As a science fiction writer, I enjoy science fiction cinema like Stargate SG-1. But inevitably the secular worldview that presumably captures the ideas of the screen writers and perhaps of the actors intrude on the plot. In Season 1, in the episode entitled ENIGMA, Captain Carter tries to explain why another civilization SG-1 has just met is more technologically advanced than earth’s. Carter glibly states that since we had the Dark Ages, where religious dogma stifled the development of science, another culture which did not have their own Dark Age, would have superseded us.
Is Carter right?
I don’t think so. Kenneth Scott Latourette’s A HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY. BEGINNINGS TO 1500, describes what is often called the Dark Ages as The Great Recession AD 500-950. This time period corresponded to the collapse of the western Roman empire, the rise of anarchy, and the loss of the protection and peace that the legions had provided. In Asimov’s Foundation series, he postulated a similar Dark Age, as the Trantor empire collapsed and the psychohistorian, Hari Seldon, established a colony at the fringes of the galaxy to reduce the Trantorian Dark Age from 30,000 years to 1000.
Referring to the Roman Empire Dark Age, Latourette points out Rome, although possessing an empire of the largest geographic extent on earth in 500 AD, was far from the only empire on the planet. In AD 500, Rome was rivaled by the Persian Empire, the Gupta Empire in India. China was also a force even though it was “in a long period of division, civil strife, and foreign invasion.” Not only has Carter wrongly characterized the meaning of dark age, but also did not understand that much of the learning, literature, and history of Rome and the empire was preserved in the monasteries.
However, Carter’s assertion about the stifling of science, really raises two important questions about Europe:
In other words, why the enormous advances in mathematics, physics, and chemistry in the 1400s and onward in Europe? Why not Persia? India? China?
If you want to hear a very succinct discussion of these questions, I suggest this five minute video … https://www.prageru.com/video/are-religion-and-science-in-conflict-science-and-god
Peter Kreeft’s book also provides valuable insights. Read my previous post below.
My Previous Post
I have previously published my review of Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Back to Virtue. In this post I wanted to provide a more personal view of how the book changed or perhaps broadened my thinking. At one point, Kreeft talked about how Christianity brought together the best of what Hebrew, Greek, and pagan thought and tradition had to offer. This is depicted in the diagram below (reworked to capture my own musings on this important idea from a similar diagram in the book).
The Hebrew Foundation
If one reads the New Testament, one can’t help but notice how Christianity is grounded on, and grew forth from Hebrew history, revelation, and practice. All of the very early Christians were Jewish. The Old Testament is cited again and again in the New. Even the Christians called out of Greek and pagan backgrounds were steeped in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. When Paul spoke in 2 Timothy 3:16 about “all scripture,” he was primarily referring to the Old Testament.
Jesus had to be born into Jewish society because they had a high view of God: his Oneness and His creation of the world out of nothing. Had Jesus been born in Athens, as pantheists and polytheists, they would have happily put Jesus alongside Zeus and so missed the whole point of the incarnation. The shocking incredulity of the Jewish mindset to the incarnation was absolutely necessary for us to get the message and import of what was taking place.
This Hebrew ground or environment for the incarnation did not come without cost or loss. As far as I can tell from my reading, the first century Jewish people were remarkably free of idolatry. A by-product of this achievement was a complete lack of development of some of the arts such as sculpting and painting because they were too closely associated with idol worship. Kreeft helped me realize how this temporary omissions were build back in to the Christian community after the significance of the incarnation and resurrection of Christ were recognized.
The Greek New Testament
The use of Koine Greek (the lingua franca of the Mediterranean and Middle East) as the language of the New Testament had profound consequences. Not only did it bring the Good News in the common language of the Roman Empire, but it could make use of the nuances of language and thought brought into Greek by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. So for example it enabled the distinction between the old nature (flesh – sarx) from body (soma), drawing a clear distinction between Gnosticism and Christian teaching by putting a high value on the body as well as the spirit (Gnosticism values only the spirit). It also made God-guided reason an important way of testing truth claims and made reason an integral part of understanding teaching.
When viewed as a religious system, pagan polytheism was simply a branch of pantheism. But pagan practice had given rise to stories, plays, and poetry that showed a wonderful imagination and a longing for truth. Here again, it seems to me Christianity was able to keep the good. Much if not all of the ancient literature was preserved by the Church as the Roman Empire collapsed and the anarchy of the Dark Ages replaced it. The use of imagination as an engine of the written arts and also of science has played a significant role and life of the church.
So What Does This Mean to Me?
Kreeft’s analysis and synthesis has allowed me to see a number of things in a new way. Here are some of them:
1. God is always working toward the summum bonum, the greatest good.
2. Sometimes because of our weakness and frailty, we miss out on some things as the Israelites did as they were learning to avoid idolatry and so gave up some of the arts. These temporary omissions are part of our growing process.
3. In the end all genuine good comes from God and we as his people are not wrong to seek it. You cannot go far wrong if one truly seeks the good.
4. My own Christian walk is founded on my personal interaction with the Lord Christ through His received word and His Spirit. Imagination and reason play an important role in that interaction.
Note Added on “Reason”
In The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, Kreeft points out the differences in the way the word “reason” was used by Aquinas and how it’s used by modern philosophers. Aquinas and other ancients used reason to denote knowing, judging, as well logical processes such as inductive and deductive analysis. Modern philosophers, according to Kreeft, tend to use it only in the third sense.
When I was planning the plot for The Halcyon Dislocation, an essential element was the development of a dystopian political system for the isolated, dislocated University of Halcyon. In particular, the political system, to the outside observer, would look like a functioning democracy with regular, honest elections, opposition parties, and even new grassroots parties that objected to the status quo.
However, the system is rigged so that these fledgling opposition parties almost never rise to power since it takes a very long time to gain a following, and even if they do, they will find the new party membership and the incessant government propaganda has turned them into another version of the older parties that they were supposed to supplant. Hence nothing has changed except possibly the ruling party’s name.
The reader might ask, “Why do we need such a new, elaborate political system. Man’s history is replete with tyrannical regimes which used propaganda and force to beat down opposition, often for long periods of time?”
I would answer that those systems all have several fatal flaws which this modified dystopian quasi-democracy circumvents.
First of all, using power overtly to suppress dissent means the dissent goes underground and the government receives outward compliance until the opposition gains sufficient momentum that people begin to believe a regime change is possible. Then allegiances change very quickly.
Secondly, suppressed citizens are smart enough to see what is going on and they will not be fooled even if the penalties force them to comply outwardly. They are essentially slaves in their own country and will serve and work halfheartedly at best. It will lead to a general malaise.
The Aberhardt Principle
A key element of the Halcyon quasi-democracy is the Aberhardt Principle, named after the professor on staff who wrote about it. In this approach for making societal change, one sets up a system where everyone is encouraged to speak their mind so the sociologists can measure how effective the advertising, propaganda, education, and entertainment activities have been in changing people’s minds about key issues. The focus is on changing people’s minds against their will by repetition, multiple lines of influence, and long exposure to the multi-media message. The rate of time-dependent change of people’s minds determine how quickly the agenda-setters in the Halcyon quasi-democracy can implement their social changes.
So, even though grassroots opposition parties form, by the time they get to power (if they ever do), they will find not only has their new party changed their outlook, but sufficient time has elapsed that the electorate now fully endorses the new sociological innovations that the old grassroots membership opposed.
This is not a political blog and I draw no inferences to past, present, or future systems which might resemble this Halcyon University dystopia. I merely point out, through this imaginative exercise in plot development, that it is possible to develop a political system that has honest, regular elections, allows citizens to share their political views with some freedom, and yet is totally tyrannical and constrained even though the programmed social innovation happens on a multi-year timescale to allow for Aberhardt-style attitude adjustment.
If you have a CALGARY PUBLIC LIBRARY card, you can check out Peter’s books for free …
Writing is a solitary vocation. Where one writes can make up for much of the solitude and certainly enhances the writing experience, particularly if the locale has some role to play in the story. One such inspiring locale is Maui. I’ll let the images, for the most part, speak for themselves. Here are a few topics that make Maui special.
The Haleakala Dormant Volcano
Like the other Hawaiian islands, Maui is volcanic in origin and the landscape is dominated by two dormant volcanoes. The larger, on the east side of the island, is called Haleakala. This mountain, at least from the west slope, has none of the precipices and rock faces that I came to expect from hiking in the Rocky Mountains, but rather slopes up relatively gently from the east coast of the island to the summit. Indeed from our balcony (lanai) on a clear day we could see the observatory and the Red Hill Lookout at 10,023 feet.
Taking the hike to the edge of the crater is an awe-inspiring endeavor and gives one a sense of the size of this volcano. Numerous hiking trails allow for the exploration of this massive formation.
On many mornings, before sunrise, the summit can readily be seen from the foot of the mountain, but as dawn breaks it frequently becomes cloud covered.
The Hana Highway and the Tropical Part of the Island
Haleakala has an enormous influence on weather patterns on Maui. South and west of the mountain, the land is quite arid with many dried-up water courses. In contrast on the other side, there is a great deal of rainfall, with many creeks that can flood rapidly after a heavy downpour. The abundant moisture provides a tropical rain forest setting.
Maui Coral Reef
There are many coral reefs close to shore on Maui and it is relatively easy to find good snorkeling close to accessible beaches. Here are a few images that we were able to capture using a rented underwater camera.
Whether you’re writing an adventure situated on a tropical island, or like me, re-reading Jules Verne’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND with its dormant volcano, Maui is an inspirational locale for writers and readers alike.
If you have a CALGARY PUBLIC LIBRARY card, you can check out Peter’s books for free …
In August 21, 2017, the shadow of the moon crossed over the width of the continental United States. Interestingly, the narrow band of this solar eclipse could be observed in seven municipalities named Salem. This unique celestial event became the basis for Easley’s tale. Penelope Stone, a member of the “Salem Seven” from Salem, Oregon, was one of the teenagers who were destined for greatness. This is the story of what happened to them.
S. C. Easley has a wonderful imagination. Indeed, her fantasy story reminded me of Lewis Carroll’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND or Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME series. Easley’s story is full of beautiful vistas, deadly enemies (for example Pyrats—beings with python bodies and rat heads) and many others. The seven teenagers meet many characters along the way (as Alice did) as they pursue their quest.
If I have one complaint, I wish this book had a glossary so I could refresh my memory as I meet characters a second time.
There was one part of the story, I particularly enjoyed. Several of the seven, thinking they knew better than their guide, decided to take an ill-advised shortcut to their next destination. The troubles on the short cut led to ill temper, sharp words, and grumbling. With every grumble their packs became heavier, until they opened them up and found rocks inside that had not been there before. These “weighing stones” had words on them that described their origin in the words, actions, and attitudes of the travelers. The teenagers could only continue after they had removed these rocks.
This is a wonderfully imaginative story. Like the best children’s stories, this speaks not only to children, but to adults who read it as well.
My Rating: Five Stars
In C. S. Lewis’ novel THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, published in 1945, he foresaw the age of propaganda. An unobtrusive organization, the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.), was engaged in implementing its program of eliminating undesirables. Although not well-known to the public, the N.I.C.E. controlled parliament. It didn’t really matter whom you, as a voter. elected. Once elected, the MP would be beholden to the N.I.C.E. for their success. Similarly, the media organizations were also under the thumb of the N.I.C.E.
At one point the protagonist, the malleable Mark Studdock, in his quest to always be part of the progressive element at his college, is roped into writing propaganda pieces for the N.I.C.E. for its many initiatives destined to remove people’s freedoms and liberties. Studdock’s template propaganda pieces appear in customized form in all of the nation’s papers. Lewis presents a brilliant picture of how a well-educated, articulate, academic can write convincingly and compellingly on almost any subject. As a reader, who knew the true events behind the story, I could nevertheless only marvel how a clever writer could twist the context to make the facts fit the wholly deceptive perspective desired by the N.I.C.E. The malevolent Progressive Element in the N.I.C.E. goes on to stage fake protests, use the media to mislead the public to rage against the innocent, all for the purpose of eliminating those people who oppose their pragmatic agenda of efficiency and control. Lewis has a real knack for making the propaganda so persuasive that the reader would be taken in if he didn’t see the actions behind the rhetoric. To me this prophecy is happening before my eyes seventy-five years after this book was written.
How does one, then, become a truth-seeker in an age of propaganda?
Before beginning a discussion of a difficult subject about truth and propaganda, it is important to define the terms.
Truth is a very important word in the New Testament. In the Greek the noun, transliterated, is ALETHEIA.
As I work to be a truth-seeker, two important points stand out to me:
- Truth (Aletheia) is connected to reality. It is quite dangerous to ignore truth because reality, by its nature, will win out.
- Truth is not always easy to identify, since appearances may be misleading. Often appearances can be created by what people say.
With regards to propaganda, it is not the opposite of truth, but often is a caricature of it. As the definition indicates, propaganda uses publicity and selected information with an end in mind. They may want you to buy a product, vote for a particular party, censure some group, or believe a particular message. The publicity and selected information is chosen in order: to get the audience to accept the teaching or take the steps desired.
So how do I become a truth-seeker in an age of propaganda? I think there are four steps that are important for me to take:
- If I am given information driving me to a particular belief or action, argue against it. If the information is part of a propaganda initiative, the propagandists are likely telling me half-truths and omitting all counter arguments. If the information is true, I won’t find any compelling counter arguments and the information will become even more convincing.
- Look for data and make the discussion about data. Often the most convincing propaganda is based on emotion, perhaps appeals to sympathy. That is to say, the propagandist avoids asking whether the statement under question is true or false. Instead they focus on how someone has been hurt or denigrated by the assertion.
- Look at the presuppositions. In propaganda, often the assumptions behind the information is never discussed, much less critically evaluated. Yet the whole argument rests on the validity of these assumptions.
- Become a two-column person. By that I mean, assume there is data for and against any position. If none is presented, as is often the case with propaganda, seek it out. Don’t be satisfied to leave one column empty.
Heaven’s Hunter by Marie C. Keiser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Randall Yung is the scion of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the galaxy. He’s been trying to escape their manipulations for a long time. There are only two people he really cares about. One is Alicia, a young Catholic woman, who disappeared the day after she had accepted his marriage proposal. His other friend, Conrad, was killed when a vessel, Heaven’s Hunter, fired a torpedo at close range that penetrated to the bridge of Conrad’s destroyer. Randall makes it his mission to bring Conrad’s killers to justice.
This is a superbly-written story that I found hard to put down. The author uses the strengths of the first person point of view to let the reader observe as Randall makes observations about himself and his life. There are surprises at every turn and the ending is deeply satisfying.
When the man responsible for launching the missile that killed Conrad was asked by Randall why he had left it [the fleet] for a pack of superstitious nonsense [Catholicism], Alvarez replied “Because it’s beautiful and good and true.”
I am not a Catholic, but if asked why I became a Christ-follower, I would have answered in exactly the same way.
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