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forgiveness

This tag is associated with 5 posts

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

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

Omphalos

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

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

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

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate

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

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

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

Exhalation: Self-Destruction and Miracle

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

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

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

wtu-smith

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

Free Will and Determinism

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

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

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

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

Humanity and Inhumanity

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

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

Forgiveness

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

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

Conclusion

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

Links

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

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

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

 

SDG.

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

Book Review: “A Shared Mercy: Karl Barth on Forgiveness and the Church” by Jon Coutts

asm-couttsJon Coutts’ A Shared Mercy explores the doctrine of forgiveness from the perspective of Karl Barth. Because it is the perspective of Karl Barth, it also reflects on doctrine of the church, as this was central to Barth’s thought. However, Coutts argues we must be careful not to subordinate all doctrines Barth taught under his doctrine of the church.

The book is organized into 6 chapters that largely center on two parts: Barth’s doctrine of forgiveness and what a full doctrine of forgiveness based on Barth might look like in application. Throughout the book there is a kind of unity between these topics as Coutts takes what Barth taught on forgiveness and applies it.

First, Coutts notes that because Christ taught that forgiveness is central to the lives of his followers, it follows that forgiveness is central to the church (1). Thus, exploring Barth’s Church Dogmatics, we ought to expect to find forgiveness as a central, not tertiary teaching. Coutts argues throughout the book that this is, indeed, what we find, though little has been studied in regards to Barth on forgiveness in the church in contemporary theology.

Readers may be concerned that a book so focused on a somewhat obscure topic may lack applicable insights, but Coutts does a great job not merely reporting Barth’s beliefs but also deriving thoughts therefrom that have application to the contemporary Christian. One example is the question of whether forgiveness first requires one to wait for repentance:

A legitimate practical concern… [is] the perpetuation of victimhood that seems to be implied when the imperative [to forgive] is self-giving and forgiving love. But this is founded on a misconception of the call to cruciform discipleship… Even if the abusive party is unrepentant, the result is not unforgiveness, but an acknowledgement of nonreconciliation… Forgiving the abuser is not the perpetuation of victimhood but the free offer of further reconciliation. (154-155)

This and many other passages provide direct application to the lives of believers. At several points, then, Coutts ably demonstrates the way to bring scholarship to the person in the pew, something that is too-often lacking in scholarly works.

As a Lutheran, I appreciated the highlighting of the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for Christian community, though I think Barth’s teaching on these sacraments falls short of the biblical teaching. Yes, baptism is a sign of community, but Barth and Coutts each seem to err in seeing baptism as a kind of political action of the church rather than a gracious action of God. Similarly, the view of the Lord’s Supper as being primarily a work of the church rather than a gracious gift of God takes away the greatness of the gift.

Because the book is so focused on a specific aspect of Barth’s teaching, it does at times read a bit too much like a journal article–engaging with very specific opponents with little context. However, these moments are thankfully few and far between.

A Shared Mercy is an interesting, surprisingly applicable study on forgiveness in Barth’s doctrine. More importantly, it shares information that can be applied directly to the broader church. The importance of a doctrine of forgiveness ought never to be understated, as it is so central to Christian teaching. As such, this book is an important contribution to understanding what we as Christians, and the church, are called to do.

The Good

+Insights into Barth’s theology of the church, in balanced perspective
+Background for modern discussions of forgiveness
+More applicable material than me be expected

The Bad

-Sometimes reads a bit more like a journal article than a book
-Reduces both baptism and the Lord’s Supper to human act

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide 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!

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

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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

Sunday Quote!- Forgiveness in Islam and Christianity

wecq-whiteEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Forgiveness in Islam and Christianity

James White’s book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an is a work of scholarship and insight which provides much to think about in regards to Christianity and Islam. One passage I found particularly interesting was the contrast between the Christian view of forgiveness and that of Islam. White relates a story from the hadith (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 4:676) in which a man who has murdered many seeks forgiveness. Ultimately, Allah changes the very geography of the earth in order to forgive the man. But what this story (and some other instances White relates) teaches about forgiveness is what makes it interesting:

Here Allah not only forgives the man of horrendous sin but also does so without the slightest reference to the fulfillment of the divine law against murder. The key issue is not God’s mercy or even God’s desire to forgive. The issue is how forgiveness can be obtained without violating His holiness and justice. From the perspective of this hadith, forgiveness flows not from God’s actions in providing a basis for salvation, but from His power alone. (158, cited below)

The distinction White discusses here is crucial. The basis for forgiveness in Christianity flows along with God’s holiness and justice: God provides for justice through the atonement provided by Christ. In Islam, however, Allah may choose to forgive whomever, whenever, merely because Allah is all-powerful–and this in the radical sense that Allah may do whatever Allah wishes, even violate divine law against murder and the like without any intercession and mediation.

It seems to me that this provides another reason to think of the reasonableness of Christianity: it provides a basis for God’s forgiveness apart from mere divine fiat.

What do you think? How important is this distinction? Does James White accurately portray this difference?

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!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

James White, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013).

SDG.

Really Recommended Posts 4/26/2012

There are a ton of great Christian blogs out there. Here I’ve highlighted only a few great posts. Check out my blogroll for more excellent blogs! This week I’ve featured posts discussing Christian Memes (one extremely important post!), how some secondary issues can be extremely important in apologetics, a beautiful sculpture and a discussion about it, an apologetic comic, Richard Carrier, and more.

By the way, as you read these posts I’d like to know what you think of them, so feel free to drop a comment here or at the posts themselves and let bloggers know you’re reading. Our best encouragement is you!

What Memes Mean: Avoiding Scumbag Apologetics– I have seen this same problem occurring in many places. I really appreciated this relevant post about the use of memes (often pictures with captions) and Christianity.

Debate in Apologetics: Secondary Issues of Primary Importance– This thoughtful post notes how some issues, like Young Earth Creationism, can potentially be harmful to the faith and the defense of the faith.

‘Heart-rending’: Young Slovakian sculptor captures post-abortion pain, mercy, and forgiveness– Beautiful artwork and pro-life discussion as we remember that it is not just one innocent life harmed by abortion.

Web Traffic for Reformed and Creationist Sites– A post which provides some insights into how people on the internet are consuming theology.

Constitution of the Divine Foot-in-the-Door Resistance Army– No Apologies Allowed constantly puts out great comics which allow for Christian engagement. This one is no different. Thought-provoking and insightful.

Compassion Wins: A Longtime Atheist Becomes Christian– Demonstrating a life like Jesus’ can be the best witness.

Richard Carrier on the Resurrection: Part 2– A lengthy and engaging post which shows some of the problems with Richard Carrier’s attacks on Christianity and miracles.

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