all Lutherans must agree with Luther’s antisemitic statements; all Southern Baptists need to agree with the many, many antebellum Baptists who preached pro-slavery sermons; all Christians have to be indicted by the raping that occurred during the Crusades; and the sad, awful, and sordid history of every aspect of Christianity anywhere done by anyone who has ever said “Jesus is Lord” would be applied to every single one of us. 

But that’s wrong, because that’s not how reality works. I can affirm Jesus is Lord without also affirming everything even every other modern Christian says. In fact, I’m sure you do the same thing. That’s because we realize that Jesus is Lord is true, but not everything said or done by Christians is true or good. Guess what: the statement “black lives matter” is true. It is. 

None of this is to say that the specific Black Lives Matter organization is right or wrong about any- or everything. But I’ll tell you one thing: they are 100% totally correct in saying that black lives matter. And if you disagree with that, the problem is with you, not with the organization, not with people who you see as rioting, and not with anything else. It’s with you. 

If we’re Christians, we believe the Bible speaks to us today. It teaches us to this day. The quote with which I started this post was from Proverbs 21:15. It is just one of a great many Bible passages that urge us to seek justice. And believe it or not, the way God’s justice comes is sometimes surprising. Sometimes, even the chosen people of God get things wrong. That’s why, for example, Jonah’s anger over God’s justice speaks so clearly to some of us today. We are too often like Jonah, fleeing rather than trying to bring God’s loving forgiveness to people with whom we disagree. But God is a God who works in ways we don’t always understand. God used even the ungodly to bring justice. Be careful, lest we stand in the way of God’s justice in a moment in which we as Christians should be standing up and also declaring that yes, black lives matter and yes, we should seek justice for them. 

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. – Isaiah 1:17 

It’s a powerful thing when we can sit and listen to our neighbors who say they are oppressed without rushing to explain it away as an aspect of critical race theory or some other straw man we’ve set up so that we don’t have to do what the Bible tells us to do. Yes, those are strong words, and they are so needed right now, however unfortunate that is. Think about it. If you’re a Christian apologist- which have you spent more time doing of late: critiquing critical race theory and trying to correct people about the Black Lives Matter movement or actually seeking to learn from those who are crying out for help? Which do you think is more valuable for the building of God’s Kingdom? 

What about lawbreakers? I chose the picture for this post for a reason. It’s from an 1840 advertisement for capturing a fugitive slave. This ad was before the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, but it is still a fact that trying to escape from slavery was unlawful. These fugitive slaves were lawbreakers. But who was in the right–the “fugitive” or the enslaver? Let’s practice some extreme, tremendous care that we do not align our Christian morality to that of the law of the state. Laws change, but God’s will and justice never change. Justice came for those evildoers who enslaved others in the United States. We should pray that justice continues to roll from God to our nation to this day. 

Finally, we as apologists need to practice better care for our thoughts. When confronted by a new idea, our tendency is to analyze it, break it apart, and see how it fits together. Too often, this also becomes a practice in self-affirmation. Is it any wonder that so many apologists who were unconcerned about racism in the United States before the recent protests are suddenly up in arms about Critical Race Theory and calling on other Christians to disavow any kind of “social justice movement.” We need to think long and hard about that. Why was that our instinct–including my own? How do we break out of it? For me, it was going and actually reading books about racial injustice and disparities in the United States. Yep, we have to do that thing that apologists love doing: read books. But there’s a big caveat here: not just books that support our own views. We need to humble ourselves and acknowledge we might just be wrong on this topic, and do the work to learn about it. Because we absolutely cannot and must not make new stumbling blocks for Christianity. In my apologetics classes, I remember hearing time and again how “Christianity is offensive enough.” How do you think people feel when they see people like us–trained apologists–lining up to explain how Christians cannot support the Black Lives Matter movement, conflating it entirely with the organization? Is that actually a good witness? Is it even a good use of our time? No. It’s not. Why not? I’ll tell you:

Black. Lives. Matter.

It’s time to be humble; to act justly; and to love mercy. It’s time for apologists to do what the Bible says.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

Links

Book Review: “Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores” by Dominique DuBois Gilliard– Learn about our criminal justice system and how it needs to be reformed. 

“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight– A prophet for then and now- Learn about Frederick Douglass, a powerful Christian voice who helped speak for justice in ways that continue to resonate into our own time.

“How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi– I review and summarize major aspects of this book on antiracism on my other site. 

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.

July 4: Frederick Douglass’s indictment of American Christianity’s links with oppression, and a call to stand for justice

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?
“Many of its [the church’s] most eloquent Divines… have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system…
“For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! …[Theirs] is a religion for oppressors… a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble…
“The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in its connection with its ability to abolish slavery.
“…Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday School, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery, and slave holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds, and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.”
-Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, 196, 200-201

When we sit today, and we think about the fact that people continue to deny the reality of systemic racism; that black people are disproportionately imprisoned, stripped of the right to vote due to being deemed “felons,” and disproportionately sentenced to death; that so many feel a compulsive need to make self-declarations against “Black Lives Matter”; we must acknowledge that America’s Original Sin remains, and continues to divide us.

Let the people of Christ stand up against oppression! Let God come and break the rod of the oppressor, as in the days of old (Isaiah 9:4). Let us condemn practices that exalt the rich over the poor; and the proud above the humble. Let us confess where we have done wrong, and pray for guidance to bring justice. Let us stand up with people of color and denounce religious, political, and societal practices that work to divide us. Christianity ought to be a religion which lifts up the oppressed and downtrodden–may it ever be!

The Fugitive Slave Act and Sanctuary Cities: An historical precedent for a modern practice

I’m reading through Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings and am continually struck by how relevant and fresh Douglass’s work feels to this day. Early on, the editor described a situation leading up to the writing of a letter by Douglass that reminded me of our modern discussion of sanctuary cities

Douglass sent a letter to William Lloyd Garrison, a major abolitionist figure, about the case of George Latimer, a fugitive slave. Latimer had been captured and a judge had refused the writ of habeas corpus to him, basically condemning him into slavery. But Bostonians went “wild with excitement” (see editorial note in the book cited above, p. 5) and raised enough money to purchase Latimer’s freedom. After this case, Bostonians rallied and got the state legislature to pass laws prohibiting state officials from assisting people trying to arrest fugitive slaves and also making other limits on state entities for cooperation with marshals and others attempting to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

One thing noticeable as one reads contemporary debates about the Fugitive Slave Act is how Southerners and those who supported slavery in the North did not go around calling for “states’ rights” at that point. Indeed, they were calling for the federal government to toss aside states’ preferences and laws in order to enforce slavery. It’s demonstrable that many states made this explicit in their articles of secession. This, in turn, shows the Civil War was manifestly about slavery.

But what does this have to do with sanctuary cities? Well, sanctuary cities are, once again, local and states’ rights being contrasted with the laws of the federal government. But time and again, you don’t see those groups who are calling for “states’ rights” standing up and crying out when the federal government attempts to impinge on states’ rights to make sanctuary cities. Nor do you see people complaining when the President tweets about how he wants to ban sanctuary cities or complains about his ban being blocked in the courts. 

Douglass wrote of Latimer: “Slavery, our enemy, has landed in our very midst, and commenced its bloody work. Just look at it; here is George Latimer a man–a brother–a husband–a father, stamped with the likeness of the eternal God, and redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, out-lawed, hunted down like a wild beast, and ferociously dragged through the streets of Boston, and incarcerated within the walls of Leverett-st. jail… what crime had George Latimer committed? He had committed the crime of availing himself of his natural rights…” (6). 

Sanctuary cities seem to parallel this in so many ways, and as Christians our call for justice for those who are being given sanctuary ought to echo his. For the immigrant also has natural rights. One might protest and say–ah, but “illegal” immigration -is- a crime by the laws of the United States! But how much moreso could others have claimed that violation of the Fugitive Slave Act was a crime or that running away from slavery was criminal! Yet Douglass cuts through that rhetoric and points out the true nature of the crime: that people are attempting to exercise their natural rights as human beings. 

The immigrant is also stamped by the likeness of the eternal God and redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Sanctuary cities offer solace for these fellow image-bearers. Douglass’s words ring as true today as they did then.

SDG.

“Passing Through Gethsemane” – Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity

A very fragile human moment.

I’ve never watched Babylon 5 before, but I got the whole series on a great sale and have been watching it from the beginning. In this post, please do not SPOIL anything past the episode discussed. There will, of course, be major spoilers for this episode.

Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity- “Passing Through Gethsemane”

There are moments when you’re watching something on TV or a movie when you realize it’s a transcendent time. Something about what’s happening on the show clicked; one of those moments where everything aligned. “Passing Through Gethsemane” was one of those episodes for me. It may be the first time TV has ever touched me on such a spiritual level.

Near the beginning when we see Brother Edward, a Trappist Monk, talking about the Garden of Gethsemane. He says that there, Jesus could have chosen to leave, postponing the inevitable. It was a “very fragile human moment” that resonates so deeply with Brother Edward. Later in the episode, we discover that  Edward has been mind wiped and is, in fact, a notorious killer. He himself starts to discover this as a telepath reawakens his memories–apparently as a step of a plot to get revenge from families of the victims. Edward finds himself in a kind of broken psyche, realizing who he was, but also that his entire life and outlook on the universe has changed. Who is he, now?

Edward asks whether there is “enough forgiveness for what I’ve done” as he contemplates his former life, and the implications of being that same person. The answer, provided by Brother Theo of the Trappist Monks, is simple: “Always. Always.” Edward’s killed by the families of his victims, but he chooses to go to his death, knowing what they will do. He sees it as his own “passing through Gethsemane” and the fragility of the human condition one finds there. He apparently saw justice and forgiveness align and chose that path.

One astute reader pointed out the problematic nature of seeing Edward as a good man, since he was, in a sense, made that way. As a viewer, I viewed Edward-as-he-is as a completely new and different person than Edward-as-he-was, the murderer. This is aside from the moral question of the mind-wipe as punishment which seems highly questionable at best. (Feel free to comment on that below, I’d love a discussion on that, too.) As I reflected on this, it reminded me (as a Lutheran, particularly) of baptism. Edward’s old self was like the Old Adam, which we drown in the waters of baptism, creating a rebirth and, in a sense, a New Adam/self washed clean by Christ. The metaphysics of this metaphor playing out become quite complex as one thinks about it, because here the question of the morality of a mind wipe is writ large. But I’m thinking of the outcomes, not in a consequentialist way, but in a pragmatic one. If Edward has been created anew, however that happened, he seems a new man. For the baptism analogy, this plays out quite well and, while likely unintentional, makes me think even more on that sacrament. 

Theo and Sheridan have a conversation about “Where does revenge end and justice begin?” and Sheridan makes a point that forgiveness is a “hard thing”–likely himself thinking about his wife. But then, we discover Malcolm–one of the men who committed the vigilante act against Edward–is mind wiped and himself one of the Trappists. And Theo turns Sheridan’s words back on him. Knowing Sheridan is enraged by this vigilante killing, Brother Theo says that Sheridan himself just made a comment about forgiveness being a hard thing. Sheridan pauses in his rage and shock, and finally shakes the new Brother Malcolm’s hand. 

It’s not often that you get to see full on theologizing in a television series, but this episode presents just that. Of course, it never fully realizes the whole of the Christian message, but it is powerful and compelling for Christians all the same. It may also speak to those who aren’t Christian, due to the beauty of the moment. And I suspect that’s what the writer(s) was going for. Christ, here, is seen as facing a “very fragile human moment,” but the total importance of it is made to sound more like an ethical moral choice than something about the fate of humanity. However, there is no question that this episode beautifully shows the humanity of that moment. Yes, Jesus Christ is God the Son, but we must not forget that he was the God-man, fully human as well. I was struck deeply by how this episode made that point so clearly. To humanity as turning on this moment with Christ in Gethsemane, able to “delay the inevitable” but choosing instead to pass through Gethsemane. It’s beautiful. 

The other ethical-theological aspect here is the notion that individual humans can also “pass through Gethsemane” with their own trials/temptations. We have our own fragile human moments, and those can define who we are. Babylon 5 doesn’t portray the help we receive from the Holy Spirit here, but I still think it is to be commended both for the genuine look at the humanity of Christianity and the beauty of its story.

Appendix: A number of comments on Facebook when I shared this post raised questions about the death penalty and the justice of the mind wipe. I’m opposed to the death penalty, and I think that the book and movie of “Just Mercy” help explain some of the issues surrounding that. They’re highly applicable to discussions of the mind wipe as well.

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– My “Eclectic Theist” site features a number of posts discussing my first watch-through of Babylon 5. Check them out here!

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.

 

“A Crown of Swords” 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 our look at the worldview in the series with Book 7, A Crown of Swords. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Evil Comes in Many Forms

It’s easy to see evil as being all of one sort. The childhood cry of “The Devil made me do it!” is a familiar trope. In The Wheel of Time universe, it’s easy to try to assign all evil to the Dark One or blame one of the Forsaken. It’s just as easy to assume any evil done by an Aes Sedai is due to their being part of the Black Ajah. But the truth is that evil comes in many forms. Evil can be like that of Elaida, who allows her zealousness to overcome her goodness, her thirst for power to overcome her caution. Evil can come from fundamental beliefs, pushed to their extremes.

Elaida is an absolute case study in this, as she starts to lose her grip and becomes controlled by the Black Ajah. Yes, some of her evil is due to that influence, but she’d never have accomplished what she did without her own striving and willingness to compromise justice for an ideal.

Changing Perspective

Viewing things from a different perspective is a theme that remains central to the series. Are men who channel a danger to everyone, or are they a potential way to thwart evil with the use of the Power? The notion of men who can channel faces numerous challenges depending upon one’s perspective in this book. It’s fascinating to see Jordan play with this theme. What applications might it have to our own experience today?

Stereotyping Sex

We continue to have Jordan using the characters to draw out stereotypes about sex. Nynaeve complains about men gossiping all the time to each other–a stereotype that runs opposite of common stereotypes today. Time and again, characters complain about “men” doing something, or how “women” always act in a certain way. I am still trying to discern for myself whether this is Jordan intentionally playing with stereotypes and turning them on their head, or whether Jordan means that there are inherent acts in men and women.

If the latter, that seems to go against reality. Behaviors are learned, and men and women are created equally in the image of God. To reduce their worth to stereotypes or their range of activity to certain assumptions is to do wrong.

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.

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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 Faithful Solace of Metal- Reconstructing Faith with Demon Hunter

We live in interesting times, for better or worse. Recently, the weight of many things settled down on me. The stress of dealing with various personal problems, along with the broader pandemic impacting everyone through the novel coronavirus COVID-19, really was hitting me hard. So I sought solace in music. Usually, I listen to audiobooks on the way to and from work (and pretty much any other time I have a chance to listen to something for any length of time). But I felt that I needed something more–some music to sooth the soul.

Demon Hunter is a band I’ve loved for decades, since their debut self-titled album. I have listened to each album many, many times. I was listening to their music on shuffle, and the song “The Last One Alive” from their album Extremist came on. The lyrics resonated with me in a way nothing had before. As I listened, I realized that it was something I had desperately needed, and also was able to reflect on the way that the metal music of the band “Demon Hunter” had helped me reconstruct my faith and get through many difficult times.

Living through a pandemic certainly lends itself to thinking of doomsday scenarios, for better or worse. The song starts with a poignant line: “Did anyone survive?” But after this question, it delves more deeply into the trials we face each and every day:

Where angels fall and darkness reigns
Where time dissolves the brightest flame
Ever the same

Whether I’m the last one alive
Or ascend before my time
Better I’m the last one alive
Than a soul denied

So this is how we break
And this is where we find the only hope within this place

The lyrics spoke to me on such a deep level as I was driving on the interstate on the way home. The music moved me, and I couldn’t help but feel the connection with God, the cry for help, and the hope inherent in the song. We live in a world where angels have fallen, and where it does seem, so often, that time wears away at even the best parts of the world and the most uncorrupted things get shattered. When we live in the midst of a pandemic, how easy it is to cede our hope. But whether we are the last one left alive or not, whether we ‘ascend’ before our time, dying younger than one might think is fair, it remains true that God will not deny us, and that our lord Jesus has already saved us. That is where we can find the hope, and that means that even if we think all hope is lost, it is not.

Time may dissolve the brightest flame; angels may fall; it may seem that everything changes and yet remains the same; but in spite of all of this, hope remains.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

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.

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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.

“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.

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