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Naturalism and the Sublime in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”

To be sublime is to be “of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe” according to Oxford Dictionaries. As Alan Gregory has argued in Science Fiction Theology, scientific (or sometimes nearly magical) sublime frequently replaces transcendent reality in science fiction. I believe this can just as easily be noted within science writing as well. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a prime example of this subversion of the transcendent by explicitly naturalistic sublime.

Tyson fills his book with language of the sublime. Simply looking at the table of contents shows how he has worked to replace religious themes with his own naturalistic paradigm. Chapter titles include “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” a reference to the popular biography of Christ of the same title; “On Earth as in the Heavens,” a play on the line from the Lord’s Prayer; and “Let There Be Light,” the opening line of the creation account in the Bible. These titles intentionally play on the transcendent themes from which they are are derived.

The naturalistic sublime continues in the opening chapter, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” which echoes Genesis with its opening:

In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago… (17)

These words spur a narrative of the universe from a purely naturalistic perspective. Of course, Tyson is not content to merely echo religious language; he must also make explicit that his naturalistic sublime is intentionally replacing God.

The naturalistic sublime effectively turns the universe–the cosmos–into its god. It glories in the beauty of the universe as the telos in itself. Tyson’s language of the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and echoing of the Genesis account with the replacement of God’s activity with purely naturalistic explanation is one example of this. Ignoring that many, many, many Christians agree that his “Greatest Story” is the way that the universe was created, Tyson creates his own narrative of the naturalistic sublime. It becomes most explicit in the closing chapter, which we quote at some length:

The cosmic perspective flows from fundamental knowledge… its attributes are clear:
The cosmic perspective comes from the frontiers of science, yet it is… for everyone.,,
The cosmic perspective is humble.
The cosmic perspective is spiritual–even redemptive–but not religious…
The cosmic perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae, but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.
The cosmic perspective [gives an]… indication that perhaps flag-waving and space exploration do not mix.
The cosmic perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth, but also valeus our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself. (205-207)

Thus, Tyson makes quite explicit his idea of the naturalistic sublime. It is scientific–by which he means naturalistic–and for all. Eschewing such petty things as definitions or clarity of terms, Tyson allows for spirituality and, generously, an amorphous and undefined notion of rdemption, but not religion in his cosmic sublime. The kinship of all with all is offered as a kind of final, ultimate sublime for all to finally be one (apparently Tyson forgot this idea had already existed in many of those “religions” he rejects, including his clear primary target, Christianity: 1 Corinthians 15:28, for example).

But Tyson is not content to merely offer this vision of cosmic, naturalistic sublime to his readers. He closes with a commandment: to ponder these cosmic truths “At least once a week, if not once a day…” so that we may wonder at the way new discoveries may “transform life on Earth” (207).

When Tyson confronts the Big Questions like how the universe’s beginning may itself have begun, he simply punts the question in typical naturalistic fashion:

…some religious people assert, with a tinge of righteousness, that something must have started it all: a force greater than all others…. that something is, of course, God.
But what if the universe was always there, in a state or condition we have yet to identify…? Or what if the universe just popped into existence from nothing? Or what if everything we know and love were just a computer simulation rendered for entertainment by a superintelligent species?
These philosophically fun ideas usually satisfy nobody. Nonetheless, they remind us that ignorance is the natural state of mind for a research scientist… What we do know, and what we can assert without further hesitation, is that the universe had a beginning. (32-33)

Tyson’s tone is itself an intriguing study in deep irony. Even as he references those silly religious people who assert that God must have created the universe, he throws a dig out there about their self-righteousness. But just as he’s doing that, he turns around to, himself with no small amount of righteous-pride, assert his ignorance of the universe. He throws out a number of answers that he calls “philosophically fun” and then shrugs his shoulders. His own pride–his sublime–is found in the not-knowing. Though we know, according to Tyson, that the universe had a beginning, we should satisfy ourselves with ignorance and just ask “what if?” questions to pass the time.

Tyson’s universe is itself the means, end, and glory. It is the non-transcendent, naturalistic sublime. As we’ve shown above, the universe itself is what replaces the transcendent for Tyson. Devotional rites are proposed. Religious language is wholly appropriate, in Tyson’s world, to use for the universe. It is the Greatest Story; It is the Beginning; It is the Light; Its Will must be done, despite our ignorance of it. It is the naturalistic sublime’s only hope. God help us.

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!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, 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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Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan Trilogy”- Justice, War, and Love

Beautiful insert art from "Goliath," the third book in the Leviathan Trilogy.

Beautiful insert art from “Goliath,” the third book in the Leviathan Trilogy.

Scott Westerfeld is an extremely popular author of young adult literature. I recently dived into his “Leviathan Trilogy,” a series that tells an alternate history of World War I as steampunk. What is steampunk? Well… it’s hard to sum up, but for those not in the know, check out Wikipedia’s description. In this alternate history, the powers that split the world are aligned as either Clanker (using machinery, guns, and the like) or Darwinist (using genetically modified creatures to do battle). There will be SPOILERS for the series in what follows.

 Honor and Nationalism

The series begins with Prince Aleksander of Hohenberg, the son of the Archduke in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, being spirited away at night because people who do not want him to have any chance of becoming the Emperor are after him. Count Volger is one of those who have conspired to whisk him away. Volger’s character is interesting because although he is portrayed as largely unlikable from the perspective of Alek [Prince Aleksander], he is one of the most honorable characters in the series.

Volger acts as a kind of moral voice, but one which is strongly tied to nationalism. Volger’s honor provides a framework for Alek to learn from, and he does so spectacularly when he acts rightfully to stop a potential mass destruction later in the series (see below regarding Tesla). However, Volger is not infallible, and his moral compass appears to be inherently tied to what is good for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and what he perceives is good for Alek. This is in contrast to a wider, broader vision of moral action which would allow for self-critique on a national level as well. Volger at points seems to see how his moral/nationalist vision puts him at odds with what he thinks is right and wrong, but his commitment to that system makes it difficult for him to get beyond it.

Even if the reader thinks Volger is wrong, however, the honor he shows throughout the novels is something to be admired. The way that he acts selflessly at multiple points throughout the trilogy is noteworthy, and sets a strong moral example throughout the books. Again, this is interesting because from the narrator’s (Alek’s) perspective, Volger sometimes seems an insufferable grouch. However, Alek ultimately realizes the goodness of Volger, much to his own benefit.

These reflections lead naturally to a kind of self-examination for those who tend to think of their own nation in exceptionalist terms. Although exceptionalism is not, in and of itself, a moral wrong, it can very easily lead to the pervasive, systematic injustice. Volger’s character allows readers to examine this kind of thinking in a fictional setting, which makes it safer to think about while still engaging the reader on a deep level.

War and Justice

A central aspect of the trilogy as it plays out over an alternate World War I is the unity and disunity between the concepts of war and justice. In Leviathan, Great Britain seems to enter the war purely due to some perceived obligation–it doesn’t want to see the “Clankers” win. By the time we get to the third book, however, the depth of the discussion is much greater. Tesla has apparently developed a weapon capable of wiping out entire cities. Is it just to use such a weapon to bring an immediate end to the war, if that means sacrificing millions of lives to save tens of millions?

Thus, there are numerous questions about war and justice raised throughout the series. Some of these remain open questions–such as whether Great Britain in this example was right to wage war–while others are explored more thoroughly. One of these is Tesla’s attempt to use a weapon that allegedly can destroy entire cities. When he attempts to do so, Alek rushes to stop him, resulting in Tesla’s death. Here we see an act that might normally be considered a wrong–causing the death of another (though the moral status of its intent is something worth contemplating as well)–ends up being, ostensibly, a good. Ironically, Tesla’s weapon did not actually have the power he thought it did.

Male Privilege

Deryn Sharp has to pretend to be a boy in order to pursue a dream of serving in the air force of Great Britain. The subtle criticisms of male privilege found throughout the series is worth commenting on. One wonders whether we have actually overcome some of the clear biases against the capabilities of women that are mentioned throughout the Leviathan Trilogy. For example, resistance to women as firefighters, police officers, and the like persists in our time.

Conclusion

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan Trilogy is a thought-provoking set of novels. It is also a beautiful story of love and adventure, with wonderful illustrations found throughout. It’s the best kind of story: one that makes you think.

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Eclectic Theist– My other interests site is full of science fiction, fantasy, food, sports, and more random thoughts. Come on by and check it out!

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.

Dean Koontz’s “Odd Thomas” series- Faithful Goodness in the Face of Evil

saint-odd

Dean Koontz is an insanely popular author, having sold over 450 million copies of his books. His Odd Thomas series has also been a stunning success. Here, I will take a worldview level look at the whole series. There will be SPOILERS for the whole series in what follows. I will not be summarizing the plots of these works, but brief summaries can be found on Wikipedia (follow internal links).

Faithful Goodness

I think the concept of “faithful goodness” best summarizes the main character, Odd Thomas. I call it faithful goodness because time and again, Odd has every reason to flee from doing right, yet he persists in doing the right thing. He believes in a higher order to the universe to which all–including himself–are held accountable, but this is not the motivation for his continuing to do what is right. Rather, he acts as a kind of sacrificial/Christ figure.  He does what is right because that is his nature. Ultimately, that leads him to giving up his life to save others. “Saint,” indeed.

Evil and Violence

The Odd Thomas series is filled with murderers, torturers, and worse. What kind of redemptive themes might be found amidst the chaos of all this evil? Dean Koontz stated in an interview:

I don’t shy away from having violent things happen, but I don’t dwell on it. I feel, as a Christian, writing books that have a moral purpose to them, it’s actually incumbent upon me to write about evil, because this kingdom is Satan’s and he is the prince of the world. It’s here and it’s among us… My villains are pathetic. I never glorify a villain. I couldn’t write something like Hannibal because there’s something there that makes the villain the most glamorous person in the piece. I can’t write that. I don’t find evil glamorous. You’ll never find it that way in my books. (Cited by Anthony Weber)

Ultimate glory does not belong to evil. It will be extinguished. Although evil and violence persist in the world in which we now live, that is a temporary state of affairs. Christ our King will come to create anew, bringing life and vanquishing death.

Yet this does not mean that we can ignore evil now, or that we should be apathetic toward it. Like Odd, we must persist in fighting it, faithfully clinging to the reality that God–the ultimate Good–will triumph in the end.

Hope

Hope is a defining and central feature of the Odd Thomas series. Whether it is Odd’s hope to be reunited to his lost life, Stormy, or the eschatological hope for the final consummation of the Kingdom, it is this reality that drives Odd and gives him comfort even amid the most vile circumstances.

It is worth noting that Odd’s hope is ultimately focused towards the hereafter, rather than the present world. Christians should also remember that our current reality is not what we should try to ground all our hopes in. We can gain the whole world, yet lose our soul. Our final hope must be grounded in the coming of God’s kingdom and the New Creation.

Conclusion

Dean Koontz’s works continually show the workings of Christian faith and a worldview that allows for mystery in the universe. I highly recommend picking up some of his books to explore the integration of the Christian worldview into fiction, and the way they can be woven together. I will give a warning: they are for mature audiences only.

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Saint Odd– Anthony Weber reflects on the final book in the series, Saint Odd, from a Christian perspective. I highly recommend this post and also following his excellent 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.

The (Un)Just City- Jo Walton’s “The Just City,” Gender, Gods, and Morality

tjc-waltonJo Walton’s The Just City is unlike anything I’ve read before. She seamlessly combined philosophy, theology, and fantasy into an epic tale that was difficult to put down. The plot is centered around the notion that Apollo and Athene, the Greek gods, decide to go through time and collect people who desired to attempt to build Plato’s Republic. Here, we’ll examine the book from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Christian Morality Opposed to Justice?

One scene features Maia speaking with Ikaros, a man who had embraced various aspects of the Republic with fervor. Maia believes that Ikaros was a Dominican monk in his former life, but she finds that he is quick to exclude Christianity from the bounds of possibility in the City. The reason is because he doesn’t believe Christianity to be true, or at least any aspect of truth capable of matching their new perspective:

[Ikaros reasons:] “I reconciled Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Platonism, and Zoroastrianism… But don’t you see, we were doing it starting from a belief that Christianity was true. If instead it’s the Greek Gods who are true… then what price salvation? They can mix from the other side, we could say that Plato was really talking about God. But from this side [believing the Greek Gods], well, we can’t see that when Jesus said he’d be in his father’s house that he was really talking about Zeus, now can we?” (88)

Ironically and horribly, after having this conversation about how Christian morality is not Truth and also needlessly complex, Ikaros rapes Maia. He reasons that they are allowed to have eros love without obligations required by Christian morality, and he mocks her adherence to Christianity.

Concentric Circles of Gods

In the world of The Just City, the Greek gods are very real and active. What might this suggest about Christianity and other faiths? We’ve already seen how one character argues that introducing Christian morality would have been unnecessary. But what of Christianity itself?

Apollo is incarnate within the City and only a few know who he actually is. He has a discussion with Sokrates (Socrates) and Simmea regarding souls and gods. We’ll pick up his commentary at “the good part”:

Many circles [of divinities] is right; all human cultures have their own appropriate gods. But the only thing on top is Father. It isn’t a set of concentric rings… [the one Apollo is correcting] thought of it as a hierarchy with divinities subordinated to others. It isn’t like that at all. It’s a set of circles of gods pretty much equal to each other but with different responsibilities, and linked by Father.” (285)

When he is specifically asked about Jesus and Mary, etc., Apollo states:

Christianity is one of those circles… Jesus is just as real and just as much Father’s son as I am… (285-286)

Such a view of course is just as fantastical as the book itself is. The attempt to mash all religions together into one amalgam centered around a divine being not only does injustice to those faiths which have no divine being, but also to those that do. The latter would have to effectively shed all pretext of having truth claims about reality, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see in the next two books of this trilogy who the “Father” turns out to be and how the attempt to reconcile different faiths plays out, but at this point it is fairly obvious that it will play out in a way that Christians and believers of other faith traditions could not endorse.

Gender

Maia, a woman from the 19th century, finds that the options she has ahead of her in her own time are quite bleak. She loves scholarship, but has no way to pursue it. In the introduction to her character we find that she longs for a God that is not limited by masculine concepts of divinity. We can take this as a challenge to ourselves to not make God into a gendered being (apart from the gender of the man Jesus Christ).

There are several explicit scenes in the book, and these tie into the themes it is exploring with gender. The scenes largely center around the issues of power that come into sex. Thus, the aforementioned rape of Maia by Ikaros. Apollo himself is trying to figure out why Daphne preferred to turn into a tree rather than “mate” with him (aka be raped by him). Apart from the obvious (this book is not for children or even young adults), we find that preconceptions about gender and power are challenged throughout. Women say no, and mean it (shocking, right? [sarcasm]); men begin to discover that the actions they take are often sexist; beliefs that women are incapable of philosophizing are challenged.

Conclusion

The Just City turns out to be as much about injustice as it is about justice. In a way, we may think of this as what would inevitably happen whenever imperfect beings attempt to create true justice on their own: they fail, often miserably. It will be interesting to see what happens with the “circles” of deity that Walton has come up with to try to integrate divergent and differing worldviews into one. Including such discussions of course makes the book stand firmly against Christian orthodoxy; but the context these challenges are set in makes it worthwhile to offer counter-arguments to the sections that are objectionable. It can, in a way, be practice for critically examining one’s own beliefs.

Whatever the case, for now we find that the “Just City” is not.

Links

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

Read through my other posts on popular books here (scroll down for more).

Source

Jo Walton, The Just City (New York: Tor, 2014).

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.

“We the Underpeople” – Cordwainer Smith and Humanity in the Future

wtu-smith

Cordwainer Smith (actual name: Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) was an expert in psychological warfare, a scholar of Eastern Asia, an Anglican, and a science fiction author, among other things. He wrote a number of short stories and one novel all set in the same universe–our own. These stories go from the past into the far future and put forward a vision of the future that is at once hopeful and bleak. Here, I’d like to discuss a few themes in the works of his I’ve read, collected in a volume called We the Underpeople by Baen. There will be some minor Spoilers in what follows.

Free Will and Determinism

A prominent theme found throughout Smith’s work is the discussion of free will and determinism. The “Rediscovery of Man” is a time period in which members of the Instrumentality decide that they need to change the world such that people aren’t always happy any more. You see, they made it so that accidents wouldn’t happen (or if they did, prompt healing was available), people wouldn’t say bad things, and the like. If someone did get unhappy, they were brain wiped and reconditioned. Everyone’s happy, see?

Yet the members of the Instrumentality argued and finally allowed for some unhappiness to be allowed back into people’s lives: the Rediscovery of Man.

Smith here notes that human freedom is something that is at the core of our being. Without it, “happiness” falls away into determinism. We may be “happy,” but it is a happiness that is not truly experienced or real. The feelings might be there, but the reality is not. The human capacity for wrongdoing and suffering is there, but it must be in order to have the capacity for truly experiencing and enjoying happiness and delight.

A challenge might arise here: what of heaven? I think this is a tough question, and one that I admit I have no answer I feel firmly about. It’s possible that the choices we make are, over time, enough to solidify us into a sinless existence (a position of Greg Boyd). Perhaps instead, the renewal of our minds that takes place in the New Creation helps us to avoid doing those things that we would not like to do but find ourselves doing in our fallen state.

Humanity and Inhumanity

Humans in Smith’s world have created “underpeople”–animals that have been bred to serve humans in various capacities. Yet these animals are self-aware and brutally oppressed. They experience free will and life, but are trampled by human wants and desires. They are not “people.”

The poignancy of this theme hits close to home when we consider those people who are often set aside in our own world. Things like the Rwandan Genocide are allowed to happen by those we have put in power because there aren’t resources there deemed worth protecting; people are allowed to starve to death because we don’t want to give “handouts,” and the like. How might we as Christians work to correct the wrongs in our own world done to those we have deemed “underpeople”?

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a major theme in Smith’s novel, Norstrilia. The main character, Rod McBan, is attacked by a bitter man, the Honorable Secretary, who is upset that he cannot also have his life extended for a very long time. At a pivotal scene in the book, McBan forgives the Honorable Secretary for the attacks. However, he also forgives himself, for he had–even in thought–mocked the man and his inability to get the same treatment as everybody else to extend his life. McBan realized that his own behavior towards the Honorable Secretary had, in part, lead to the man’s wrongs.

It is a stunning change in the tenor of the plot thread, for the reader had been prone to sympathizing with the main character and forgiving his own “innocent” jabs at the man who tried to kill him. Yet here, Smith elegantly points towards the need for mutual reconciliation and the need to confess one’s own sins. It is masterfully done and speaks very highly of the power of forgiveness.

Conclusion

Cordwainer Smith masterfully wove his Anglican worldview into his science fiction, but he did so very subtly. I haven’t even touched on some of the other messages conveyed in his body of work, such as the allegorical story of Joan of Arc. There is much to contemplate in the works, including human freedom and the need to forgive. I highly recommend his science fiction to my readers.

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!

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.

“Zeroboxer” by Fonda Lee- Bioethics in the Future, oh, and boxing

zeroboxerFonda Lee’s Zeroboxer is a science fiction work about the sport of zero-gravity boxing. See my review for more details on the work. Here, I’ll be highlighting aspects of the book that deal with bioethics, and offering some philosophical and theological comments on them.

The basics of the book are that Carr “The Raptor” Luka has been rising in the ranks as a great zeroboxer (one who boxes in zero-gravity). As his star rises, so does his fame, and possibly his infamy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Genetic Therapy vs. Enhancement

The first question is simple: What is the difference between genetic therapy or genetic enhancement? I wrote about this distinction elsewhere:

Gene therapy is the use of genetic research and information to cure illness. Speaking very hypothetically, suppose that we were able to discover the exact genetic code for illnesses like sickle cell anemia, isolate it, and replace it with a non-anemic code before a person was even born; that would be gene therapy. Genetic enhancement takes this a step further. It allows for modifying people genetically to enhance certain features such as physical strength, endurance, mental aptitude, and the like. It would, in a sense, create “super humans.”

In the world of Zeroboxer, genetic therapy is standard, and enhancement is regulated, but normalized.

The main character, Luka Carr, unbeknownst to himself, has “illegal” levels of enhancement. His mother allowed a criminal to modify him and make him some kind of superhuman. But it is hard to see why he should be faulted for it–after all, as he says, he’s still himself. It isn’t his fault that others made such choices around his life.

Enhancement is more common on Mars than on Earth. The latter, so-called “Terrans,” stage protests on Mars and about Martians as they seek to go against their “freakish” ways of enhancing. It’s not hard to imagine just this would happen. Who are we to play God, after all? But that kind of argument leads to questions about what it means to play God. Is it playing God to prevent illnesses through modern medicine? How far a step is it from surgery to correct vision to enhancing vision genetically? These questions defy easy answers.

Poverty and Enhancement/Therapy

Lee also raised the issue of poverty and the enormous inequalities that could be created by furthering genetic enhancement. Luka remarks on the state of a friend, Enzo, who’s just shown up wearing glasses:

“Why don’t you get your eyes fixed, then?”
[Luka] guessed the answer before Enzo lowered his face in embarassment. “My mom doesn’t have the money right now. She said maybe in a few months…”
A surge of anger brought heat to Carr[ Luka]’s scalp. It was bad enough that the kid had an asthmatic wheeze and carried around an inhaler. Now he was half-blind too? What next, a peg leg? Didn’t Enzo’s mother care that her son walked around with genetic poverty written all over him? (117)

The phrase “genetic poverty” is forward-thinking and possibly prophetic on the part of Lee. What happens if and when genetic therapy and enhancement become norms? It seems to me that therapy is potentially very valuable and a great good. But what kind of greater inequalities would come to be from it? We must try to anticipate these and work to prevent further inequalities. As Christians, we need to care for the impoverished, and that includes what might be considered “genetic poverty.”

Supposing diseases begin to be cured on a broader scale through genetic therapy, it seems that Christians ought to support these changes with every effort. After all, curing illness and helping those in need is what we are called to do. But what does this mean for enhancement?

That question is much more complex. Enhancement, it seems to me, would necessarily increase the inequity between the haves and have-nots. After all, those who have the money to get super-sight or super-strength or predispositions to being great musicians could simply cash in to do so. Those who don’t, cannot. But does this mean it is wrong? It’s a very difficult question, and one that I don’t have a firm answer on. I lean towards saying that such things are permissible, but regulation seems a wise choice given we have little idea what impact modifying genes might have on the broader person. Again, I’ve written more on these questions here. What are your thoughts on answers to these questions?

Conclusion

Zeroboxer is an unexpectedly thoughtful book. Though it has some flaws, it is a worthy read. Just be aware of the violent and explicit content. See my review for more details on that. Exploring these issues related to genetics is very important. I see this as a field that will be expanding rapidly over the next decades. Christians need to engage with it and think about it ahead of time.

Links

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?– I delve into deeper questions about genetic enhancement vs. therapy. I also provide some further reading on the topic.

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– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for 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.

“Silence” by Shusaku Endo – The Hidden God, the Crucified Lord

silence-endoShusaku Endo’s Silence is one of the most moving, deeply theological novels I have ever read. Here, I will discuss but a few worldview-level issues found in the book. There will be SPOILERS below.

The Hidden God

The most pervasive theme throughout the book is that of silence. The hiddenness of God is pressed home poignantly in scene after scene. Early in the book, the main character, a Jesuit priest from Portugal named Sebastião Rodrigues has confidence that no matter what, we will find out a purpose for any and all suffering in the world. His thought is that because God is good, there must be a reason behind each and every possible evil.

Yet as the book continues, the persecution of Christians intensifies and is made extremely clear to Rodrigues. Time and again he witnesses Christians being tortured to death and prays. Each time, a refrain is found in the book: he is answered by silence.

Again and again, the please of Christians and of the priest, Rodrigues, are answered by silence. He looks out to sea surrounding Japan and sees only blackness.

Silence confronts us with the problem of evil front-and-center, and offers some of the most frequently used answers in response. Yet many of these answers seem inadequate when set alongside the continued suffering of Christians being tortured.

The Absurdity of Life Without God

Life without God is absurd. Yet even this point, as found in Silence, points to the silence of God. Rodrigues reflects on his life, and finds that it is completely absurd if there is no God. But rather than focusing on big picture points on this topic, he points it to his own life and laments the absurdity of how he’s lived it if there is no God.

Christ, the Crucified Lord

Rodrigues is captured, and he is forced to endure the screams of tortured victims as time and again they ask him to apostasize. What is required of him is that he trample on an image of Christ. If he does not do so, the suffering of others will continue. He begins to wonder about the mercy of God and whether it would, indeed, be better to trample on this image of Christ and be seen as an apostate. Finally, he decides he will do it, if only to prevent further torture of others:

How his foot aches! And then the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest: ‘Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.’
The priest placed his foot on the fumie [image of Christ]. Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew. (171)

Christ came to suffer, and our sin is part of that suffering. Yet, Christ calls to us, letting us know his mercy is boundless, and that it was for our sake he “was born into this world.”

Ultimately, the silence of God is not silence at all. As the priest says it in the closing lines of the novel: “Even now I am the last priest in this land. But Our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him” (191). Christ works in us and through us.

The dialogue Rodrigues has with Christ in the end is just as poignant:
“Lord, I resented your silence.”
“I was not silent. I suffered beside you.” (190)

Conclusion

Silence is one of those rare books that is sure to be remembered from the time you read it onward. I don’t know that I will ever forget the vivid scenes in which priests are forced to choose between allowing continued torture or being labeled as apostates. It is a stirring, heart-rending book of faith in the face of apparent silence. But the ultimate message is more hopeful: Christ is in us.

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Source

Shusaku Endo, Silence (New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1980). Edition linked is a newer edition.

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.

“Her Dangerous Visions” by Brandon Barr- Prophecy, Evil, and Hope

hdv-barrBrandon Barr’s Her Dangerous Visions is a science fiction/fantasy drama that will suck you in and not let go. Here, I’ll offer a brief review of the book alongside a few comments on themes found therein. The shortest possible review is: get the book, it’s great.

Review

Barr’s writing style is direct, but has depth. There is an enormous amount of political drama, tension around love, and action packed into each page of the book. Moreover, Barr seamlessly combines elements of science fiction and fantasy, such that it is difficult to categorize the book neatly. But that combination works remarkably well here, as Barr moves from farms to space with ease.

This first entry in the series offers glimpses of a broader universe, leaving readers wanting more from future installments. The focus is on the planets that are involved in a conflict, Loam and Hearth, that is apparently much more than any of their inhabitants realize.

Barr’s style is driven by characters. The characters are all remarkably deep. They have qualities that make readers get immediately invested, and faults that make readers want to scream at the pages as they watch favorite characters make foolish choices time and again. Meluscia was my favorite character–a woman whose ailing father is debating whom to appoint as his successor. She works to become that successor, but her desires in other areas could throw her off her apparently single-minded quest. Winter, another character, is said to be a seer, but the visions she sees continue to show sickening danger. Does she share the visions to try to prevent what they foretell, or keep them silent in the hopes that sharing them will not cause them to happen? Each character, as I said, is full of depth and develops of the course of the story. They feel very real–with motivations, aspirations, and faults that drive them.

The plot itself is complex, with layers peeled away through the course of the book and in interludes between sections. The pace never lets up, and once readers start, they won’t be able to put it down.

Overall, Her Dangerous Visions is a simply phenomenal read. I highly recommend it, just be ready to read for a while, because you’ll want to dive into the next book ASAP.

There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Prophecy

Prophecy is clearly an important part of the book and the whole series. Winter’s gifting as a Seer means that she must try to understand what it means and come to comprehend it. There are portions where scenes with Winter remind me of biblical prophets and their own struggles. Think about it: how many prophets truly had it easy in the Bible? Nathan had to tell the King he’d committed great evil; Elijah was hunted for much of his career; John the Baptist ate bugs in the wilderness; etc. Similarly, Winter doesn’t have it easy, and finds herself questioning the wisdom of deity in this book. There is more to be explored in the coming books in the series, but at the end of Her Dangerous Visions, it is difficult to see where Winter may end up on her journey.

Evil

Evil is not often black-and-white in the real world, but there are some clear instances of it being such (i.e. Stalin/Hitler). Similarly, Barr’s book shows evil at times being black-and-white, but at other times it is much more subtle. Much of the evil in the book is from the characters themselves–finding themselves motivated wrongly by lust or vengeance rather than by virtues. It is a dimension that, as I said, makes the characters feel very real, and causes reflection in readers.

Hope

In our world, hope may be found in Christ, no matter how bad the darkness gets. Similarly, in Her Dangerous Visions, hope is found in trusting in others and the goodness of God. The spiritual realm in the novel is not fully revealed yet, so it will be interesting to see how it comes to be shaped over time.

Conclusion

I’d recommend readers pick up Brandon Barr’s book. He’s a man of faith who has written a phenomenal set of novels that are thought-provoking and thrilling.

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for 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.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”- A Christian Perspective- Re-enchantment, Grace, and Loyalty

hpccThe new Harry Potter book is out, and people all over the world are diving back into the series. What kind of world does the latest adventure depict? How might Christians interact with the book? There will be SPOILERS in what follows. There will also obviously be SPOILERS for any other books in the series.

Harry Potter and Christianity… what?

Some may immediately object to the notion that Christians can or should interact with something like Harry Potter. What I say likely won’t convince anyone. But what I would say is that Harry Potter helps re-enchant the world, and our world is in great need of re-enchantment. The Bible speaks of a world created by God, inhabit by angels and demons, and full of the miraculous. The world we most often observe is utterly mundane in comparison: a world which we often think we have entirely figured out.

Harry Potter, however, opens the door to re-enchantment. The world of Harry Potter is magical–and the wonder of magic is similar to the wonder that readers have the first time they enter that certain Wardrobe from the Spare Room or see the White Wizard reappear. It’s a world that moves beyond the mundane and speaks to something more. And Christianity teaches that there is something more. The world is not just what we see with our eyes–it is a world that is utterly enchanted, full of mystery, and created by a loving God.

What’s more, the Harry Potter story so far ended in a kind of re-telling of the Messianic story. Potter laid down his life for his friends, was resurrected, and saved them. It’s a familiar story with different trappings, but one that each generation must learn anew.

Grace

One of the most important themes in “Cursed Child” is grace. Harry must have the grace to love his son, Albus, despite the imperfections. Albus must forgive his father and show grace to him to begin healing their relationship. Albus must learn the lesson Harry learned long before–that grace can defeat evil. He spares Delphi, an act of grace, despite her deserving great punishment. It’s a lesson that is brought forward time and again. In every relationship mentioned in the book, grace is needed to help heal wounds of doubt, of barbed words, and more.

Loyalty

Loyalty is another theme that shows up time and again throughout the series, and Serverus Snape’s loyalty to Lily and Dumbledore is perhaps the greatest example. Even in the alternative future that Albus visits, Snape remains loyal to the memory of Lily and his promises to Dumbledore. He fights alongside those who, in some cases, he has every reason to despise, at least historically.

That history is another major theme of the book: does one’s past determine one’s present and future? Delphi felt as though she must follow a prophecy that would allow her to be reunited with her father. Snape had to get beyond the history that he had with Harry’s father to continue the fight against darkness in an alternative future. Harry and his son Albus’ relationship is strained both by their own history and by the history of Harry. Who you are, it seems near the beginning, is determined by what you–or your parents–were. But that myth is dispelled as it becomes apparent that current action and decisions can break away from the bonds of history. Through the power of grace, as already mentioned, relationships may be healed, people may move forward.

But is it good?

Okay, okay, we get it. There are themes that interact with Christianity in Harry Potter. Is the new book worth reading?

I’d say absolutely, for fans of the series already. It’s not as detailed as the novels are, because it’s a script. But it is a good script, and the characters do develop quite a bit. There are some moments that will make you gleeful as you pick up references to previous books. The main complaint I’d have is that because it is a script, there is so little description of the environment and the characters’ internal struggles–something Rowling excels at. It’s a good entry in the series that won’t make you completely disappointed, but it isn’t as fabulous as the previous books 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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for 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.

Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants” – Deconversion, Hope, and Strife

fog-follet

Ken Follett’s “The Century Trilogy” is a sweeping series . I just finished the first book, Fall of Giants, and realized there were several themes found therein that begged comment here. Here, I will analyze the book from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

I will not go over the plot of the book. A brief summary may be found here.

Deconversion

Billy Williams is a Welsh boy who goes to work in a coal mine. The first day on the job he is left alone in the pitch black–his lamp went out. Rather than wandering lost in the tunnels he keeps working until someone comes to get him. To keep himself from being too frightened, he sings Christian hymns and draws comfort from them. At the end, when the light is restored, he sees a fleeting vision of Christ just at the corner of the light and says “Thank you.”

If that sounds like the start of a storyline that will be an example of a life of faith to you, you would be disappointed. After an explosion in the coal mine, he is distressed by the problem of evil–why does God let bad things happen? As he grows older, Billy is exposed to textural criticism. He is disturbed that we don’t have copies of the original texts from which we get the words of the Bible. His father, who often preaches at their worship services, has insufficient answers. Later in life, Billy’s sister gets pregnant and is judged sharply by his father and their town because she is not married. He is strongly put off by the apparent hypocrisy of the people. He never returns to church.

I admit that “deconversion” may be a bit of a misnomer because it is never specifically said that Billy doesn’t believe in God anymore, but the implications are there. He has a deep distrust of and distaste for Christianity, it seems, after this.

The story illustrates the need for a firm foundation. Textual criticism is not something Christians should fear, as it allows us to recover the text of the Bible more accurately. The problem of evil is not unsolvable. And, unfortunately, Christian hypocrisy is actually something to be expected. Indeed, the Christian worldview would expect hypocrisy at times because we are still sinners in this world and will continue to commit wrongs, despite being people of faith. None of this was hinted at in the novel, but I suspect that this is due in part to the fact that Follett is himself an avowed secular humanist. There seems to be an agenda here (and see below).

Unfortunately, Billy’s story is similar to one we can see repeating in churches and families all over. We have not studied our faith. We have not worked out the hard problems related to Christianity, so when we are confronted by them, we are often found with pat answers rather than the truth. We need to actively seek out answers and be aware of our own limitations. Unable to answer every question, we should commit ourselves to a life of faith seeking understanding.

Hope

There is hope found in the darkness throughout the coming World War and the plights of the individual people. Hope is found largely in the actions of other people–the small kindnesses that are done even in the face of evil. As the world seems to be crashing down all around, it is relationships which keep people going. Some of these are vaguely religious in nature, though the persisting theme seems to be that people need to do for themselves whatever they’d like to accomplish.

Religious Leaders?

One persistent theme throughout the book is that those involved in the church are mean, nasty, and most likely sexual deviants. Any time a priest-whether Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodoxy or Anglican–is mentioned or encountered, it is almost always in context of some offhand remark about how they sexually harassed a child or how someone who is now an adult remembers when they were asked to have sex with the priest, etc. It’s actually quite tiresome. While on the one hand it is important to note that there are those within Christianity who have abused power throughout time, on the other hand, to suggest that everyone in some sort of position in power was a power-hungry sexual predator is uneven, to put it mildly.

Those who are not in established religion–like Billy’s dad–are portrayed as aloof, distant, and largely uncaring. Billy’s dad does get a chance to redeem himself as he accepts Ethel back into the family, but only after he had to consider the possibility of having his whole family fall apart.

Conclusion

Follett has woven an intriguing story with a very strong premise. It is unfortunate that throughout there also seem to be straight polemics against Christianity. A better balance was needed to make it seem realistic and not so much a diatribe against Christianity. Some good takeaways can be had from reading the book, but the worldview it presents is largely bleak and hopeless.

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!

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

Source

Ken Follet, Fall of Giants (Signet, 2012).

SDG.

——

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

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