I have once again gone to all corners of the internet to present you, dear reader, with a list of links so diverse, so wonderful, so amazing, that you will not be able to stop until you have read them all. Do not worry, dear reader, there are more Really Recommended Posts available to you [scroll down for more!]. This week, we read about Mark Twain and GK Chesterton, fine-tuning, science fiction, natural law, preparing Christian youth, and watch a video on justice!
Something of the Same Magic: Mark Twain and G.K. Chesterton– two phenomenal writers are compared in this excellent post on the developed thought behind each of their insights. As an avid reader and longtime Twain fan, I enjoyed this post immensely.
New Study: formation of life-permitting elements carbon and oxygen is fine-tuned– More evidence for the fine-tuning required for life is made clear through nature. This is a very insightful post which deserves your attention. For more on the fine-tuning argument, check out my post: Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God.
When Youth Aren’t Prepared– What happens when we do not prepare Christian youths for the challenges they will face? Deeper Waters, an incredibly thoughtful blog, discusses the implications.
Barsoom or Bust! (Movie Review: “John Carter”)– One of my favorite websites (and podcasts!) features this excellent review of “John Carter.” Be sure to also check out my own review, in which I discuss a number of worldview issues which are raised by the movie: A Christian look at “John Carter”
A Christian Hart [intentional misspelling], a Humean Head– Are you interested in natural law? Of course you are. Edward Feser, one of the more lucid thinkers I know, writes about David Bentley Hart’s critique of natural law, while also expounding the theory. This is well worth the read.
Nicholas Wolterstorff at the Justice Conference– [Video] Nicholas Wolterstorff is a huge name when it comes to justice, having written extensively on the topic. Check out this lecture he gave on justice and Christianity.
Very often, I am just taken aback by the consistent high quality of posts I turn up in a search across the web. Check out the posts I bring to your attention this week! The topics include Loftus’ “outsider test” of faith, John Carter, Farmers, Richard Dawkins, morality, and Rob Bell with the emergent church.
Loftus vs Marshall I: An Alphabet of Errors (on Science and Faith)– I can’t tell you how much I recommend this for reading. Loftus is one of the up-and-comers in the “New Atheist” movement, and he is in love with his own devised argument against theism: “The Outsider Test of Faith.” Marshall exposes numerous flaws in Loftus’ latest work on the topic, as well as showing many of the difficulties which persist in his position.
A “John Carter” Calendar: Twelve Months, Twelve Reasons to Visit Barsoom– A great look at reasons to watch “John Carter,” a film I feel has been very underrated. I have written an analysis of the movie itself, in which I discuss many of the themes found therein: “A Christian look at ‘John Carter.'”
God Made a Farmer (Video)– A video recognizing women farmers, which is itself a companion to the original, a Dodge Super Bowl commercial which lauds farmers generally but doesn’t show any women. That original version, itself very much worth watching, can be found here. I found the message here to be very endearing.
Richard Dawkins defends the moral goodness of infanticide and adultery– I’ll be one of the first to say atheists are perfectly capable of being moral people. God’s moral law is clear to anyone. Yet, once someone denies that grounding for morality, it is permissible for them to develop all kinds of random moral systems. Dawkins’ comments about infanticide and adultery are just one example of the kind of hedonism which can occur when the basis for morality is jettisoned.
The Submergent Church– A powerful image showing the way some “emergent” people have put holes into the notion of orthodoxy and thus undermined their own credibility. This is one of my favorite websites, and I highly recommend that you follow it: No Apologies Allowed.
Disney’s “John Carter” is based off a series of science fiction novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs which originated in 1912 and helped shape the genre. I admit I have not read the books–though I now plan to–so I can’t comment on how closely the movie adheres to the storyline of the novels. As always, there will be spoilers for the movie. I have left the outline of the plot out of this post, but as usual a succinct summary can be found on wikipedia.
Heroism and Just War
John Carter is a hero with a haunted past. The movie, unfortunately, never really explores his history much. From what I could tell, he went to war and came back to find his family had all been killed and his house burned as part of the conflict. He thus swore off fighting for a cause and instead decided to seek his fortune.
Once Carter reaches Mars (Barsoom), however, he is thrown into a conflict in which he realizes that the fate of an entire planet rests upon the victory of the city of Helium. Once he realizes the implications of this battle (and conveniently, finds the princess of Helium particularly attractive) Carter aligns himself with the Tharks, a race of aliens largely viewed as savages by the humanoid aliens on the planet. He is able to seal victory for Helium by making the Tharks realize that they, too, have a place on Barsoom which is influenced heavily by the conflict between Helium and Zodanga.
The movie touches, then, on the notion of a just war. Helium is trying to save the planet, while Zodanga does little but consume and subjugate. The Tharks view both sides as neutral and prefer them to continue fighting, as long as the war stays away from them. Yet it becomes clear that due to the influence of the Thern–an extremely advanced (technologically speaking) race which seeks to orchestrate the destruction of planets–that the conflict has implications for everyone on Barsoom, and indeed, on Earth.
The Tharks have a tradition in which they brand their people as punishment for their sins. The brands are placed so that they continue to cover one’s skin throughout their lives. If one has committed enough offenses that there is no longer any place for a branding, then one is either killed or thrown into the arena to fight against impossible odds. One’s sins literally cover their flesh. One cannot escape from one’s offenses. There is no redemption.
Christianity affirms that sin is something for which one can make no redemption for themselves. One’s sins are, in a sense, branded onto one’s past. Only by repentance and grace through faith can one be saved. There is no escape from one’s offenses except through the full and free forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord. There imagery in the movie of one’s sins being displayed on one’s flesh is powerful, and it resonates with the Christian view that our sins condemn us forever. Only by grace can we be saved. There is no removing the sins–branded onto us–by our own power.
The Therns are supposedly oracles of the goddess. However, it turns out that they are actually dedicated to manipulating civilizations across the galaxy. It is never discussed whether the goddess and the Therns were ever actually genuine, but it seems fairly clear that those calling themselves Therns are just using the title in order to gain power.
Religion is therefore seen as a kind of way to manipulate and enthrall the masses. All of the sides of the conflict are shown to be dedicated to the goddess, but none seems to have the full truth. However, it does seem that the dedication of the Tharks, in particular, shows a resonance with truth and a genuineness that reaches beyond the mere use of religion as subjugation. The movie, I would say, gives an overall neutral view of religion. In some ways it can be used for ill, but it nonetheless is not inherently evil.
Yet another aspect of religion in the movie, however, is that one can observe the difference between genuine faith and exploitative faith. It is clear that many of the Therns genuinely believed in the goddess and there are scenes which convey a sense of awe over the faith on Barsoom. Religious practice is seen as taking place on a genuine level and being an important part of the lives of the practitioners. These religious persons are seen as genuine and largely trustworthy. On the other hand, those who seek to exploit the faith are seen as inherently evil. Such a view should resonate with Christians, who are instructed to be aware of those within the church who would seek to lead us astray (antichrists).
Social justice is an underlying theme in the movie. By portraying the alien Tharks as the outsiders, the movie is able to focus on the notion that the downtrodden and overlooked can rise above the limitations of their position. Although viewed as unequals, they are equals.
One poignant scene early in the film showed a hatchery for the Tharks. They came to collect the hatchlings and it turned out that some eggs hadn’t yet hatched. The Tharks then fired on all the eggs with their gun and destroyed the “weak” young. I couldn’t help but think that this is largely what is happening in the real world with abortion [a topic I have written on extensively].
Here again, worldviews rear their ugly heads. The faith of Barsoom is a bit enigmatic. The goddess seems largely uninterested in the goings-on of everyday life. Furthermore, those who follow her are fully willing to kill their own young in order to ensure the survival of the strongest. One can’t help but think of the prioritization of desires over objective morality in our own world.
The film was a lot of fun. One can easily see how the source material influenced science fiction in a number of ways. As a huge fan of science fiction, I can’t help but love the movie. It is so awesome to see the origins of sci-fi play out on screen. Christians watching the film will find areas to discuss social justice, just war, and heroism. Furthermore, there are some poignant scenes which can bring up issues related to abortion and racism. A final talking point would be to discuss religion as a transcultural entity and see how it has been used in both good and bad ways. I go into this issue in my own post on the “Myth of ‘Religion.'”
“John Carter” is another film with a number of worldview discussions happening in the background and it’s worth a watch both in order to start discussions about religion, justice, and the like but also to explore the origins of science fiction, a genre steeped in religious dialogue.
Check out another review of the movie over at Sci-Fi Christian, which looks into the background of the movie more, as well as exploring some Bible texts in relation to the movie: Barsoom or Bust!
Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I discuss how Christians can view movies with an eye towards worldview.
Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber– I look at how science fiction is frequently used to discuss worldviews and analyze two major authors in the field along with their view of religious dialogue.
Alien Life: Theological reflections on life on other planets– What would it mean for Christianity if we discovered life on other planets?
Check out my other looks at movies, including the Hunger Games and the Dark Knight Rises here (scroll down for more).
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