social justice

This tag is associated with 7 posts

Sunday Quote!- Christ’s Name Obligates Justice

Occasionally, on 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!

Christ’s Name Obligates Justice

I’ve been trying to ensure I do a daily devotion, which includes a brief liturgy, some Scripture reading, prayer, and a brief writing from a devotion. For this year, I chose I want to Live These Days with You, a collection of excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works for daily reading. I was struck by the reading from March 9, which features a quote from Ethics:

Wherever the name of Jesus Christ is named, he is there as protection and obligation. That is true of all people who in their battle for justice, truth, humanity, and freedom have again learned to name the name of Jesus Christ… It is not a ‘Christian Culture’ that must make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; rather, the crucified Christ has become the refuge, justification, protection, and obligation for those higher ideals that have begun to suffer and for their defenders. (DBWE 6:345, 347-348)

In our own time, we continue to see those who work not for justice, truth, humanity, and freedom, but instead for a “Christian culture,” itself allegedly based upon some broader worldview that, if only it would be embraced, would bring the former ideals along with it. But Bonhoeffer will have none of that. It is the very act of battling for those ideals that are obligated through the name of Jesus Christ himself. Moreover, those who do that battle are doing so in the name of Jesus, and as they do so, will find their refuge in the crucified Lord.

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 Christian Music– I wrote a post about the label “Christian music” and how that can lead to a number of difficulties with discernment.

Christian Discernment Regarding Music: A Reflection and Response– I reflect in depth on how we can use our discernment properly when it comes to music.

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

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

SDG.

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance” by Reggie L. Williams

Reggie L. Williams’s Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus is a deep look at how Bonhoeffer’s experience in New York, and more specifically in Harlem, shaped him as a theologian of resistance against Hitler. It’s not just that, though, as it also traces Bonhoeffer’s intellectual development, specifically about racism, both before and after this epochal change.

First, Williams outlines the early theological development of Bonhoeffer, tracing his early intellectual development as well as his struggles to find a church home while visiting the United States. Here, in the United States, Bonhoeffer first encountered white racial terrorism in the form of lynching. Later, he would appeal to a German theologian to speak out against the charade of trials against in Scottsboro, in which nine black men were falsely accused of raping two white women. Eight of them were sentenced to death and killed. This caused something of an awakening for Bonhoeffer to racial violence, though he still had to become aware of his own biases.

The movement of Bonhoeffer from a proponent of volk (the German word for “Folk) type nationalism to a race-conscious and anti-racist perspective is one of the most fascinating portions of Williams’s research. While Bonhoeffer retained several core convictions throughout his life, his thought about race was directly impacted by his time in Harlem. Germany had been a colonial power until the Treaty of Versailles assigned the nation’s colonies to the winning powers, and many German people longed for that Imperial power once again. Williams demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s own thought was impacted by this, particularly when he surveys Bonhoeffer’s early sermons and discussions of the concept of volk.

Williams then draws an outline of the Harlem Renaissance, including major thinkers and themes, as well as how some of these thinkers and themes explicitly or implicitly show up in Bonhoeffer’s works. Unfortunately, at least one of the works that would provide more insight into this has been lost (a paper Bonhoeffer wrote on black thinkers while in the United States). Nevertheless, Williams demonstrates that the themes of the Harlem Renaissance, along with Bonhoeffer’s own time in Harlem, became deeply influential on his later life. It is in this section that Williams does the most to bring to light strands of thought in Bonhoeffer that might otherwise be missed. Specifically, he traces the constant theme of Jesus identifying with the marginalized as something that would lead to active theology of resistance in Bonhoeffer’s thought. This theme is highlighted both in the thought of W.E.B. Du Bois and the poem “Black Christ” by Countee Cullen, which Bonhoeffer was aware of. The latter is lain out in detail, and shows both how Harlem Renaissance theology could be linked to liberation theology and how Bonhoeffer’s thought developed along that direction as well. It was black thinkers who helped awaken in Bonhoeffer a truly great desire for resistance against racism.

Another major theme of Williams’s work is that of empathy. He argues throughout that Bonhoeffer’s move towards empathy was something that he found through observing segregation in the United States and the resistance to it in Harlem. This, Williams argues, developed into a “Christ-Centered Empathic Resistance,” which is the last part of Bonhoeffer’s life as he actively worked against the Nazis in Germany.

The bulk of Williams’s work focuses on Bonhoeffer’s time in the United States, supporting his theses with meticulous notes and documentary evidence. The endnotes are full of additional argumentation as well as sources and reading.

Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus is an essential read for those interested in Bonhoeffer’s theology of resistance. More than that, Williams provides here both an historic overview of Bonhoeffer’s thought and the ways in which one might develop him further. The unity of Bonhoeffer’s thought with Harlem Renaissance thinking and the movement of that into modern movements for societal justice is another major theme in the book. It’s a rare work that surveys the thought of a thinker while also offering insight into how modern thought might move forward along the same lines or go beyond its subject. Highly recommended.

Links

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

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.

On Racial Injustice

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:28 NIV

There have been a couple very high-profile cases in which grand juries did not indict police officers related to the deaths of two African American men. I know this is not new news to my readers, but I wanted to briefly offer a reflection.

First, regardless of the evidence in either case, regardless of what happened, it is clear that racism continues  to be a very real and deadly threat in our country.

Second, we as Christians are called to fight against this injustice. The Galatians passage above is a clear demonstration: the distinctions that matter to the world are not to divide the body of Christ. A valid inference is that we as Christians should work against these unjust divisions. Whether it is Jew or Gentile, slave or free, black or white, male or female, or some other form of injustice: we must work at all points to end it.

Third, it is unacceptable to dismiss the concerns of others. Here I reiterate: whatever your view is of the evidence related to Eric Garner or Michael Brown, that does not matter in this context. What I am saying is that when others are expressing concern about racism it is inexcusable to dismiss their concern by saying the evidence in a specific case points against it being a racial incident. We can debate individual cases; what cannot be debated is the fact that racism continues to be a gross cause of injustice in our world. If you don’t believe me, feel free to slog through the comments on web sites about these cases. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Fourth, we should ever be working towards reconciliation. This means that we should seek to understand, offer forgiveness, and work to walk arm-in-arm with our neighbor. This does mean obeying Jesus’ call to love even our enemies. We must constantly strive, pray, and work to end racial injustice in our community and in the systems that exist on higher levels in our spheres of influence.

Fifth, it is not enough to shake our heads and say “What a tragedy” when confronted with racism. When we hear a racist joke; a racist comment; it must immediately be addressed. It is unacceptable. It is unbecoming a Christian. This does not mean we react violently. It does mean that we condemn and actively work against injustice.

Finally, I would note that I am by no means an expert in this area. I simply felt the deep need to comment.

God has given us a higher calling, brothers and sisters. God has given us a higher calling.

Really Recommended Posts 9/19/14- Aquinas, the “Gospel” of Barnabas, Poverty, and More!

postI’ll say it: I’m very pleased by this lineup of posts. Here, we have posts addressing metaphysics and cosmology, the Bible and poverty, Muslim Apologetics, Creationism, and Aquinas. How’s that for a diverse lineup? Let me know what you thought of the posts in the comments here.

Cosmology and Causation- Why Metaphysics Matters by Edward Feser– Edward Feser is one of the most brilliant philosophical minds I have encountered. He’s a Thomistic philosopher and whether or not I agree with what he writes, he always challenges me to think on the points he raises. Here, he writes on the importance of metaphysics in the realms of cosmology and causation. Check this out!

Wayne Grudem Debates Richard Glover on the Bible, Poverty, and Foreign Aid– What might the Bible say about foreign aid and poverty? Here, Wintery Knight offers an analysis of a recent debate between Christians on the topic. I have reviewed Wayne Grudem’s book “The Poverty of Nations” which will provide some background to the issues discussed here.

Creationist Influence on Biblical Study Tools– Always be aware that when we’re using any sort of study tool for reading the Bible, there will be interpretation happening. Here, one of my favorite sites takes a look at some ways young earth creationism has influenced some biblical study tools.

The Gospel of Barnabas– Unfortunately, the alleged Gospel of Barnabas is often trotted out in Muslim Apologetics as proof that various aspects of Christianity are false while Islam has them correct. Here’s a great analysis of the dating of this book and whether it should impact us at all in our interfaith discussions.

Did Thomas Aquinas Believe that Sin Affected the Intellect?– Yep. Okay, there is more to it! Check out this post on the topic of Aquinas and the noetic effects of sin.

Book Review: “The Poverty of Nations” by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus

pov-nat

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is an ambitious book. Wayne Grudem (theologian) and Barry Asmus (economist) claim to put forward a list of 78 traits which, if incorporated at a national level, will bring about a solution to poverty. The book is an economic and moral/biblical treatise aimed at stamping out poverty through the production of goods and the integration of morality into global economic practice. Here, I’ll analyze it from its two primary thrusts: economic and moral. Then, we’ll discuss some of the issues involved in a book of this scope.

It is worth noting up front that I have a BS in Social Studies and had numerous classes on economics and international economics at a college level. This doesn’t make me an expert, but I think it allows me to take a decently accurate look at economic theories.*

Economics

The first half of the book focuses on issues of economics on a national level. Specifically, they endorse the free market as a way to bring prosperity to all nations. Their argument is based upon historical observations about how nations have gotten out of poverty and become prosperous.

Thus, the authors argue that fair trade and open borders (with low or no tariffs and the like) will drive the market to balance itself out and also increase the overall prosperity of people from various nations. Moreover, it will provide a means by which lesser-developed countries can utilize their comparative advantages to produce things that other countries are willing to pay a higher price such that they do not need to produce them. Demand drives the market, and the freer a market, the more demand is able to do so. The reason it is beneficial to allow demand to drive the market is because it allows for people to genuinely respond to others wants and constantly produce newer, better goods in more efficient ways, thus increasing the wealth across the board.

I should note that, by necessity, this is merely the briefest overview of this section of the book. Those who read The Poverty of Nations are essentially getting a fully realized introduction to international economics. In fact, the economic portion of the book is quite strong in many ways (though some issues with the complexity are noted below).

Biblical/Moral Issues

Like the economics portion, this half of the book has much to commend it. Though basic, much of the instruction is vital and important to realize as necessary for economic success. For example, government curtailing of bribery is important for an economic system to become more successful. Another, more complex example would be the notion that tariffs decrease the productivity of international trade and artificially increase prices.

The problem with much of the focus on the moral background to the “Free Market” is that Grudem and Asmus seem to assume or assert more often than they provide evidence. It’s easy for someone like me from a relatively free market system who favors open markets to nod along to how a free market encourages integrity because of the repeated transactions between the same persons and the like, but then a statement like this is made:

When people are held responsible by the voluntary personal interactions of the free market, they are typically more responsible. (Kindle Loc. 3784)**

Statements like this are frequently made, but after reading along and perhaps agreeing largely, one is forced to wonder about things like: “Where is the empirical evidence to show that this is actually the case?”; “To whom or to what are people more responsible to?”; “How are we capable of making judgments like this across incredibly complex systems like the economic practice of states, regions, nations, and the world?” The particular statement made above offers no empirical support for its claim, nor do the authors explore the complexities of simply stating that “people… are typically more responsible” in a free market. This statement, and others like it, leave me scratching my head and asking for the evidence. Certainly it is possibly true or perhaps it is true, but why think it without anything more than an assertion?

Another difficulty with this section is that throughout, the specific examples given are taken to be the biblical approach to economics. Now, I think one could fairly say that the Bible condemns bribery, but what of more complex issues like whether it actually endorses a free market? One constant refrain in the book is the use of Genesis 1:28 (“fill the earth and subdue it”) to support various things, from use of natural resources (which are rather shockingly claimed to be essentially unlimited: “[I]t is highly unlikely that any resources will be used up in the foreseeable future… we keep discovering huge new reserves of resources and inventing more creative ways to access them” (6606-6617)–but of course where are the huge new reserves of forests? fresh water? etc.?) to drive people to invent and make new things (3405), to making products from the earth specifically (1169), to move beyond subsistence farming (4207), and more.

One is forced to wonder whether the verse actually means all these things or if, perhaps, the Bible is simply under-determined when it comes to economic policy. I do genuinely wonder whether the Bible is to be treated as an economics textbook, which it often seems to be in this book. Quotes like these are scattered throughout, often in seemingly random fashion in the economics portion. The question is whether this really may be seen as a systematic treatment of the Bible on economy, or whether it may perhaps instead be mining the text to try to support claims about economy which are not really found therein. Not that these are unbiblical points; merely that they perhaps are not the focus or intention of the texts.

Complexities

The book seems to oversimplify on some aspects. It is common practice to use examples which allow an economist to shift just one aspect in order to demonstrate a theory.* That said, at times the examples used in The Poverty of Nations are often a bit too simplistic to believe. For example, at one point a thought experiment asks whether simply taking money from a group of wealthy elites would solve the existing issue of poverty. Although it seemed clear that simply attempting to redistribute wealth didn’t solve the problem, the proposed solution–the book’s solution–was to produce more goods. But it seems to me that if a number of elites were controlling the wealth in a country, just producing more goods would continue to line the pockets of those elite rather than specifically helping the poor.

Examples like this abound throughout the book, as simple solutions are offered to extremely complex issues. Economics is a wonderfully complex topic, but as the authors themselves note at the beginning, it is one which is hard to study due to the human factor in it. Despite the professed efforts to avoid such simplification (Kindle location 2115, for example), the book often does seem to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to solving economic problems.

That said, at other times the authors do a great job of speaking directly to the complexities of the issue. For example, their discussion of colonialism was marvelous and ably pointed out both the potential benefits and cons of those endeavors on our present world situation. It was a great way to survey a complex issue without trying to identify any one factor. Portions of the book like this make the places where it is simplistic stand out even more, however.

A final issue is that of audience: Asmus and Grudem claim the book is primarily written for leaders of impoverished nations, which–apart from coming off as a bit imperialistic–doesn’t actually seem to be the likely readership. The authors note others as possible audience, but I wonder whether we may end up with several people walking around with this as their only interaction with economic theory and assuming they are able to fix the world’s problems through this oft-simplified economics instruction.

Conclusion

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is at times brilliant, but at others frustrating. It is well-worth a read for Christians interested in economics and attempting to strike at the core of poverty through effective legislation and whole-nation solutions. It does provide a very useful introduction to international economics, and gives some very good ways forward for those wishing to engage on this topic. However, readers should go in with some caution: the simplification at times means that readers should not take this as the final word on this topic, nor should they assume by reading the book they are suddenly equipped to run national-level economic programs.

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!- A biblical answer to economic woes?– I discuss a quote from a section of The Poverty of Nations and whether it is true that the Bible may contain specific economic practice.

Source

Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

*I was a Social Studies major in college and so took a number of economics classes. I am making no claim to be an expert, but rather educated laity in this area.

**All references are to kindle locations.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

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.

Women and the Reformation: Hope, Silence, and Circumstance

Marguerite_d'Angoulême_by_Jean_ClouetIt is Reformation Day and this year we are going to reflect upon a topic that is all-too-often overlooked: women in the Reformation. We shall consider the impact of women on the Reformation and the impact of the Reformation upon women from a theological perspective. I admit that covering such a broad topic within a blog post means I am very short on detail. I encourage readers to check out the sources at the end of this post in order to explore further avenues.

The Impact of the Reformation Upon Women

The Reformation brought about some changes for women both theologically and socially. Theologically, the issue of inequality  between men and women socially and spiritually was more widely discussed. Although the concept had existed before, the Reformers largely held to the notion that men and women were spiritually equal. Spiritual equality led some to wonder whether women could perhaps be social equals, or–if that was to far afield–perhaps they could at least be less inequal (Spierling, 181-183, cited below). Seeds for social and spiritual change were sown during this period, but it must be admitted that there was not as much development as some may allege.

For example, Martin Luther’s notion of the “priesthood of all believers” is sometimes taken to mean that women and men could stand alongside each other as spiritual equals in teaching, preaching, etc. However, when Luther himself was challenged on this issue by the Roman Catholics, he answered by making it very explicit that although women could teach in extraordinary circumstances, he believed the Bible mandated that men were in charge in both church and home (Spierling, 186; see Luther’s Works 36: 151-152). Spiritual equality was seen as equality in the eyes of God, not in the roles that men and women actually took on earth. However, Luther also fought against some of the double standards regarding men and women and was outspoken against brothels and other abuses of women (Lindberg, 360-361, cited below).

The Reformers remained influenced by early Christian views of men and women, which were, in turn, influenced by earlier non-Christian scholars whose pre-scientific views of biology and psychology were adopted. Diarmaid MacCulloch traced the impact of Aristotle and the ancient medical expert Galen upon figures like Augustine and Clement. He described the Reformers’ view of manhood and womanhood as viewed through this lens thus:

What Christian theologians asserted about men, women, and sexuality was nonsense, but it was ancient nonsense, and humanity has always been inclined to respect the assertion of ancient wisdom. The… package of ideas also had a lunatic coherence: it seemed to make sense, explained a baffling aspect of human experience, and contained a good deal of room for flexibility of interpretation. No doubt our own medical theories will seem equally lunatic to generations to come. (MacCulloch,611, cited below)

Carter Lindberg’s own discussion of the impact of the Reformation upon women is bracketed by the question: “Was the Reformation a help or a hindrance to women?” He answers, a bit tongue-in-cheek, “It depends.” The Reformers denied that marriage was a sacrament, which allowed, later, for the dissolution of abusive or even loveless marriage. Women also began to become more actively involved in theology, though their voices were often silenced or ignored. The encouragement to leave convents may have reduced the possibilities for single women to have careers in the church or any sort of involvement  (Lindberg, 358-361).

The social expectations for men and women during the Reformation period were shaped by the cultural expectations of “gender” which were themselves handed down to today through the theological writings of the Reformers (Ibid, 360). The concept may be termed “patriarchy” and was theologically adapted to continue to make it appropriate for the culture through the 1800s and into today (MacCulloch, 611).

Women’s Impact on the Reformation 

Women had little voice within the Reformation, largely due to some of the issues mentioned above. However, that is not to say that women had no voice whatsoever within the theological developments of the Reformation. There were several women who wrote theological treatises alongside their male counterparts, though their efforts were often ignored (Spierling, 187, 180-181).

Among these was Marie Dentière, who defended her own authority to teach in Galatians 3:28. Dentière was a noblewoman who defended the Reformers through the use of the Bible and who vehemently encouraged women to leave the Catholic faith. She wrote to defend Calvin during his exile. Women were called to teach and take up their Bibles to defend the Christian faith. Dentière’s defense of women’s capacity to teach was grounded in the biblical examples of godly women, among them the first herald of Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary Magdalene (Lindberg, 360; see also McKinley, 155-159, cited below).

Interestingly, Dentière’s writings spurred other women, Catholics, to speak against her in defense of convents. Jeanne de Jussie was directly called upon by Dentière to close her convent, but responded with a theological defense of convents and an attack on Calvinism (Lindberg, 359).

Other women acknowledged the subordination of women in the church and home, but nevertheless argued that the situation of the Reformation had brought about exactly the types of emergency situations Luther had granted women may teach in. Argula von Grumbach wrote defending Arsacius Seehofer, who had been arrested and prosecuted for “holding Lutheran ideas.” She felt the need to defend Seehofer because no one else had done so. Thus, her authority was granted due to the priesthood of all believers.The emergency situation was brought about by Seehofer’s continued imprisonment and the fact that no men had stood up to defend him.

Thus, Reformation theology was seen as the grounds for some women to speak; even those who acknowledged the categories of subordination found within the theology of the Reformers. Others spoke up due to the wielding of Reformation theology against Roman Catholicism. Still others felt that sola scriptura had led them to discover real, biblical grounds for women to teach.

Conclusion

I’m a huge fan of Reformation theology, but it must be admitted that the Reformers’ views on women were essentially a product of their societal background. They embraced, rightfully, sola scriptura, but as I have noted elsewhere (Who Interprets Scripture?), this itself raised a number of issues regarding the interpretation and meaning of a text. Moreover, sola scriptura does not entail that one is able to interpret the Bible in a socio-cultural vaccuum. It seems to me the Reformers view of women as essentially child-bearers and home-makers was more a product of their cultural background than something the text of the Bible specifically taught. Of course, that is a debate for a different time.

To end on a positive note, it is worth noting that the Reformers’ teaching sowed the seeds for greater gender equality. The notion of the “priesthood of all believers” should not be abused in order to be taken as an endorsement of women teaching; but it nevertheless did have within it a concept of spiritual equality which provided a basis, however small, for believing that men and women could be spiritual and social equals. Moreover, women began to take up the torch and teach in “emergency” situations and thus provided a basis for others to do the same. Finally, still other women turned to the Bible itself as a justification for their voice alongside that of men. Their authority to teach was, they argued, itself biblical.

Let us continue that Reformation.

Sources

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Mary McKinley, “Dentiere, Marie” in Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters edited Marion Ann Taylor and Agnes Choi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 155-159

Karen Spierling, “Women, Marriage, and Family” in T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology edited David Whitford (New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 178-196.

The Image is of Marie Dentiere and is public domain.

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.

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” – A Christian Perspective

Star_Trek_Into_Darkness_35I had the chance to go see “Star Trek: Into Darkness” recently. As a big Trekkie (and Star Wars Fan–I cover all the bases of nerdom), I was extremely excited to see the film. Here, I will survey a number of worldview-level issues in the film. There will, of course, be SPOILERS in what follows.

Primitive Religion

I was a bit taken aback by the portrayal of primitive religion in the movie. At the very beginning, the crew of the Enterprise is engaged in an effort to save a primitive indigenous population. Kirk steals a scroll, to which the natives were giving obeisance. It is apparently something they worship, and when he finally unrolls the scroll to slow them down, which causes them to stop and worship, the situation is shown to be absurd. Once the Enterprise reveals itself, however, the natives immediately forsake this scroll and worship an image they draw in the dirt of the ship.

I may be a bit hyper-critical here, but I can’t help but think that this picture of primitive religion is a bit off. Sure, it’s science fiction, but the people are clearly human-like and it is easy to uncritically imagine the scene as a facsimile for how human religion may have played out. I cannot help but be extremely skeptical of this scenario. First, the notion of a bunch of simplistic idiots whose faith can shift from one moment to the next was odd. Second, the notion that primitive persons automatically worship whatever they see or cannot explain seems inaccurate. I admit that I have not studied the formation of religion as much as I hope to one day, but even what reading I have done reveals an enormous amount of debate on how religions formed and developed. No work I have read, apart from that of those with clear agendas (and little interaction with the archaeological, sociological, and anthropological evidence), has suggested that religion developed just by people seeing a bird and immediately worshiping it. Granted, the Enterprise is more than a bird, but it still seemed odd. Third, I can’t help but think that rather than immediately forsaking their holy scroll, the people would have turned to it to find guidance to discern the meaning of the events they had witnessed.

Again, I realize I am here being extremely critical, but I feel that if a movie is going to engage with religion, it should attempt to do so in an honest fashion. Trek‘s portrayal was, I think, a bit disingenuous.

The Prime Dire… wha?

Star Trek’s metaethical system essentially centers around the “Prime Directive.” The Prime Directive is complex, but essentially boils down to the notion that people should not interfere with lesser-developed cultures. Those who have seen “Into Darkness” know that in no way did the main characters follow this. But as Maureen Moser at Reasons to Believe pointed out, the Prime Directive essentially entails a kind of moral relativism wherein no one is capable of judging other cultures as morally evil. But of course this seems absurd. If, for example, one ran into a lesser-developed society which was exterminating certain groups, it seems obvious that this is a morally wrong action.

In the case of the film, one is forced to wonder–as it seems Kirk did–whether it really is morally satisfactory to allow an entire society to be destroyed simply for the sake of not being seen by that society. Is it morally right to ignore the fates of other societies?

Looking more broadly at the Trek universe one sees again and again that the characters cannot operate within the constrictions of ignoring the ills of other societies. Should we?

star-trek-into-darkness-teaser-posterEvil

Admiral Marcus seemed to lack any kind of motivation other than a desire for militarizing the Federation. I thought this was particularly hard to believe, especially when that motivation made him not even hesitate to carry out atrocities in front of his daughter. Frankly, I saw no real reason for him to go as insane as he did, which made this part of the film harder to believe.

Khan, of course, was the big “secret” going into the movie. I called it back when the character was first shown. Of course it would be Khan. But why did Khan do what he did? He was fairly clearly motivated by revenge, but there was more to his character behind the scenes.

It was revealed that Khan was a war criminal who was conducting a genocide against any whom he found to be “imperfect.” I can’t help but think that this line, was was basically incidental to the plot, is one of the better talking points from the movie. After all, is the destruction of the “imperfect” is exactly what is taking place within our society with issues such as abortion and euthanasia. On the other side, we see the unwillingness to “give a handout” to those who are hungry or in need. Our culture is steeped in a notion where we do not value the “imperfect,” whether they be elderly, unborn, mentally disabled, or poor. Moreover, one must wonder: who defines perfection? I can’t help but think that a character like Khan is not that different from the evils which are occurring each day within our society.

Miracles

When Kirk has given his life to save the crew of the Enterprise, one crew member comments that “It was a miracle.” Spock responds simply, “There are no such things.” I admit that I was baffled by this comment. After all, the series of events which had just occurred in the space of the previous 5 minutes of the film were so over-the-top that the only reasonable explanations were either Hollywood meddling (of course, this was the case) or the hand of the divine.

I vividly remember someone a few rows down in the theater audibly scoffing when Spock said this. Why would this be a reaction to a line like this? Well, simply put, some things are so beyond probability, luck, and circumstance that they cry out for explanation.

Conclusion

Overall, I enjoyed the film. But I realize that I enjoyed it more as a Trekkie than I did at a worldview level. It seems as though the writers attempted to raise some tough questions, but never got around to providing satisfactory answers. When answers were easy to see (as in the case of miracles), a main character like Spock flatly contradicted it. Those who watch the film with worldview-glasses on will find much to discuss. I think the film is worth seeing simply to start up discussions about miracles, relativism, and even some specific ethical issues. I could see the clip at the beginning used as part of a larger discussion on the history of religion. Of course, as a Trekkie, I also think it is worth seeing for the sake of its place in the Star Trek canon. Let me know what you think.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Be sure to check out my other posts on movies (scroll down for more).

Star Trek’s Prime Directive and Moral Relativism– I found this post fascinating. It explores the Trek universe to discuss the metaethical view of relativism.

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

SDG.

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