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Book Review: “The Lost World of Israelite Conquest” by John Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is another fantastic work from the pen of John Walton, this time writing with his son, J. Harvey Walton. Walton has a number of these introductory works that focus on revealing the world of the Ancient Near East to his readers to help make sense of the Bible. In this work, the authors take on the question of what we are to make of the conquest narratives in the Bible.

There are often several perspectives Christians take in response to these accounts, as the authors note: they may argue that God is in control of all things and if God chooses to use one people to massacre another, that is God’s will; they may instead argue that the accounts are Israel’s political use of God to justify their own acts; others soften the first perspective but note how morally bankrupt the Canaanites are, arguing that they deserved destruction; or they may argue that the accounts don’t actually teach about genocide at all, but are rather, properly interpreted, rhetoric. The authors of The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest argue, instead, that when we properly understand the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of these passages, their meaning becomes more clear.

Perhaps one of the most radical propositions in the book, from the modern apologetic perspective, is that there is an entire section dedicated to the argument that “The Canaanites are not depicted as guilty of sin” (31ff). They are not saying the Canaanites are perfect, but rather that the Bible does not highlight the sinfulness of the Canaanites over and against any other group of people. Thus, to argue that the Canaanites were particularly guilty of sin, or that they took what was rightfully Israel’s, is mistaken. They establish this through both looking at the Bible’s own words about the Canaanites, and by evaluating the ANE context of these accounts. After arguing, briefly, that the Conquest accounts are a recapitulation of the creation accounts, the authors delve deeply into the translation of the Hebrew word, “Herem.” The word, contextually, often allows those who are “herem”‘d to continue existing. Thus, the authors argue, the meaning of the term is not destruction of individuals but rather the destruction of identity: to “herem” something is to “remove from use” that something. Thus, they argue, the Canaanites were not all put to the sword or killed; rather, their identity was subsumed into Israelite identity.

Another important point the authors make is that wars in the ancient world were fought in different ways and often with different goals or ideals of outcomes than we have today. A people’s deity was depicted fighting alongside that people, and these wars were often over identity as people.

The authors, then, reject the popular apologetic argument today that the accounts are hyperbolic in scope and thus can be seen as something like mere skirmishes. Instead, they argue that the conquest accounts are writing about war as the people of the ANE fought it, with the purposes and in the contexts in which they fought those wars. Overall, I found the authors’ theses pretty convincing. It certainly does away with some of the simpler dismissals of the accounts as merely hyperbolic. However, I wonder how the authors might respond to a more nuanced and extended argument like that of K. Lawson Younger, Jr.’s Ancient Conquest Accounts. In that work, Younger draws upon archaeological data as well as analysis of the battles as described in the biblical texts to show, in part, that the accounts are not genocide but rather wars waged against strongholds and fortresses in rather strategically advanced ways. To anticipate a reply, I believe the Waltons might argue that such analysis could easily be incorporated into their own account, for so long as one is not trying to establish the accounts as merely hyperbolic, one may align oneself with their own perspective.

Other recent works like Did God Really Command Genocide? by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan offer robust defenses of the hyperbolic approach to interpreting the text. The authors did address Copan directly and I believe this book, though the index of Lost World… doesn’t feature either author, making it difficult to confirm. Responding to Copan, they argue that at least part of his approach is anachronistic and reads a modern view of demonic powers onto the Hebrew text. I think it would have been helpful, though, to have a longer discussion of the hyperbolic interpretation. Indeed, the subject index doesn’t even have the word “hyperbole,” though it was mentioned several times. It will be interesting to see how modern defenders of the hyperbolic interpretation interact with the Walton thesis.

Overall, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is a broad, thought-provoking book. Though readers familiar with the field will certainly be left wanting more questions answered, they will benefit as much as any other reader due to the expertise on ANE context that is brought to bear on these difficult passages. I read the book and would say I feel largely convinced by it, though either due to my own adherence to the hyperbolic view or something else, I still have questions about their thesis. I am firmly convinced, though, that any reader with interest in this topic must pick up and read this important work.

The Good 

+Fascinating application of ANE context to difficult topic
+Broad focus with many lines of evidence applied to question
+Sheds fresh light on the topic
+Opens many lines of further inquiry

The Bad

-Could use more discussion of some modern alternatives
-Index seems somewhat incomplete

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

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

 

SDG.

——

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

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Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 8

All rights reserved.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 8

Fisher here argues that the way we find the Gospels to be genuine/authentic is the same way we find other documents authentic, namely the “early reception of writings as genuine by those who had the means of knowing, early traditions… which are not justly liable to suspicion, references to them, quotations from them, at a time when, if they were spurious, this fact could not have been concealed, internal marks in the works themselves indicative of their authorship or date of composition…” (47). In typical fashion, Fisher does not here draw out these arguments in much detail. He provides an overview, then a few details on selected points.

Next, Fisher provides one of his lengthier discussions of anything, tracing various early Christians lives and their connections to the authenticity of the Gospels. He notes that many of these early Christians referenced the Gospels offhandedly just as they do the Old Testament. Their treatment of the set of works about Christ and those accepted as Hebrew Scriptures is, in other words, similar enough that we may conclude they thought of them as equally authoritative.

The work Fisher mentions called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” is more commonly referred to as the Didache. One thing to be careful of reading historical apologetics is that sometimes information in them is out of date (i.e. a reference to an allegedly ancient document that we later discover was a forgery or something else). This is not one of those cases, as the Didache is indeed quite ancient (and typically dated to within the 1st Century AD). Thus, we have perhaps a little more surety over its dating than Fisher did when he wrote the Manual, and its confirmation of the probable existence of the Gospels is quite valuable. It is possible the references to the Gospel were, in fact, references to the oral tradition that was written down as the Gospels, and many modern scholars have argued that’s what happened. But in either case, the Didache provides a confirmation of very early knowledge of Christ as well as some early Christian teachings.

The Gospels each have references to real places and events that, as Fisher notes, are introduced without design and certainly allow us to date them quite early. The place names, names of people, and events all serve as earmarks for the authenticity of the Gospels, and though some very specific details are still debated, overall the impression of authenticity is overwhelming. Finally, Fisher argues that the Johannine Epistles and Gospel share enough important details and linguistic factors to agree that they’ve the same author.

Chapter 8 is thus one of the most robust chapters in the book, and certainly one of the most intriguing so far. Though it doesn’t have any astonishing “new” or rediscovered arguments, it does provide a solid outline for a defense of the authenticity of the Gospels.

What did you think of this chapter? Do offhanded remarks about places and people give more authenticity to an ancient work?

Links

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

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

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

Fisher Manual of Christian Evidences Chapter 7

All rights reserved.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 7

Fisher argues in this chapter that the Pauline epistles point to the truth of the resurrection. Against the notion that Paul’s experience of Jesus were all visions, he notes that Paul himself distinguishes between a physical manifestation of Christ and visions he had (42-43). Paul’s testimony also helps exclude the notion that the disciples were all merely hallucinating, for Paul is acknowledged to have been antagonistic towards Christianity. Thus, it would be very difficult to come up with some reason for him to share the same hallucination the Disciples and others allegedly experienced on such a theory (44-45).

There is a lot packed into a short space here by Fisher. Another interesting element of his argument is that Paul helps set the framework for when and how many visions and appearances of Jesus occurred. That is, by noting the many appearances and to whom and when they occurred, Paul helps outline the times of the appearances. Importantly, this includes the appearances ending at a finite point in time. Fisher notes that this also goes against the hallucination theory, for there would then be no explanation for why the visions would just cease, and all at the same time (45).

The arguments Fisher provides here are the briefest forms of many important points, but that doesn’t discount the value of this chapter. It provides an excellent overview of how to look at the Pauline corpus with an eye for apologetics.

Links

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

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

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

The State as Ultimate Authority- Leland vs. Hobbes

There is a tendency in the modern age to turn the nation state into the ultimate authority and arbiter among people. Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher who focused on political philosophy, remains deeply influential to this day. In his work, Leviathan, he proposes the “social contract” theory of governance in which basically sees the individual as ceding some powers to a controlling interest like the government in exchange for things like protection. What many fail to acknowledge is that Hobbes also felt this would be best implemented by an autocratic state with an absolute sovereign. Yet many modern political theorists continue to fall under this same spell of creating an absolute or ultimate authority of the nation state. Included in this is the presumption of secularism in which an alleged neutral secular government may arbitrate all governance and even international politics.

Moreover, as William Cavanaugh has rather convincingly argued in his The Myth of Religious Violence, what often happens in these cases is that violence is given over to the nation state and whatever violence is perpetuated by that nation state is sanctified as neutral and secular, therefore making it “right.”

Yet these concerns are not new. John Leland (1691-1766) addressed these concerns in his own discussion of Hobbes in his work, A View of the Principle Deistical Writers that Have Appeared in the Last and Present Century (1764):

In Mr. Hobbes we have a remarkable instance what strange extravagances men of wit and genius may fall into, who, whilst they value themselves upon their superior penetration, and laugh at popular errors and superstition, often give into notions so wild and ridiculous, as none of the people that govern themselves by plain common sense could be guilty of… Mr. Hobbes’ scheme strikes at the foundation of all religion… That it tendeth not only to subvert the authority of the scripture, but to destroy God’s moral administration…. it confoundeth the natural differences of good and evil… taketh away the distinction between the soul and the body, and the liberty of human actions…. [Hobbes’ deism] erecteth an absolute tyranny in the state and church, which it confounds, and maketh the will of the prince or governing power the sole standard of right and wrong… – 34-35.

Unpacking this point, we see that Leland argues that Hobbes’ system of government ironically does the very thing that he and many deistic writers of his time accused Christianity of doing–creating nation states where people were obligated to act or believe in certain ways by coercive force–while also going beyond it. Hobbes’ plan takes away any possibility of judging the nation state to be in the wrong. Instead, the “will of the prince or governing power” becomes the “sole standard of right and wrong.”

We see this problem today when nation states are given all authority to kill others. Vietnam, the war in Iraq, and many more examples could be raised. But criticism of such activities is often ceded to internal critique, and the ultimate arbiter is the decision of the nation state.

While some would argue that giving all power to the nation state makes a kind of neutral ground that allows for the flourishing of any worldview, the opposite is often the case, as nation states begin to thwart freedoms of the individuals in favor of the nation state’s supremacy. Though it is possible to arbitrate conflicts of worldview utilizing the nation state as a ground to do so, it also means that the nation state has final authority in such moral decisions.

Intriguingly, individuals often find themselves in the position of defending the actions of the nation state, even when they know that those actions may be wrong. Whether it is allegiance to a political party or person that becomes valued more highly than one’s own moral compass, people begin to dismiss or defend the nation state’s authority to determine right from wrong.

I believe Leland came out well on top of Hobbes and other deists throughout his exchange, and his warning ceding too much authority to the governing powers is well on point.

Links

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

SDG.

——

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

Too much friendship? A response to Desiring God’s “More than BFFs”

Complementarianism is the theological belief that men and women have different roles in the church and home and that these roles are ordained by God. Some have turned complementarianism into a system that controls every aspect of life. Few places make that more clear than some of the major websites that support that theological system. One of these sites, Desiring God, had an article entitled “More than BFFs: When Friendship Goes Too Far.” I could not believe what I read as I went through that article, and felt a response was necessary.

In this article, written by Kelly Needham, the main point is that friendship or friends may “take the place of God in your heart” and that we ought to defend ourselves from having friendships that do that. What I think the article reveals, in fact, is that some applications of complementarian theology lead to control beliefs that cause fear even in relationships that should be comforting.

Needham gives examples of relationships that, in her opinion, have gone too far. These examples are indicative of what is to come. The first is of a pair of friends who complement each other well–one is organized, the other is not, etc. They grow to be best friends. When one of the friends’ husbands gets a job that requires them to move, the other is devastated. Needham writes that the friend’s “despair was difficult to hide.” The second example is of roommates in college (?) that get along so well that they do almost everything together and others joke that they’re “joined at the hip.” The third example is of a woman who is shockingly (I say this tongue-in-cheek) single at 30 years old! She finds a younger woman who is eager to have her as a mentor and jumps on the opportunity. Later, when she gets asked on a date, she hesitates to say yes because she’s worried it could have an impact on her friendship.

What do you get from these examples? The first is a close friendship in which a woman is unhappy to see her best friend move away. The second is a close friendship in college. The third is a woman who doesn’t immediately jump on every man who asks her on a date, and one of those reasons is because she has a friendship she doesn’t want to change.

Well, Needham does see something nefarious here. She writes:

What do all these stories have in common? In each case, a friend became something more.

I honestly re-read the beginning of the article at this point the first time through because the wording seems to imply a sexual relationship here. But no, what Needham means is clear immediately following these words: “Kara wasn’t just a friend; she became Maddie’s other half. Allison wasn’t just a roommate; she became Leslie’s place of belonging. Ashley wasn’t just a mentee; she became Shelby’s purpose and mission in life. These are all examples of friendships that had gone too far.”

At this point, I had question marks floating in front of my eyes. What is going on here? Needham, it seems, believes that these friendships are too close. We must be wary, she argues, that our friendships don’t get too close. We don’t want to replace God with our friends:

While we may be aware of our tendency to look to spouses, children, money, food, careers, and houses to find fulfillment, many of us have assumed friendship is immune to the same kind of temptation. Since same-gender friendships are necessary for our spiritual health, it’s easy to assume they pose no threat to our walk with God. But idolatry is always dangerous to our souls, no matter how harmless the idol may seem at first glance.

Yes, on this complementarian mindset, we must not only fear that our spouses or children might give us fulfillment, we may also discover that friends could do the same thing! There is an almost conspiratorial feel to the whole article that only gets worse as it continues. We can’t have “BFFs,” apparently, because “the world’s model BFF is, by all accounts, a functional savior — someone who rescues you from the instability and trials of life, someone with whom and to whom you belong, who is committed to you ‘forever.'” We wouldn’t ever want to have a friend forever, now, would we? But then the article truly goes into a kind of sadly comedic territory.

The whole article’s point is that we must be fearful and vigilant that we may tend to replace God with friends in our lives. So, one may reasonably ask, how will I know if I’m doing that? Fear not! Needham has given us the means to determine when this may be the case. She offers a list of “Warning Signs.” She writes, “How can you know if a friendship is threatening to take God’s place in your heart? Here are a few questions you could ask about your relationship…”

What do these warning signs include? Well, before we look specifically at them, I want you to take the time to once again think about the main point of the article in question: it is an argument that you’re replacing God with your friends. So, presumably, if the “warning signs” are accurate, these are things you ought to be doing with God, right? After all, it’s hardly replacing God if you’re doing something with a friend that you don’t do with God. So, be sure to replace “friend” with “God” in warnings on the site. In fact, I went ahead and picked a couple out to do it for you to show how, frankly, silly this is:

Do you experience jealousy when your [God] spends time with others?
Have you lost interest in other [Gods]? Do you lack a desire to make new [Gods]?
Do you feel free to “speak for” your [God] with others?
Do you have frequent sleepovers, often preferring to share the same bed?
Do you use nicknames or special language with each other?
Are you more physically affectionate toward this [God] than other [Gods]? Are you physically affectionate in a way that makes others uncomfortable?

Some may think I’m being unfair here. After all, Needham can’t mean that these things are what we ought to be doing with or for God, right? I mean, I’m sorry, but I don’t really want to be physically affectionate with God in a way that makes others uncomfortable. But no, Needham makes it quite clear right after the list of warnings:

If you answered yes to some of these questions, it is worth considering whether your friend is becoming, or has become, something to you only God should be.

Yes, in the world of this particular brand of complementarianism, it is problematic to have a sleepover with your besty because, after all, you ought to be having a sleepover with God in which you use special nicknames for God and are physically affectionate with God.

I really don’t know a better way to rebut the claims in this article. It is, frankly, ridiculous. But this is the kind of thing that some (and yes, I am emphasizing some) complementarians believe we all ought to be doing. We must watch out for the dreaded friendship that becomes too close. We must take care in all our relationships to never cross that invisible boundary where we may idolize other people. And no, I’m not saying we could never make another person into an idol or a new God. But the language of this article and the paranoia it engenders towards friendships is devastating. Moreover, the examples used at the beginning are all perfectly reasonable. After all, does Needham really believe that friends ought not to be deeply saddened when their friends move away, or that a woman ought to always accept every request for a date if there is no objection to the character of the man (okay, she might be intentionally saying that last one)?

I think this article is deeply damaging, and shows yet another example of how complementarianism turns itself into a controlling doctrine that seeks to dominate every aspect of an individual’s life.

Source

Kelly Needham, “More than BFFs” accessed 7/16/17.

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 other posts I’ve written on complementarian theology.

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 Once and Future King” by T.H. White – Honor, King David, and Justice

ofk-whiteT.H White’s classic Arthurian tale, The Once and Future King is an absolute delight to read. I had never read it before, and I was surprised to see the sheer amount of humor found therein. The depth of the work’s story is immense. Here, I will look at some of the worldview level themes found in the book. There will be SPOILERS in this post.

Honor

Young Arthur, known as “The Wart,” shows his character in one discussion with Merlyn-

If I were to be a Knight… I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it. (174)

Arthur is an honorable man–and was even an honorable boy. That doesn’t mean he never makes poor choices, but he is ultimately motivated by faith and a desire to take on evil directly.

King David… Arthur

In many ways, the story of Arthur parallels the biblical story of David. Like David, Arthur desires to follow justice and walk in the way of God. Like David, it is illicit affairs which lead to his undoing. Like David, Arthur’s downfall ultimately comes from within his own family. Each has a kind of guide in the early stages of their rule (Merlyn or Samuel), but neither takes on such guidance later in life. Each is guided by faith, and it each attempts to capture a kind of ideal in their monarchy. Their ideals are never quite reached, and it is evident in the story of each that their own choices limit their capacity to reach that ideal. In the end, each turns to God for the final answers.

Justice

One of the best portrayals of justice in the book can be found in the way White portrayed injustice. The knights are operating under a principle of “Might makes Right.” They expect the lower class soldiers to be slaughtered, while they themselves are so heavily armored they can barely be harmed (as hilariously depicted in an early scene that young Arthur gets to witness). Arthur seeks to go against this principle–to wage war on Might. Yet, even that battle ends in failure as it becomes corrupted. A question the book seems to point us towards is whether violence to overcome violence is a realistic means.

The conclusion to the book catches Arthur at his most reflective. White’s own view begins to peek through the words of Arthur’s thoughts. What is it that failed Arthur? How did his quest for good become so embroiled in deceit and betrayal? Yet Arthur finds that there was a crucial flaw in his plan: “[T]he whole structure depended on the first premise: that man was decent” (637). He had forgotten about the sinfulness of humanity:

For if there was such a thing as original sin, if man was on the whole a villain, if the Bible was right in saying that the heart of men was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, then the purpose of his life had been a vain one. (638)

The purpose was vain, because it was not pursued alongside God’s will but rather as Arthur’s will imposed upon humanity–the very thing that Merlyn had come back through time (or was it forward?) to discover. Yet that which Arthur wished to bring about–the defeat of Might–was not itself an evil end. Indeed, it is the King’s page who reveals the ultimate judgment on Arthur’s plan: “I think it was a good idea, my lord”–thus said the page; and Arthur’s response: “It was, and it was not. God knows” (644).

Ultimately, it seems, justice is defined on God’s terms and humans are incapable of seeing the whole picture. White was an agnostic, but was apparently scornful of the evil he saw in the world. A kind of pessimism about human capacities is found throughout the book. The fact that, in the end, “God knows” is the answer that can be given towards whether humans can accomplish an ideal is telling. Without God, endeavors of that sort are impossible.

Other Topics

There are some pretty interesting parables included within the text, particularly in the “Sword in the Stone” section. One of them is from the Talmud–a story in which Elijah travels with a Rabbi and perplexes the Rabbi with his apparent lack of concern for the poor while he aids the rich. Yet this parable shows that God is indeed working towards justice, and a God’s-eye perspective of justice is impossible. Another parable tells a story about humanity as a kind of capstone of creation, while limiting humanity to being an “embryo” for all time- a creature in development. This capacity-laden view of humanity points to White’s worldview once more. Human choices matter, but we so often choose poorly.

The Dark Ages, White notes, may have been a bit of a misnomer:

Do you think that they [those times sometimes called “The Dark Ages”], with their Battles, Famine, Black Death and Serfdom, were less enlightened than we are, with our Wars, Blockade, Influenza and Conscription? (544)

Here again we see White’s own world creeping back into the novel. The novel was published in 1939, the year World War II officially began, though there was plenty going on before that. It was difficult to see the War coming and think that another age was to be singled out as the “Dark” age. There is a kind of intellectual hubris in dismissing the ideas of the past and seeing one’s own time as somehow enlightened. White did not think that was a route to take.

Merlyn (yes, Merlyn, not Merlin) is a character whose interactions with Arthur bring up all kinds of questions. He seems to be guiding a young Arthur towards the attempt to bring about justice in the world, but he also allows himself–seemingly willingly–to be cast aside when Arthur is at his most vulnerable. He only reappears at the very end of the book as a kind of wind. I am left feeling rather ambivalent about Merlyn, who had so much power but who did not ultimately use it very effectively.

Conclusion

The Once and Future King is a simply phenomenal book layered with many levels of meaning. There are so many avenues to explore from a worldview level that I’m sure repeated readings will be rewarding. The central theme, however, is incredibly powerful: humans cannot complete their own ideals. We are imperfect. God knows.

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

T.H. White The Once and Future King (New York: Ace, 2004 edition).

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.

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.

——

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.

Microview: “Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract Objects” edited by Paul Gould

A Picture I took on a snowy, overcast day. Rights reserved.

Beyond the Control of God?: Six Views on The Problem of God and Abstract Objects will surely be viewed by many as a kind of idiosyncratic book on a topic of little interest, let alone importance. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The difficulty of abstract objects and how they relate to God is something which touches on matters of divine aseity, the truth of propositions, and even how we conceive of things like properties and universals.

The introductory essay by the editor, Paul Gould, does much to provide background on the topic, why it’s a problem, and what major views there are related to it. The individual views are each interesting and come from sometimes radically different perspectives. Do abstract objects exist independently of God? Might they instead depend on God? Do they even “exist” in the sense of having ontological existence? These questions are each approached in different ways by the various authors.

The range of views is fairly broad, with such views as Platonism, other forms of realism, creationism, and anti-realism are presented. Each essay presents the author’s own set of answers to the questions about abstracta and leads to several solid insights.

One difficulty with the book is the chapter titles do little to provide insight into what the view of each author is, so unless one pays attention to the introduction, one has to guess at the author’s view until it is explicitly stated (which it may or may not be).

Ultimately, the lack of space authors are given both in their essays and responses means that the book does little at points to shed light on the topic. The authors are at times reduced to saying little more than that they disagree with a point of another without having room to expand on that disagreement. Because of the lack of depth, readers are left wondering at times what the authors’ views even are. For example, I read Yandell’s initial essay with little concept of exactly what he was arguing for as opposed to what he argued against. I re-read the essay and realized he stated his view only in a short paragraph. It really is inexcusable in a book which offers different views to have so little space for each view, particularly when the topic is as complex as that of abstract objects.

Despite this lack of space, the book is very interesting and provides much insight into the difficulty of God and abstract objects. It is unfortunate that such a complex topic wasn’t given the space it needs to truly get off the ground.

The Good

+Interesting topic with a great set of contributors
+Very solid introduction
+Offers both responses from other authors and a rejoinder for each essay
+Smart selection of views with insights from each

The Bad

-Extremely technical arguments with little room for expounding on them
-Chapters are too short at times to even understand what each view is
-Chapter titles cause confusion by not putting forth authors’ views

Overall

Beyond the Control of God?: Six Views on The Problem of God and Abstract Objects is an interesting book on an important, if oft-neglected, topic. However, the very short length given to each contributor makes it very difficult to even get a grasp of what the authors’ views are. Despite this lack of space, the book is extremely interesting and provides much insight into the difficulty of God and abstract objects. It is unfortunate that the interesting topic wasn’t given the space it needs to truly get off the ground.

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

Beyond the Control of God?: Six Views on The Problem of God and Abstract Objects edited Paul Gould (Bloomsbury, 2014).

 

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.

Book Review: “Apologetics in the Roman Empire” edited by Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price

apologetics-romanApologetics in the Roman Empire is a collection of essays centered around apologetic interaction between Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the first through fourth centuries. The essays cover a wide range of topics, from Pagan attempts to defend Hellenism to the apologetic writings of Eusebius.

The value of this book is found primarily in a survey of the interplay between Pagan, Jewish, and Christian apologists during this time period, but from these interactions, readers can find a number of applications. The apologetic styles early Christians used allow readers to seek to apply them to their own reasoning. Some of the early arguments Pagans made against Christians have been reiterated in our own time, and the responses Christians gave can be integrated and updated in reply.

Each individual essay has a virtual treasure trove of content that gives insight into how apologetics was done but also in how it might be done into today. I found every essay to be compelling and insightful. Unfortunately, the editors themselves argued early on that few people would be interested in a study like this beyond learning about the time period being discussed (I briefly look at this quote and claim here). I disagree vehemently. This is a book from which anyone interested in apologetics will glean much.

I cannot recommend Apologetics in the Roman Empire highly enough. Its broadness of application is far beyond the seemingly obscure appeal to those specifically interested in this period. Whether one is looking into how to approach apologetic styles, how Christian thinkers of the past dealt with certain objections, or how debates which occurred in the first few centuries of Christianity impact our thought today, readers are treated to a wealth of research and information which will bear fruit in their thought.

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!

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover these enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!

Source

Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

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.

Natural Law, human morality, and self-interest in Leland vs. Bolingbroke: A centuries-old discussion that remains relevant today

leland-viewJohn Leland’s (1691-1766) epic takedown of Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke’s (1678-1751) argument for natural law from a deistic perspective as found in Leland’s A View of the Principal Deistical Writers That Have Appeared in England in the Last and Present Century (available free online) is a wonder to behold. Leland’s work is a massive 2-Volume tome that basically surveys the entire field of the deistic controversy in the 18th century and provides not just an overview of the deists’ writings, but also response to them and extensive commentary on other written responses. In other words, the book is probably the single most valuable contemporary account of the deistic controversy that was written.

Leland deals extensively with Bolingbroke and engages nearly every part of Bolingbroke’s argument for deism. Here, I want to highlight one passage from Leland’s account:

Those may justly regard universal benevolence as a fundamental law of our nature, who suppose a social principle, and a benevolent disposition, distinct from self-love, to be an original disposition, natural to the human heart, and implanted by the Author of our beings; but if self-love be, as [Lord Bolingbroke] represents it, the only original spring of human actions, and the centre of the whole system, universal benevolence cannot be properly represented as the fundamental law of our nature. Upon this scheme the private interest of the individual, whenever it happens to come in competition with the public good, ought to be preferred.

The relevance of this very argument to modern debates over morality, particularly on atheistic schema, is immediately apparent. Without God, in a universe sans not just creation but also sans design, sans lawgiver, etc., it seems self-interest is really the only possible “ought” to be found. But if that is the case, why not acknowledge that morality in the best interest of “all” or “the group” is at best a fiction? Let’s not be mistaken; many atheists do acknowledge exactly that. But there remain holdouts, certain that a framework for discovering morality.

As Leland notes, however, it would be very difficult to get around the notion that without some kind of divine law or lawgiver, self-interest seemingly must become the basis for morality. Indeed, though Leland lived before Darwin, it would seem that non-theistic evolution would suggest this as well: self-preservation and the passing on of one’s genes as the greatest good. But if that is the case, it becomes clear that no matter how lofty our expectations or claims about morality become, when it comes down to it, self-interest will be the final arbiter of morality. If that is the case, then it becomes difficult to maintain that universal benevolence or some other good could be actually attainable on such a system.

Perhaps a counter-argument could be that we could set the goal at universal benevolence, but acknowledge the failings of the system. But if that is the case, it seems the failings of the system itself–allowing self-preservation/interest to be the true ultimate arbiter of morality–decries the system. The goal would become “universal benevolence, so long as it does not impede my self-interest” and that seems to be a very problematic way to view morality. Of course, one could simply bite the bullet and acknowledge this as the best possible moral system to offer without God. So be it.

Links

Historical Apologetics– Check out all my posts on historical apologetics.

For more reading on the psychological studies behind spanking, see Psychology Today as well as the summary article linked above (or here).

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

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

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

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