Literary Apologetics

This category contains 34 posts

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.

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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.

“Conviction” by Kelly Loy Gilbert- Faith, Baseball, and the messiness of sin

Conviction-Kelly-Loy-Gilbert

Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Conviction is a novel that covers any number of sensitive topics, from faith to familial abuse, from homosexuality to racism. There are few punches pulled in the book, and it centers the narrative around both a baseball season and a murder trial. There will be SPOILERS for this thought-provoking book in what follows.

Baseball and Conviction

The plot centers around Braden as he waits to testify in his father’s murder trial. His father,  Martin Scott Raynor, Jr., is accused of intentionally running over and killing a police officer during a traffic stop. Meanwhile, the dead cop’s nephew plays baseball for the major rival team that Braden has to prepare to defeat. Braden is a pitcher, and many of the anecdotes in the book center around Braden’s experiences in baseball.

Indeed, many of the moments throughout the book where baseball is discussed are linked directly to faith and conviction. For example, years before the events of the book, Braden prayed for a sign from God and was at a San Francisco Giants game when a home run ball landed in his glove. He took it as a sign that his family would not fall apart. It did. Another example is Braden’s own focus on pitching and how it puts him in stark relief against the universe.

Conviction and Messiness

Above I mentioned that Braden had asked for a sign and felt he’d received it. Yet the interpretation he layered over the sign did not stand up to reality. His family–his dad Mart, and his brother Trey–did indeed fall apart spectacularly. But towards the end of the book, Braden realized that his interpretation had been too simplistic. It would be easier to walk away from God in disappointment, but that didn’t reflect the reality that Braden experienced.

What struck me most about Conviction is how uncomfortable it made me. It demonstrates, time and again, the messiness of a world that has been infected with sin. Braden’s father clearly cares about he and Trey, but he’s also both physically and verbally abusive. Mart also makes clearly racist statements at times, and these statements are never clearly condemned. Gilbert has written a subtler book than that. Readers are left to read the story and come to their own conclusions. Hints are left, but what Gilbert has done is present the world in all of its messiness. It would make me more comfortable if she had revealed clearly where her own stances were, but instead we are left with a plot and characters that feel remarkably like the real world. The real world is not so easy to put in individual boxes and definitions.

Perhaps that is what Gilbert does best, then, in Conviction. She portrays a world sin has infected by showing us broken people who don’t deserve grace. Nevertheless, grace is shown to them by a God who is near.

God’s Love

…I think about how with my dad, and with Trey, no matter what either one of them ever does I think I’ll still feel exactly the same way about them that I always have. I know it shouldn’t be like that because it isn’t safe, and because I think most other people get to choose who they care about and when to stop and it’s not fair… I think that’s the worst and the most dangerous thing I know.
But I hope–I hope–that’s something like what God feels about me. (327)

These lines are so poignant because of all that has come before them. Braden realizes that he loves his family unconditionally, and hopes that God feels that way about him.

Indeed, the love of God is one of the most prominent themes throughout the Bible, and Braden’s thoughts on this matter reflect, I think, the kind of existential reality that all Christians must live in. We realize that though we are sinners, God has declared us saints.

Conclusion

Conviction  is one of those rare novels that will keep you thinking about the story and characters long after you have read the book. I think it is one of the most honest, heart-rending books I have read. It comes highly recommended.

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.

 

“Remarkable Creatures” by Tracy Chevalier – Creationism, women, and paleontology

rc-chevalierRemarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is a historical fiction novel based on the lives of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, early fossil hunters in England. It raises an astonishing number of worldview questions related to women, paleontology, and creationism, and we will here discuss just a few of these issues. There will be SPOILERS in what follows, but it is history!

Paleontology, Creationism, and Controversy

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Remarkable Creatures is its survey of the controversies surrounding the discovery of fossils that challenged reigning scientific and religious paradigms. One of the greatest challenges was to come to believe that extinction had occurred. Think about it: if all you ever knew was the living beings around you, what possible reason would there be for thinking that those beings could die out, such that none were left anywhere? Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot’s finds of creatures like icthyosaurus challenged even the greatest thinkers of the time to come up with new paradigms for fitting these creatures–which didn’t exist anywhere on earth at their time–into reality.

For a time, it was thought that the bones of icthyosaurus were just those of a crocodile. But then Mary Anning discovered a complete fossil that included huge eyes (eyes that even had bones in them!). This forced people to the realization that these truly were novel creatures.

It’s a fascinating thing to think about, because the problem wasn’t just that it forced them to come up with a new concept–extinction. It also led to theological crises. After all, why would God create creatures that would all die out? One pastor in the book was particularly disturbed by this notion. He argues with Elizabeth Philpot: “All that you see about you is as God set it out in the beginning. He did not create beasts and then get rid of them. That would suggest He had made a mistake, and of course God is all knowing and incapable of error…” (144, citation from large print edition [only one they had at the library]). Philpot then comes back, noting that rock formations change and that if creation is supposed to be without change, how could rock fall or change a cliff face? The pastor ultimately comes back by saying that “God placed the fossils there when He created the rocks, to test our faith…” (145). Chevalier cleverly puts an answer in Philpot’s head: “It is my faith in you [the pastor as interpreter of Scripture] that is being tested, I thought” (145). The pastor, it should be noted, was also using, as was commonplace, Bishop Ussher’s chronology of the world, which put the date of creation “on the night preceding the 23rd of October 4004 B.C.” (144). Philpot wryly remarks- “I had always wondered at his precision.”

Another idea that was prominent at the time was the notion of anatomical laws or conformity with Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being. According to these ideas, there is a kind of hierarchy of being that puts humans at the top (usually) with other creatures in stages below that. It is not evolution, for it predates that idea. Instead, it is a way of ordering those creatures which exist now according to some principles. Mary Anning’s finding of a plesiosaur challenged this chain of being by violating the ways that creatures were supposed to appear or exist.

Late in the book, Elizabeth Philpot is finally questioned on what she thinks about the fossils and God. She is pleased to finally be asked:

I am comfortable with reading the Bible figuratively rather than literally. For instance, I think the six days in Genesis are not literal days, but different periods of creation, so that it took many thousands–or hundreds of thousands of years–to create. It does not demean God; it simply gives Him more time to build this extraordinary world. (391, again note reference from large print edition)

Although this is a work of historical fiction, these debates continue into today. Some groups still use Bishop Ussher’s chronology to date the age of the earth. Although few would argue that there are no extinct creatures, new forms of the same arguments have led to the young earth creationist movement, in which people argue that the Bible requires us to believe that all the creatures that are extinct were alive at the same time as humans. I have personally had conversations with young earth creationists who say that fossils are one way God tests our faith (I know of no young earth organization who would use this argument, thankfully). Scientific findings continue to challenge entrenched religious beliefs.

One is perhaps left to wonder, like Philpot’s thoughts, on how some people get so much precision. The Bible nowhere puts a date on creation. Nor does the Bible demand that all creatures that have ever lived were allowed at the same time. Yet these beliefs persist, and many Christians insist that if one does not hold to them, they are not true Christians, or are perhaps abandoning Scripture. As in Mary Anning’s time, we still have much work to do. We cannot let our external paradigms (things like Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being, or perhaps more germane, our own assumptions about how texts ought to be read “literally” and what the word “literal” means) determine how God is allowed to act or what God may communicate to us.

Women

The book does a good job portraying the way the contributions of women were ignored or even stolen. Mary Anning was an expert fossil hunter–self taught. Yet time and again, men used her expertise to find their fossils and then take credit for the finds. Although her contributions were acknowledged later, her life of poverty is a sad testimony to the way that unequal treatment of women can so easily be perpetuated. The book portrays this unequal treatment in many ways. First, there is the exclusion of both Philpot and Anning from societies of geologists (this was before paleontology was a separate field of study from geology). Second, social norms provide for a simple way to create inequality. When one sex is given the benefit of the doubt (men, in this case) while the other is considered permanently damaged even by gossip about impropriety (women), restraints upon the social movement and capacity of the latter follow by necessity. Third, the contributions of women were ignored.

Unfortunately, parallels to each of these scenarios continue today. Women are excluded from certain groups or positions (such as those who keep women from becoming pastors), thus creating spiritual inequality. Conventions of purity culture, for example, treat women as “impure” or “damaged goods,” putting the onus on young women to abstain while simultaneously removing blame from young men. The power of imagery–objectification of women–continues to impact both women and men in negative ways. We can learn from Remarkable Creatures that much progress has been made, but it also points us in the direction of more work to be done.

Conclusion

Remarkable Creatures is a fascinating read. Although it is dry at times, it provides much insight into a number of discoveries that changed the world. It highlights the careers of two women who contributed much to paleontology in its formative stages. Perhaps most importantly, it challenges us to keep improving, to keep thinking, and to keep observing God’s remarkable world.

Source

Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures (New York: Penguin, 2010).

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.)

Mary Anning: Plesiosaurs, Pterosaurs, and The Age of Reptiles– A post that highlights the contributions Mary Anning made to the paleontology. It particularly focuses on how these discoveries pre-dated Darwin.

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.

 

“Ghost Hawk” by Susan Cooper- Cultural Imperialism and Christianity

ghost-hawk-cooper

Susan Cooper is a renowned author best known for The Dark is Rising Sequence. Her latest young adult novel, Ghost Hawk, is an deeply compelling look at the dangers of cultural imperialism and the ways that cultures interact. Here, I’ll examine the book from a worldview level. The will be SPOILERS in what follows.

 

Cultural Imperialism

Cultural imperialism occurs when a dominant group asserts its customs or traditions as normative over those of another. For a fantastic book that looks at some of these issues in context of First Nations/Native Americans, see Richard Twiss’s Rescuing the Gospel from the CowboysThe white settlers coming into the land are imposing their culture and customs on the Native groups in the area. That this is historical reality is beyond dispute. Cooper presents this, however, in an intriguing way.

John and others are in favor of reform–working with the Native groups and trying to understand them. Others, notably Puritans, believe that all the Natives are without any kind of possible hope. They are simply the heathen, and must be not only converted, but must conform themselves to the European cultural standards. This same imperialism carries into today as missions to Native groups too often wish to banish all Native expressions of spirituality.

The story does not take a happy turn. The efforts to come to mutual understanding largely fail, and Little Hawk is murdered in the process. Little Hawk’s spirit lingers to speak with John for some time (see below).

Despite all the reasons why Little Hawk and John might give up hope, they persist in trusting that hope might be found:

“These people[,” John said, “]they have no charity either for the Indians or for Christians who do not follow their own harsh rules. They talk about the word of the Lord, but they do not listen to it. Shall we destroy each other, in the end?”
…”Change is made by the voice of one person at a time,” [Little Hawk/Ghost Hawk] said…
“But you had no choice [to kill the wolf,” John said to Ghost Hawk. “]We too kill wolves, to keep them from eating the animals that we want to eat. We choose to do it. We have choices all the time, and so often we make the wrong ones.” (291-292, cited below)

There are a number of avenues to explore in this quote. First, it is worth noting that that different Christian voices are presented in the novel. Yes, some present a view in which the Native peoples are merely the heathen–not even worth associating with. Yet others work towards understanding and following God’s word. Second, the concept of choice is quite blatant here: our choices is what can make the difference going forward. When we choose to continue to act as a cultural aggressor, the cycle is perpetuated. What can be done to make a change? Again, different choices–following God’s word.

Ghost Hawk

The story of Ghost Hawk is set during early colonization of what would become known as Massachusetts. The first half of the book follows Little Hawk, a Native American boy who begins his quest to become a man. He encounters the spirit of a hawk/osprey in the wild, but when he returns home he discovers that plague has killed the vast portion of his family and tribe. As the story goes on, he encounters John, the son of a settler. Little Hawk is murdered by one of the settlers as John looks on, and himself becomes a kind of Manitou spirit, communicating with John for some time. Yet the story reaches beyond the initial setting, swirling past over a century of time as the land that was once used by the Massachusetts and other tribes now “belongs” to others. Ultimately, Little Hawk’s spirit is released as a kind of totem of his–his axe–is melded into a tree.

Conclusion

Ghost Hawk asks us to think about cultural imperialism from a different perspective. Susan Cooper invites us to consider the societal and systemic wrongs that have been done to Native groups and to enter into a conversation about how we can work to change that going forward. Moreover, her care to show different perspectives is admirable. Christians should be reflective of past wrongs and seek mutual reconciliation. We need to be aware of how our own expectations are not equivalent with the expectations of the Bible. Reading Ghost Hawk provides a way to start thinking about those issues.

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

Susan Cooper, Ghost Hawk (New York: Margaret K. McElderry, 2013).

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.

What about those who haven’t heard? – Part 1 of a Case Study on Religious Pluralism from Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur”

ben-hur

A beautiful cover for an edition of Ben Hur- I was unable to locate the exact copyright information.


Ben Hur 
is one of my all-time favorite novels. There are many issues related to worldview raised throughout the novel. I have started a series which outlines some of the ways it interacts with

Selection from the Book

Each post in this series will begin with a segment from the book itself. Here, we jump into a scene in which one of the wise men is telling the story of how he came to be in a desert, meeting up with the others. He is Greek. I have abridged the segment to focus on the areas in which this series is most interested, namely, the ways God interacts with humanity.

“I am Gaspar, son of Cleanthes the Athenian…

…”It happens that two of our [Greece’s] philosophers, the very greatest of the many [reference to Plato and Aristotle, presumably], teach, one the doctrine of a Soul in every man, and its Immortality; the other the doctrine of One God, infinitely just. From the multitude of subjects about which the schools were disputing, I separated them, as alone worth the labor of solution; for I thought there was a relation between God and the soul as yet unknown…

“In the northern part of my country–in Thessaly… there is a mountain famous as the home of the gods… Olympus is its name. Thither I betook myself. I found a cave [nearby]… there I dwelt, giving myself up to meditation–no, I gave myself up to waiting for what every breath was a prayer–for revelation. Believing in God, invisible yet supreme, I also believed it possible so to yearn for him with all my soul that he would take compassion and give me answer.

“…One day I saw a man flung overboard from a ship sailing by. He swam ashore. I received and took care of him. He was a Jew, learned in the history and laws of his people; and from him I came to know that the God of my prayers did indeed exist; and had been for ages their lawmaker, ruler, and king. What was that but the Revelation I dreamed of? My faith had not been fruitless; God answered me!”

“As he does all who cry to him with such faith,” said the [Hindu].

“But, alas!” the Egyptian added, “how few are there wise enough to know when he answers them!”

“That was not all,” the Greek continued. “The man so sent to me told me more. He said the prophets who, in the ages which followed the first revelation, walked and talked with God, declared he would come again…

“It is true… the man told me that as God and the revelation of which he spoke had been for the Jews alone, so it would be again… ‘Had he nothing for the rest of the world?’ I asked. ‘No,’ was the answer, given in a proud voice–‘No, we are his chosen people.’ The answer did not crush my hope. Why should such a God limit his love and benefaction to one land, and, as it were, to one family? …When the Jew was gone, and I was alone again, I chastened my soul with a new prayer–that I might be permitted to see the King when he was come, and worship him. One night I sat by the door of my cave trying to get nearer the mysteries of my existence, knowing which is to know God; suddenly, on the sea below me, or rather in the darkness that covered its face, I saw a star begin to burn; slowly it arose and drew nigh, and stood over the hill and above my door, so that its light shone full upon me. I fell down, and slept, and in my dream I heard a voice say:

“‘O Gaspar! Thy faith hath conquered! Blessed art thou! With two others, come from the uttermost parts of the earth, thou shalt see Him that is promised, and be a witness for him, and the occasion of testimony in his behalf. In the morning arise, and go meet them, and keep trust in the Spirit that shall guide thee.’

“And in the morning I awoke with the Spirit as a light within me surpassing that of the sun…”

This passage can be found in Ben Hur, Book I, Chapter III. It may be read in its entirety online here (it is public domain due to expired copyright).

An illustration from the Ben Hur novel. I was unable to find a specific copyright.

An illustration from the Ben Hur novel. I was unable to find a specific copyright.

Notes on Religion from the Selection

Christians have proposed many different answers to one of the most pressing questions, itself having been pondered for centuries: “What about those who have never heard?” The question is regarding salvation–can those who have never heard be saved? But it isn’t only that. It might be nuanced in many ways. For example, are there any who have not heard what is required to be saved who would respond if they did hear it? Though the answer initially may seem obvious, it must be thought over carefully before one simply says yes or no.

In this passage from Lew Wallace, we find not one, but two separate answers to this question combined into one account. The answers are: direct divine revelation, and sending a witness. (I have dubbed them this, but the titles summarize common proposals–see below.)

Sending a Witness

One of the answers Christians have given to the question of those who have not heard and their salvific status is pretty straightforward: there simply are none who have not heard. The claim seems rather extraordinary, for, after all, entire swathes of humanity never had contact with any Christian missionary for vast periods of time. Yet, this answer to the question suggests that God sends a witness to anyone who would respond. Thus, if there is someone in a place where Christianity had not yet reached who would have responded to a missionary, God somehow sets it up such that that person hears from someone about Christ.

In the example from Ben Hur above, we see that the Greek was looking for the divine–hoping for a response. Thus, through providential act, a Jew washed up on shore to instruct him about the truth.

It seems this solution to the problem of religious pluralism and those who have not heard is unsatisfactory. There are many reasons for this. First, it supports a rather dim view of other cultures through a system that is ultimately culturally imperialist. Second, it seems to stretch credulity, for it would follow from this position that either there have only been very few outside of the parts of the world where Christianity is dominant who would have responded to the Gospel anyway (see previous point) or that there are innumerable instances of shipwrecks washing missionaries on shore in far off places all over the world to wherever someone might respond to the Gospel. Either of these seems unsatisfactory.

However, it is possible that the “Sending a Witness” answer could be part of an answer to the questions posed here. It just does not seem capable of carrying all the weight on its own.

Direct Divine Revelation

Like the previous answer, the “direct divine revelation” solution to the problem of religious pluralism and specifically those who have not heard is one which ultimately results in the answer: None have not heard. For, if someone would respond to the Gospel, God simply reveals Christ through direct revelation. In the selection above, we see that a dream reveals the Holy Spirit to Gaspar.

This answer to the questions raised above is perhaps more satisfactory than the previous one, but difficulties remain. The primary one is that although several firsthand instances of this type of thing happening are found, they do not seem to be as ubiquitous as they might need to be in order to adequately account for all those who have not heard. Again, this may be part of a larger multi-level response, but I don’t think it can stand on its own.

Conclusion

Wallace provides here an overview of two of the traditional answers to the question of those who have not heard about Jesus Christ. Neither solution seems entirely satisfactory, though either or both might be integrated into a holistic view of witnessing and missions. We will explore other aspects of Wallace’s exploration of religious pluralism

Although I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I think that John Sanders’ book, No Other Name is perhaps the best work I have read for providing background into the different proposed solutions for the question of those who have not heard about Christ. It would be a good read for those wishing to explore the topic further.

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!

Religious Pluralism- A case study from “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace– The post introducing this entire series on “Ben Hur.” It has links to all the posts in the series.

Ben Hur- The Great Christian Epic– I look at the 1959 epic film from a worldview perspective. How does the movie reflect the deeply Christian worldview of the book?

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.

Religious Pluralism- A case study from “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace- Series Introduction

ben-hur-novel

Ben Hur is one of the most influential novels of all time, selling millions in the 19th and 20th centuries and noted as admired by several U.S. Presidents, among others. Reactions to the novel are varied–an interesting thing to examine of itself (some critics saying that it would only appeal to the “unlettered” person, while the general and broad appeal of the novel speaks against that same notion). Its enduring popularity can be attested to by the fact that it continues to be adapted to film.

I’m going to write a series of posts exploring religious pluralism through the lens of the novel, Ben Hur.

Method

The opening scene of the book  describes the wise men–those who would later visit Christ–meeting up in the desert. In this scene, each wise man–from a different part of the ancient world–shares his own story of how he became a believer.

Each post will start with a selection from this scene. Then, I will analyze what was said therein from a theological and apologetic viewpoint. The goal will be to examine what is said therein to see its value for Christians today in interfaith dialogue.

 

Links

What About Those Who Haven’t Heard? – Part 1 of a case study on religious pluralism from Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur”– I examine two of the most popular answers to the question about those who have not heard about Jesus (and their eternal fate) from the book.

Links for the series will be posted here. This post will serve as the home page for the series.

Brandon Sanderson’s “Calamity” – The Reckoning of Humanity

calamity-sandersonBrandon Sanderson is one of the most gifted authors I know currently writing. Each book he writes, it seems, consistently has stunning twists, great action, and an interesting world. Here, we’ll take a look at the conclusion to his “The Reckoners” series, Calamity. We will be exploring it from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS below for the whole series.

Face Your Fears

A theme that continues throughout the entire series is the notion of facing your fears. In Calamity, this is shown to be the way for Epics to gain control of their powers without going dark. Yet what does it mean to face our fears? For some epics, it is a literal sense, such as Firefight simply plunging an arm into fire–her weakness. For others, facing fear is facing failure, or a different kind of weakness.

As Calamity continues, however, we discover that these weaknesses are from Calamity himself–the things that Calamity is afraid of. Part of me wonders whether this cheapens the impact of this theme, for it makes the weaknesses of the Epics something that is imported to them rather than something intrinsic in themselves. Another part of me sees this as somewhat consistent–for as humans we are social, and we can all too easily take on the fears  of others and turn them into something far greater than they are in fact.

The Nature of Humanity

In the climactic encounter between David and Calamity, Calamity is brought to a different, alternate reality in which he left the humans he’d gifted to their own devices. There, those with the powers are effectively superheroes, having had no darkness to face down, nothing from the outside to impinge upon their own reality. David challenges Calamity:

“Do you fear that?” I asked him softly. “That we aren’t what you’ve thought? Does it terrify you to know that deep down, men are not monsters? That we are, instead, inherently good?” (411)

Such a viewpoint is quite popular in our world. Humans are inherently good, right? Well, it seems that such a viewpoint is not the biblical one, which argues that humans are sinful from birth–even from conception (Psalm 51:5); that no one is good, not even one (Romans 3:10) and the like. There is some debate over this in Christian circles, but it seems quite difficult to square these (and other statements) with the notion that humans are inherently good.

Indeed, although this climactic challenge from David ultimately defeats Calamity, once Calamity is gone, not everyone suddenly turns good. Obliteration, for example, continues to seek the extermination of humanity (possibly?). The open-endedness of this makes it difficult to pin down where Sanderson was going with it, but it seems that even alleged “inherent goodness” does not guarantee goodness.

Conclusion

Calamity is one of those rare books that combines intense plot with serious discussion of worldview. Sanderson continues to weave these tales which force us to look at humanity and contemplate what it is that we are.

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!

The “Mistborn Trilogy” by Brandon Sanderson- Religion(s), Intrigue, and a Messiah– I look at another trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, the wildly creative “Mistborn Trilogy.”

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

Source

Brandon Sanderson, Calamity (New York: Delacorte Press, 2016).

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.

 

A World of Darkness and War- “Eisenhorn” by Dan Abnett

eisenhorn-abnettInnocence Proves Nothing.

The world of Warhammer 40,000 (hereafter WH40k) is one that has few entry points for the uninitiated. Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn Trilogy is one such entry point. I reviewed the omnibus on my general interests blog. Here we will be exploring some themes in the trilogy from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

The Darkness

The world of WH40k is ostensibly one set in our very far future. The major tagline for the universe is “In the grim dark future, there is only war.” Confronted by this darkness, readers sometimes struggle to find light. But the light found in the universe is that of relationships: friendships and loyalty. Another light is the fight against the Warp and the forces of Chaos. Christians are similarly called to fight against evil and destroy it. The way that struggle plays out is hotly debated, but Eisenhorn is a kind of call to fight against evil where it is visible.

Puritan or Radical?

There are different sects of the Imperial Inquisition in the WH40k universe and the major way to divide them is along lines of Puritanism or radicalism. Largely, this comes down to whether an Inquisitor would use elements or even knowledge of “Chaos” in order to fight Chaos or whether they would not. This notion of Puritan/Radical is found throughout the Eisenhorn trilogy.

These lines of separation are relevant because in some ways they are paralleled in Christian thought. How literally is the Bible to be taken? How separated from the world should Christians be? What insights can be allowed for in other faith traditions? These are just a few questions that parallel this complex line that is brought to light by Abnett.

Interestingly, the way that Eisenhorn himself develops as a character points to how these might become a false dichotomy. He begins to realize that some of the insights from the Radical side have merit, and began to shift towards a more moderate position. One wonders whether we too often become bogged down in our conservative/liberal divisions to see how the “other side” might have some helpful insights.

War Against Chaos

In the WH40k universe, demons are manifested in the flesh, the forces of darkness work through psychic powers (psykers), aliens worship evil deities, and more. Through the realism of these elements, the universe is put forward as one in which evils are, at times, much easier to identify than the evils we find in our world. Christians have differing views about spiritual warfare (read the link in those words for a brief exploration of a few), but I think we too often pretend that there are no real evils out there or that they can be reduced purely to the evils of the human heart.

Conclusion

The world of WH40k is dark, but the way it portrays evil and the battle against it serves up not only a compelling narrative but one which has some points of contact with Christianity. Ultimately, WH40k ends up left in darkness, but Christianity has the one Story which offers ultimate hope; that found in Christ as victor over death and the devil.

Links

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

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

Source

Dan Abnett, Eisenhorn (Black Library, 2005).

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.

“Dune” by Frank Herbert- Prophecy, Religion, and the Messiah

Dune-HerbertBless the Maker and His water. Bless the coming and the going of Him. May His passage cleanse the world. May He keep the world for his people.

Dune has been called “Science Fiction’s Supreme Masterpiece.” I say that this tagline is accurate. The depth of the saga is breathtaking, and its majesty is at times overpowering. Here, I’ll take a look at some key themes in the book from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Prophecy

Prophecy is found throughout the various factions in Dune. The Bene Gesserit is a school composed of women who are working to bring about a prophesied man–but to use him for their own ends. The Fremen, inhabitants of the desert, also have prophecies of one who would bring their world–Arrakis–to fertility and unite the Fremen against their enemies.

Prophecy has a function, which will be fulfilled one way or another. Often, this involves the conscious working of persons towards the fulfillment. This is unlike prophecy in the Bible, which is sometimes fulfilled in quite unexpected ways or even has double applications (such as the virgin birth).

Religion

Religion is a theme throughout the book, as there are many different philosophies of life on offer, but few which seem genuine. Herbert’s vision of religion is that it is essentially a function of humanity and one which is constructed through the interplay of power and belief. For example, in one biographical entry about Paul Atreides, the protagonist, the Princess Irulan writes:

You cannot avoid the interplay of politics within an orthodox religion. The power struggle permeates the training, educating and disciplining of the orthodox community… the leaders of such a community… must face that ultimate internal question: to succumb to complete opportunism as the price of maintaining their rule, or risk sacrificing themselves for the sake of the orthodox ethic. (401)

Hebert also channels much wariness about any engagement of politics and religion throughout the book. Representative is a saying allegedly from the Muad’Dib–the name given to Paul Atreides after he is seen as the fulfillment of various prophecies: “When law and duty are one, united by religion, you never become fully conscious, fully aware of yourself. You are always a little less than an individual” (408).

Yet this is not to say there is no genuine belief in the world of Dune. Debates over determinism and divinely decreed futures are placed throughout the book, and Paul Atreides himself struggles with his own role as an apparent Messiah.

The religious mixture of Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity found in the various factions provides much food for discussion and engagement for those who want to dialogue on these topics. How should we interact with those of other faiths? What lines of correlation may we see in other religions and how might we use these to engage believers in other faith traditions? These are questions which arise in Dune, and Herbert also offers challenges to believers to see what harm might be in their beliefs and to search out those aspects of their faith which lead astray from the truth.

Truth

There are many more philosophical, theological, and political questions which could be asked after reading a masterwork like Dune. A fundamental issue is that of truth. The issues of religion and prophecy listed above make one read the world of the work with a rather ambiguous eye: there seems to be some deception, but some truth, in various aspects of the different factions’ belief systems and what they present to the world as the truth.

From a Christian perspective, there is but one truth and that is found in Jesus Christ. Similarly, even on the world of Arrakis, we find that there is an objective standard of truth, it just isn’t always cut-and-dried as to how we might discern it. It is a reflection of the fallenness of the real world in which often the truth is intermingled with lies. We should work ever towards seeking the truth and working to bring it forward.

Conclusion

Weeks after reading Dune, I can still feel the hot sand under my feet, and still smell the Spice in the air. It is a simply incredible read which demands hours of reflection afterwards. I recommend it highly to you, dear readers. It will get your mind going, and it will also perhaps force some thought into one’s own faith and life–are we living a genuine life of faith, or have we turned it into a perversion?

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!

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled with Life?- A reflection on Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”– I explore the notion that life should be expected all over the place in a post that looks at some of Bova’s most recent works.

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale– I take a look at the book Fitzpatrick’s War, a novel of alternative history with steampunk. What could be better? Check out some of the worldview issues brought up in the book.

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

Source

Frank Herbert, Dune (New York: Ace, 1990). Originally printed 1965.

SDG.

——

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

The “Mistborn Trilogy” by Brandon Sanderson- Religion(s), Intrigue, and a Messiah

mistborn-trilogyBrandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy is a wonderfully unique fantasy adventure that is absolutely filled to the brim with political intrigue and religious reflection. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the themes in this series from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS below.

Religion(s)

The character Sazed is a specialist in religions. Indeed, he has the memories of three hundred religions in the trinkets he keeps on his body and preaches them to different characters throughout the first two books of the trilogy. His goal is less to convert than it is to pass on knowledge. Through the foil of Sazed, readers learn about some interesting religions which used to exist before the Lord Ruler began to eradicate them all. Sazed himself asserts that he believes all the religions are true, but in The Well of Ascension, his faith is crushed when he is confronted by the notion that his long search for the religion of his people–and its prophecies–is fruitless.

Sanderson thus presents us with an interesting perspective, through Sazed, of religion. On the one hand, Sazed is seemingly a pluralist. He tries to affirm all the religions he knows about: “I believe them all,” he declares (Well… 504). But on the other hand, his faith in the truth of these religions is decimated by his discovery of direct refutation. The tension of these two views ends up shattering Sazed’s worldview. But, as we’ll see below, it turns out that all religions were false in some sense, but they all had some truth, which Sazed himself uses to piece together the world as it should be (Hero… 716-717).

Interestingly, this resonates in some fashion with what I think is the best way to approach other religions. Rather than assuming everything the religious other believes is false, we should seek the truth in other religions and show how Christianity provides a better and fuller explanation of the same.

Messiah

The “Hero of Ages” is thought by many to be a hero who will come to save them from the oppressive rule of the Lord Ruler and Ruin. Some think that it is Kelsier after the hero of Mistborn helps to destroy the Lord Ruler and then uses a body double to act as though he has been resurrected in order to give hope to the common people. This image alone is an interesting foil for thinking about Jesus and the rise of Christianity. There is no denying the parallels in the story of Kelsier and of Christ in the sense of being seen as resurrected saviors.

But the narrative of Kelsier is intentionally subversive, it has a political aspect to it that is intentionally driven towards the overthrow of the Final Empire. Moreover, his life and times don’t match up quite right with the expected prophecies. A final aspect that is missing is the divine claims and historical evidence. It is all well and good to invent a fantastical narrative of a risen savior by means of a morphing creature; it is another thing to actually account for the historical evidence of a risen human being as confirmation of divine approval.

Ultimately, however, the Hero of Ages turns out not to be a coming hero but rather “A Hero who would preserve mankind throughout all its lives and times. Neither Preservation nor Ruin, but both. God.” (Hero, 718.) Interestingly, it is not completely clear whether the “God” referenced here is Sazed himself taking on the powers of Ruin and Preservation or whether these powers are granted by means of a transcendent deity. One’s interpretation of the final few chapters on this point will radically change how one views the book from a worldview perspective. Regardless of how one does take it, it is still quite intriguing to note that the final solution to the problem is deity. In a sense, it is a case of deus ex machina but in a way that absolutely lines up with the plot and expectations of the world Sanderson created. The ultimate source of salvation is found in deity.

Conclusion

Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy is a fascinating look in a fantastical world of how religion may develop and grow. It also features a number of questions which Christians should resonate with. It is a simply wonderful read for those interested in worldview questions. There is so much more with discussing in these books, so please do let me know your own thoughts and again, I highly recommend you go read them!

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.

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