Category Archives: Worldviews

Tough Questions from a Reader of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL

It’s no bother …

Accessibility to one’s readers is one of the benefits of being an indie author. So it’s no bother at all when someone sends me a question. Indeed it is a special delight.

I asked permission to share this conversation with my blog readers and it was granted providing I maintained the reader’s anonymity. I propose to do so by using the Latin name Aulaire (means well-spoken) for the reader.

The tough questions

Aulaire, you do ask me the toughest questions! Like you these situations you mention make me ask: “How can this be?”

Let me begin with a disclaimer: these are tough questions facing Christians (and for others too). I have some partial answers, but if we ever find ourselves in these these troubling situations, we will find out pretty quickly how hollow and incomplete my answers are.

Aulaire, on describing what troubled here about some passages, wrote:

“I find even in the old testament when God had Joshua going into the promised land [and] King David fighting nations opposed to Israel, how they slaughtered & killed whole people groups, even the women and children.”

1. We know that God is omnipotent. We often don’t realize, however, that omnipotence is inherently self-limiting. For example, when I write a book, I am, humanly speaking, omnipotent. I can write a romance, a book on economics etc. Indeed, I could write about anything at all. But as soon as I write my first line (“Dave Schuster sat in the Chancellor’s office …”), I have already limited my own “omnipotence” significantly. Many possible books are now ruled out. I believe God is in the same boat. As soon as He begins creating, He is limiting his own omnipotence. Thus Aslan (from Lewis’ Narnia books) growls when it is suggested the Emperor-Over-The-Sea not follow His own rules. This implies, particularly when sinful people are deciding for Him, that often God is left, in a given situation, with only bad choices on His plate. I believe He will, play His poor cards as well as He can at the time and still make it right when the story is complete, but in a given situation He may, because of our deal, only have poor cards to play (I know, Aulaire, you’re reading The Dragons of Sheol. You might check out the chapter on Al and Floyd’s discussion of God as a Bridge Partner).

2. I think genuine mercy was always an alternative to Old Testament law punishments. Joseph, as he sought to apply the Old Testament Law, could have had Mary stoned for adultery (betrothal had the weight of marriage) but he had a right to a merciful option and “resolved to put her away quietly.” The trouble in Joshua and David’s time: Israelites, acting like the people around them, had no problem exterminating their enemies. They sometimes showed a false mercy by sparing the bits they wanted (e.g. the cattle) and God condemned this self-serving, false mercy.

3. Jesus did not spare Himself our injustice. When God wrote Himself into our story, He took on all the bad bits. He grew up in a poor family in a subjugated nation.  He was thought an illegitimate child of sin. His father likely died when He was young. He was hated by his own people, and of course, He was crucified unjustly at the young age of 33. God didn’t spare Himself, so how can I complain?

4. We must not assume that if actions occur in the Old Testament without comment that God approves.

Aulaire, speaking of historical events that bother her, wrote:

“And also allowing Hitler to continue as long as he did to exterminate the Jewish people.”

Fifty-two million people lost their lives in WWII. Given my background I had friends and relatives who lived through this terrible time from inside the Third Reich. I have seen the scars it has left on their lives. Asking when God should intervene to override our foolish and downright evil decisions is a difficult question. I think we almost all agree, we wouldn’t want to lose our God-image-bearer humanity by having Him control all of our decisions. So where would we have Him draw the line? I don’t know. I trust He knows best.

A mentor of mine used to draw a dot with an arrow going to the right. He would say the dot is my life now; the arrow is eternity. I trust God will use eternity to make things right.

I want to end again with the disclaimer: I don’t really have a completely satisfying answer (to me and likely to anyone else) on your questions, Aulaire. This is the best I have. Others likely could say much more.

Peter

Some additional material from QUESTIONING YOUR WAY TO FAITH

Questioning Your Way to Faith is a short book that has two friends talk respectfully about some of life’s most difficult questions. I hope this chapter excerpt is of some value as it touches on the questions Aulaire raised. 

Chapter 5 The Problem of Evil Committed by Christians

Around five o’clock, Al said “How about supper?”

 “Why don’t you clean the fish,” responded Floyd, “and I’ll get the fire started.

“Sure thing; sea bass always tastes best when it’s fresh.”

Floyd nodded and headed to a sheltered dell beneath a rocky ridge to a small fire pit.

They had only kept one of the sea bass. Al began cleaning the fish. He heard twigs snapping.

Floyd reappeared. “Do you have any matches?”

“In the second drawer of my tackle box.” Al went back to his task. He deftly gutted the big sea bass and cut four generous fillets. He buried the head and entrails and carried the four fillets in the frying pan along with his knapsack into the dell. Floyd had a small fire going.

Al set the skillet down and unpacked a small grill, placing it between two rocks.

“You’ve obviously done this before,” said Floyd.

“This is one of my favorite things!” Al pulled out the small lunch cooler and produced a package of potato salad from the cafeteria.”

“What would you like to drink, Floyd?”

“What do you have?”

“My favorite wheat beer from Benson’s Microbrewery or cola?

“I’ll take the beer.”

Al flipped the fillets with his hunting knife and a freshly cut stick. He added salt and looked critically at the fillets. “I think they’re done.”

“Good. I’m starving.”

“Can you get the two plates in my knapsack, Floyd?”

“Sure. Boy I don’t normally like fish but that smells great.”

“There’s something special about fresh fish. Here, help yourself to the potato salad.”

They ate in silence. Then Al rinsed off their plates and the frying pan in the sea. When he came back, Floyd was nursing his beer and leaning back against a driftwood tree trunk looking up at the sky. “This is the life Al.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Floyd.” The evening sun tinged the sea orange.

The beauty of the sea and the sky is almost a meal on its own.

Floyd was silent for a while. Al looked at him. His friend seemed to be thinking.

Floyd cleared his throat.

“Al, going back to our previous discussion, your argument about God being good simply doesn’t add up. How many wars have been fought over religion? I remember reading that in the Thirty Years’ War, a Christian religious war between Catholics and Protestants, about two thirds of the population of what is now Germany was killed. The Philippines were converted to Catholicism from Islam by the sword, all except one island, which the Spanish couldn’t easily land on in force. Look how the Jews have been treated by Christians. How can God be the moral force you make Him out to be if so much evil is done by His followers in His name? Your argument would be much more convincing if Christians were actually a force for good rather than evil.”

“Floyd, in a great many ways you’re right. Much evil has been done in the name of Christianity. In fact G. K. Chesterton and others as I recall, made the point that the best argument against Christianity is Christians.

“Still I don’t think the argument against Christianity on this ground is as strong as you make it,” continued Al. “First of all, if you look at nations and peoples before the French Revolution, every one of them was religious. Therefore it’s easy to look at a multidimensional problem and say they committed evil because of religion. And what about politics? What about greed? What about power? Didn’t these play a role?”

“I’m sure they did. But the Thirty Years’ War was ostensibly a religious war wasn’t it?” asked Floyd.

“That’s exactly my point,” said Al. We pick from a host of causes and label it a ‘religious war’ when we could just as easily call it a war for political power and control. Have we stopped fighting just because we’re less religious?”

“I suppose not,” conceded Floyd.

“We haven’t,” said Al. “If we focus on governments that are openly antagonistic to religion, have they done any better? The French Revolution—after proclaiming the noble sentiments of equality, fraternity, and freedom—moved quickly on to the Reign of Terror, and then on to Napoleon’s long war to dominate Europe.

“Have the Communists done better? They’re avowedly atheistic and have killed a great many people in the pogroms and mass exterminations of dissenters. I think the root problem is not really religion, but a lack of respect for Freedom of Religion. If we respected the rights of people to make up their own minds without coercion, then we wouldn’t do these things. But all governments prefer a homogeneous populace. So there’s a tendency to make us all the same because then we’re easier to manage and govern. Coercion can just as easily be secular as religious.”

“How do those excesses excuse the Christians?” asked Floyd.

“They don’t, but I think people who raise this issue are overlooking an important fact.”

“What’s that?” asked Floyd.

“If you’re a power hungry tyrant, and you want your followers to join in a cause that’s dear to your heart, it will never do to say ‘Let’s beat up on our neighbors. I know they pose no threat. They haven’t done us a stitch of harm, but let’s kill them, take their land, and enslave them. Come on—it’ll be fun.’”

“Go on.”

“The vast majority of people are too fair minded to risk their own lives, and the lives of their children on such an escapade. But if the war monger builds a case that the neighbor poses a threat and will attack us, take our freedom, our children and our lands, then the call to war becomes much more credible. The appeal to religion has worked for tyrants because religion was so valuable to the people. It gave meaning to their lives. And so by having that threatened, one could bend them to commit atrocities because in their fear they succumbed to the argument that the end justified the means. Today with the decline of religion in the west, we make the same calls using our new values. The threat is that others will impose their unwanted religion on us, take away our wealth, our children and our freedoms. The same story works. The same people are pulling the strings. Still religion is not seen as being as valuable as it once was, so it’s no longer used to justify evil. But other things are.”

“Still that doesn’t excuse them,” said Floyd.

“No not at all. If you follow the teaching of Jesus, the end never justified the means. That is a great trap. What makes things worse is that our evil nature always makes it seem as if the injustices foisted on us are grievous beyond words. And yet when we do the very same thing to someone else, it was a justifiable necessity on our part. We are hopelessly unsymmetrical in our evaluations.”

“Still why did they fall for it?” asked Floyd.

“I don’t know. The New Testament teaches us to regard others—even those who think differently from us—as brothers. We are to return good for evil and love our enemies. The end never justifies the means—yet Christians still can be moved to do things that go against their fundamental teachings. Why do they do it? Why do I do it? I wish I knew. I’m far from perfect, and so are they, I guess.”

“Floyd, I think you and I could agree on this question a good deal more if you substituted “religion” for “God” and “Christians.”

“Al, I don’t see how that will help you. Isn’t Christianity a religion?”

“That depends on the definition. If you think of religion as the institutions, the laws, the regulations that are supposed to bring us close to God, then Christianity, as far as I can tell from reading the New Testament, was never meant to be a religion. Indeed, in the Gospels, Jesus’ strongest words of censure were directed toward the Pharisees, the religious heavyweights of his day, and he accused them of keeping people who were truly seeking God away from God by loading them down with regulations, duties, and obligations which were the constructs of men and not of God. Christianity is much more about meeting a person, than following a program.”

“Okay you’re trying to draw a distinction between Christianity and religions. I’ve heard that before,” said Floyd.

“Floyd, getting back to the question about ‘religion being the root of all evil…’”

“I never said all evil, but I believe Christians are responsible for much of the evil in our world.”

“I can see why that behavior should bother me since I see clearly how they do not conform to the behavior God has set out for Christians. But why does it bother you? At the risk of being repetitive, if all people, including Christians, are the product of millions of years of evolution, through which we have been conditioned by our genes to eliminate competition and reproduce as prolifically as possible, then wouldn’t we expect the killing off of competition to be the most natural of activities? Would rape and pillaging not be entirely consistent with that conditioning? At their worst are these “Christians” from the Thirty Years’ War not acting exactly as one would have predicted based on evolution? So why the surprise? Why the expectation that they would be better?

“It seems to me the anomaly—from your point of view—would be those people who rise above this ‘ethic’ of me and mine first.”

“You have a point,” said Floyd. He shook himself and looked around. “It’s getting dark. We should be heading back. Will you put out the fire while I collect up our gear?”

George MacDonald – On the Importance of the Imagination

I am re-reading George MacDonald’s Thomas Wingfold-Curate again, and in another sense, for the first time. I previously read and enjoyed Michael R. Phillip’s excellent edited version entitled The Curate’s Awakening (which I would recommend for first-time readers of this series) but now I’m reading the original version which is much longer.

Some spoilers to the story

Thomas Wingfold is a curate who has slid into his clerical profession without much thought. His uncle gave him a complete set of detailed sermons which enabled Wingfold to provide messages and sermons for all occasions in the church year. The sermons were so numerous that when they were recycled, so much time would have passed that the word-for-word repetition would have been unobtrusive to the congregation.

Wingfold’s complacency is shaken

Two things happened to begin a crisis in Wingfold’s life:

  1. He was accosted by a self-assured, masterful, self-confident atheist who challenged him with words to the effect: “Surely you can’t believe all that nonsense you are spouting?”
  2. A dwarf who occasionally attended Wingfold’s church gently informed him that his sermons were plagiarized from a well-known minister called Jeremy Taylor.

The metaphor of a carriage

Wingfold, seeking to be honest, at first considers resigning his appointment, but Polwarth, the dwarf, encourages him to remain in his post until he completes his quest for faith, but, while there, to be honest in his sermons.

In Chapter III, as Wingfold prepares his second genuine sermon, he sees the progression of his intellectual quest through the metaphor of a carriage. His will has the reins; the guard beside the driver is his conscience. The dog running beside him is Fancy, which I take to mean his desire and feelings for beauty, order, and completeness. Imagination is the outrider that explores paths in all directions but can be called back at any time.

The importance of imagination

As I thought about this metaphor, I concur with MacDonald’s view that imagination is a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress in understanding our physical world (science) or understanding the spiritual world as in the case of Wingfold’s quest.

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of working very hard to disprove theories and hypotheses. in my own view (and I know many will disagree with me) I see defects with current explanations of our physical origins. Use of the imagination to come up with better explanations that describe all of the data are needed (again in my view).

Finally a caveat: imagination is useful only in generating possible explanations. After the work of imagination is done, one has to put on one’s skeptical hat and try to disprove the new hypothesis, just as one did with the old.

As Science Fiction author, I am able to let my imagination roam as I write my novels and don’t have the difficult obligation of disproving the backstory of my imaginary inventions.

Interacting with Bruxy Cavey’s ORIGINS Week 1: Love’s Great Choice

My Canadian public education, from elementary school, through high school and on through my university postgraduate studies, from the basis of inculcating a worldview, had a decidedly Materialistic bias. I was taught that all smart people were convinced by the overwhelming evidence of “science” that chance operating over billions of years produced “life, the universe, and everything.” They usually stopped short of explicitly stating that there was no room for God, but the extension of the teaching to this conclusion was easy and no barrier at all was set up to hinder this extension. 

It was only in high school and university that I began to realize that a great many dubious philosophical presuppositions had been smuggled in with the historical assertions I had been fed. The many remarkable successes of what I now call “Good Science” were used to justify (if I looked at the data) “Dubious Science.” However, in the minds of most students, who had been taught to regard all science to be of equal value and veracity, the word “science” or “scientists believe” was used as a certificate of reliability.

Into this difficult and heavily contested discussion arena, Bruxy Cavey has provided his own input. Having listened to the first message on the first two chapters of Genesis, I think his goal is modest: he does NOT want to specifically argue for one interpretation or another, but rather to explore the language and context of the Hebrew text to provide a boundary to the range of interpretations that are consistent with the text.

Given that objective, I learned a few things.

One had to do with the Hebrew word Yom (day). It was interesting how it was used differently in the accounts of the seven days:

  • Days 1-6 there was evening and morning cited after each creation event
  • Day 7 , the Sabbath Day when God is resting from creation seems to go on without end. In Hebrews 4:1-11 we are urged to enter that rest.
  • In Genesis 2, when the passage unpacks the creation of Man, the events such as naming the animals seem to require more than 24 hours.

Responding to Comments

I also wanted to interact with one of the interesting anonymous comments that appeared on Bruxy’s Blog. The comment is shown below in blue.

I was great at prayer and reading the bible when I was younger, but like so many, things changed when I went to university and studied science. Years later, I still love listening to science podcasts. I’m trying to reconcile what science says and what the bible says. I will never dismiss science because there is a lot to respect about the scientific method and the sweat, blood and tears that goes into understanding of the physical world around us, that is brought to us by relevant and worthy fellow human beings. While it can be said that science has just as much blood on its hands as religion, it has brought us the amazing technology I’m using to type this out, penicillin, the ability to “hear” remnants of the Big Bang and the understanding that a marble and a giant boulder will hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height (still blows my mind).

Sorry for belabouring the point on how much I enjoy science, but that’s not going away. And yet I want to make room for Jesus and his irreligious message. I love the focus on love and shifting my gaze from myself to others.

When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms. Like trying to explain to a child why and how we do our taxes once a year…you can’t go into depth, so you sort of oversimplify and use symbols that they already understand; like, “we have to tell the mayor (to replace CRA or gov’t) how much money we made, this way they can decide if we give more or get some back,” etc. God is the alpha and omega: this, to me, means he’s like infinity, outside of the constraints of time and space. I can’t even understand what that would even mean, so how could I possibly understand how he actually started it all? Enter Genesis.

I guess I’m hoping for a Meeting House take on this and that I’m still allowed to show up

Anonymous stated:

I will never dismiss science because there is a lot to respect about the scientific method and the sweat, blood and tears that goes into understanding of the physical world around us, that is brought to us by relevant and worthy fellow human beings.

We should all be truth-seekers since truth is connected to reality. While I understand the sentiment expressed by anonymous, science is not a uniform endeavor. Indeed, I think we ought to respect science by putting its best practices into operation as we evaluate the merit of a particular theory or claim. It all comes down to the data and the integrity of the people who collect and discuss it. Scientists, like other people, are confronted with political pressure, political correctness imperatives, natural biases, and peer pressure.

Even if we haven’t measured a data point, it still behooves us to be skeptical and ask the hard questions and see if the data adds up. Especially we ought to see:

  1. If the scientific community has tried hard to disprove the theory or hypothesis (it is easy to fall into confirmation bias and collect more and more data points in support of our favorite theory).
  2. If sufficient attention has been paid to data points that don’t support the theory. Or have they conveniently shoved the data into the “to be explained” file, never published, and promptly forgotten.
  3. If scientists are being pressure to adopt a certain view or theory.  Look specifically for political pressure, political correctness imperatives, and peer pressure. Have scientists lost their jobs because of their hypotheses? Are there accusations of pseudo-science to keep you from looking carefully at the data and arguments? Have lectures been shut down? These considerations don’t over ride the power of the data but ought to cause us to dig deeper and find out what is being suppressed and pay particular attention to the voices that are being silenced.

Anonymous wrote:

it [science] has brought us the amazing technology I’m using to type this out, penicillin, the ability to “hear” remnants of the Big Bang and the understanding that a marble and a giant boulder will hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height (still blows my mind).

I generally agree. Notice, however, penicillin, and classical mechanics (i.e. gravitation and Newton’s Second Law) are qualitatively different from “the ability to ‘hear’ remnants of the Big Bang.”

The first category (isolating and characterizing penicillin or verifying classical mechanics) contain time-independent events and the critical experiments that can be reproduced in 2019, 2050, or 2200. The Big Bang is an historical event. A person with the proper resources can measure the background radiation, but they cannot perform the critical experiment (initiate a Big Bang and show it gives rise to the background radiation).

That doesn’t make the historical account incorrect, it just means the tools of scientific experimentation are not as well suited to these problems as they are to time-independent questions.

Anonymous wrote about reconciling what he has read in Genesis with the accounts that scientists propose:

When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms.

That’s fair enough. My own reaction is somewhat different. I have significant personal experience that makes me trust what the Bible teaches. Still, as Bruxy stated, the Bible may be perfectly reliable, but that doesn’t guarantee my interpretation is correct. I line up all the historical theories of our origin side by side: evolution, intelligent design, and various creation theories and generate a plus/minus for each one. I think all theories have significant defects and so I am left with saying we don’t know the details.

Anonymous makes a very important point using his analogy of explaining the CRA to a child. Explanations are always constrained by the language and understanding of the audience. For me one of the great attributes of the God of the Bible: He reaches out to us. He uses the language and understanding of his audience to speak to us. I think we need to keep that in mind as we read Genesis.

I appreciate Anonymous’ comment and I appreciate my chance to interact with these ideas.

A useful link on bias

A CREEPING OF HERESIES. A Guest Essay by Mark Jokinen of Peterborough

Picture yourself walking along a path

        Picture yourself walking along a path of many steps, but a path where you can see clearly only one step ahead. You can’t see the end destination. It makes sense to you  to take that one step, and you take it. After that, you can now see the next step ahead, and so on. The thing is, after you have taken many such steps, you look back to where you had begun, and realize that if you could have foreseen the end of the path at the beginning you would not have begun it. What has happened here?

         What I believe happens is that the path changes you. Each step on its own changes you a little, and each seems no big deal. Or each step makes sense on its own if you don’t know the final destination. It is that sum of all the little changes, that you didn’t foresee at the beginning, that concerns me here.

         I see that process in many places. It is part of everyday living, the unavoidable experience of everyone as we age, and ask ourselves, ‘What happened? Where did the years go?’ It happens as we become desensitized to pornography or violence in the media and advertising. It happens with controversial issues such as homosexuality, or divorce, or abortion, where adjustment gradually becomes acceptance, and then approval, and then there is a  new normal. It happens in Christians as we interact with non-Christians socially, intellectually, legally.1  We may change them, but interaction

1 I should state that I consider myself a traditional Christian. My wife 
and I attend a Baptist Church. I am comfortable with Roman Catholicism,
Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and so on.
I have not formally joined any denomination. I accept the Apostle’s Creed
as a statement of faith.

with them also changes us. The changes may be good, or worthwhile, or not, but we should  be aware of the process so that we can choose to assent to it, or not, from the beginning. The two areas I will examine here are (1) the process where many young, university age Christians lose their faith, and (2) the tolerance of heretical ideas, of old heresies returning, such as Gnosticism.

         The important thing is to become aware as soon as possible of the overall effect of the path, and decide whether or not and on what terms to continue. I can see three things to do when one is somewhere on the path. The first is to look back to the  beginning, to recover one’s vision from there. The second is to take one step back as a test; and the third is to take a step sideways, off the path entirely.  (To actually go back to the beginning of the path is usually very difficult, or impossible, and the changes to that point are usually a mixture of good and bad.)

          An example of the first, for a Christian, is reading the Bible, or asking oneself what would Jesus do, or Paul, or Peter. What would they say about this path you are on, the changes in you? Would they approve? How do you feel about their reaction? (Not… ‘what do you think about that?’). Praying. Returning to your root experience as a Christian…

         The second thing one can do is to take one step back. Find out how easy or hard it is, compared with stepping forward. The step back could be easier, or more difficult, or no different. An example of it being easier is a person trying to break an old, long-established bad habit, where backsliding is easy. An example of it being more difficult is when a Christian is alone or in a minority among non-Christians, where it is easier to go along with the crowd. There could be unspoken goals or beliefs among  the majority that are not made clear until that backward step is taken. And if the steps  forward  and back are about equal in difficulty, one could at least stay there until things become clearer.

         The third thing to try is the sideways step, off the path entirely. This is the most difficult of the three because it is the most original response, thinking outside the box. It is seeing the steps, the path, from a different and new viewpoint. From there, one could set off on a new path or direction, or return to the original one with new understanding.

          A great many young Christians leave the faith they were raised in, especially when  they go away to university. I believe one reason for it is exposure to the secular environment, perhaps actively anti-Christian, without the counterbalancing of home and church. The result is a slow leaching away of meaning, of habits and religious practice, to where their faith seems ridiculous, dubious, and restrictive. And their loss of faith feels like liberation to them, which makes it very hard to resist or argue against.

          A change we grow used to becomes the new normal, and each small step can be a small surrender. But each step is also a small confrontation, asking if this path is right, with each person on their own in trying to answer that. Being a religious person in a secular environment is not the same as being a religious person in a different religious environment. A Christian interacting with Hindu or Buddhist people is challenged with a different religious truth. A Christian in a secular environment is challenged by an absence of religious truth, by ‘what’s the point of believing it?’ Key beliefs such as the Resurrection begin to seem ridiculous, irrational, unnecessary, and eventually untrue. Rational argument and scientific reasoning are compatible with  and can support both Christianity and atheism, but somehow atheism has become the default position in secular society.

         The person has to want to stay Christian, has to want it strongly. Without that desire, everything else in their faith is useless. With that desire, the three things to do on the path when in secular society make sense. Returning to one’s roots could be reading the Bible, or ‘practicing the presence of God’.  Taking a step back could be doing a short  prayer at meal-time, both with others and alone. Doing it visibly, not just secretly or silently. And leaving the path entirely could be going on a spiritual retreat to refocus; or starting a craft or art or physical activity that is neither religious nor secular, getting you  completely away from the issues for a while.

          Loss of faith is often perceived or felt by the person as a gain in freedom, but that feeling is a temporary illusion. It is easy for believers  to not face that issue of feeling  and to concentrate on the authority of the Bible, or on belief in the Resurrection, or the Creeds… But the feeling of freedom will undercut any argument. Freedom from feels like freedom to, whether it is sexual freedom, or gender identity freedom, or not having to read the Bible or go to church, or abortion freedom, or freedom to choose what laws to obey, beyond society’s laws. It feels like liberation from a Christianity seen as narrow, constricting, and nonsensical, and into a wider society of more choices.

            Each step taken must be seen instead as a small surrender, not as a step of liberation. To return to the beginning of the path could be to focus on Paul’s gospel of grace, of the ‘Apostle of the Heart Set Free’2 , and then choosing a different path from that point. We must address  the difference between  freedom and license directly, and do it rationally, patiently, respectfully and humbly.

2Bruce; Paul: Apostle. Pages 119 and 141. Also 2 Cor 3:17-18.

         I see a similar path at work in scholars whose ideas become more extreme and provocative as time passes. There is excitement and joy in generating and exploring new ideas, especially radical ones. Developing arguments, marshaling evidence, engaging in intellectual combat: the academic is trained for this, and our culture sees the exploration of radical ideas as heroic. And it is. Jolts of creative pleasure and  intellectual satisfaction are addictive, as they should be. But also addictive are the rewards of public attention and recognition, and the regard of one’s peers. The outsider is seen as heroic. The academic’s earlier ideas become part of his or her mental furniture, and cease to be exciting. The excitement in exploring new, forbidden ideas, new possibilities, more radical and revolutionary ideas is also addictive. Each of us has a secret yearning to be the next Galileo, or Newton, or Einstein. But the scholar may be confusing the pleasures of discovery, and of motivation, with the truth. Our brains are inherent pattern recognition machines, and that of the scholar is trained to be even more so. A friend of mine is of the opinion that modern scholarship, especially in the social sciences, has institutionalized the goal of heresy.3

3Kazmaier, Peter M. Personal communication.

         So what can the scholar (and the creative artist too) do when on a path into the unknown? He can think  back to the beginning, back to first principles in his questions. We are all human: it could mean having to get to the root of one’s motives. For the scientist, how would it feel  to let others have the personal rewards, the professional recognition, the verdict of history for your ideas and work?  For the artist, perhaps the joy of playing/practicing his art with absolutely no audience for it, ever. Would each of them still walk that path, if joy of discovery was the only reward?

         What would taking one step back entail? I see it as a test of resistance and a test of rightness. These are empirical tests, rather than logical ones, for logic alone will keep leading you forward along the path. See if you can reverse the chain of reasoning, which could make just as much sense. Find out what makes it difficult to take that step back. Public embarrassment about changing your mind? Afraid of being called inconsistent or erratic? Listen for a ‘still, small feeling of rightness’ and nurture it. Try to put aside the allure of novelty, of new possibilities that may be illusory. Compare the two steps, forward and back. When you turn and face the other way, the path looks completely different.  And what would be an example of a sideways step, off the path entirely? Perhaps getting an opinion on your situation from someone in an entirely different discipline or craft. (Artist? Musician? Parent with small children?  Manual laborer?)  How well could you convey your situation to them, in their language?

        Another area where this path of many steps effect is at work is in the tolerance of, or indifference to, heretical ideas. I see a deadening or desensitization similar to that to violence or pornography in the media, in our culture generally. The new, the exciting, the offensive becomes in time the new normal. An example of a heretical belief is that Jesus was just a man, a very good man, who didn’t rise from the dead. It is a coherent and persuasive belief that will lead to other beliefs and ideas. Traditionally, it is called Arianism and is a heresy that keeps returning and recurring in the history of the Christian Church.4  (An interesting side question: why do some heretical beliefs keep returning?)

4It is named after its Fourth Century advocate Arius, and has no
relationship to Aryanism, a completely different word.

         There are two dangers in dealing with heretical ideas: the danger of intolerance and the danger of tolerance. The danger of intolerance is clear and obvious from our history: persecution of heretics, book burning, the Inquisition, religious wars, the importance of freedom of thought and expression. The danger of tolerance is more subtle. The issue with heresy is not one of different equal beliefs, but of right versus wrong. It is not a debate with a person of a different religion, but with a person of the same religion who you believe is wrong on a fundamental belief that is accepted as fact. That person is free to believe whatever he or she likes, as are we all, but if we believe the other person is wrong we must be clear in that, and hold to it. A debate format over a belief implies the two sides are equal, are to be treated equally, whether in a formal debate between two people, or in the informal debate within one’s own skull. Any idea should be considered with respect, but a debate about it ends with a choice, and we go on to other things. And we must. But there is a long term ‘wearing down’ or erosion if a debate keeps returning. A wearing down of the older generation having to keep refighting old debates, and of the younger generation not valuing the tradition, rejecting it for the new, the exciting, the different. Both the old and the young must each find their own way back  to their common roots in order to better understand the common path they are on.5

5Two people opposed to each other could each consider their own beliefs to
be orthodoxy,  and the other’s heresy. They would have much to discuss and
clarify. What concerns me is the many-steps process likely at work within
each of them.

         As a society, and in the Church, we have both gained and lost. We have gained in freedom of thought and expression, but we have also lost by becoming less serious in our thinking. It is as if we believe the ideas we think and express have no consequences for us or for others. But they can have consequences, for us in our own personal lives, and for society.

         Consider Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most influential philosophers. Perhaps his ideas contributed to his insanity, or they resulted from it, or both. But the Nazis took his ideas and misused them. And he continues to be influential and popular. Does he not bear some responsibility for his ideas? Or the scientists who helped develop the atom bomb, and who felt guilty for it afterwards. Or Marx, Darwin, Freud: They are intellectual heroes, role models, shapers of our world, and their ideas are part of us. Their ideas are so influential that we can’t go back in our thinking to before they existed. We can’t unthink  their ideas, we can only agree or disagree with them, challenge them, build on them. We can’t remove their ideas from our heads. An idea, an image, even a powerful photograph, can have a long term effect, one for good, or for corrosive ill. If it is for ill, how best can one resist it?

         If we are responsible for what we think and express, responsible at least to ourselves, and to others if we communicate, we must become aware of the little steps in the path of our thinking, our experience, all the little changes and acceptances we make, and to be prepared to stop, to wait, to reconsider and perhaps choose differently.

         If the path of many steps is an intellectual one, leading perhaps to a heresy or unbelief, what could be the three responses I suggest?

          The first, going back to the beginning of the path: you can’t unthink a thought or idea, once it is in your head, but you can consider other paths from where you are, perhaps other philosophical approaches or directions.

         The second, taking one step back as a test, means facing the other way. A path looks quite different when you face the other way,  and a common unexamined assumption our society has is one of faith in inevitable progress. What resistance is there to taking just the one step back?

The third response, stepping off the path entirely:  perhaps concentrate on the non-intellectual feeling of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps doing  some ordinary, everyday good thing that brings you back to Christ. As Brother Lawrence put it, practicing the presence of God  is more to our essence as Christians than intellectual ideas about Christ  and Christianity are. (Though how difficult the simplest things can be to do!)

         The title, which I coined, is called a ‘venereal’ term6. There were many such terms in late medieval English, and knowing them was considered part of being an educated person  A few such terms have survived into modern English. The best have a richness of  meaning, of poetry and illogic to them: a pride of lions, a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, an exaltation of larks… Perhaps a creeping of heresies  can help us each understand our own paths better.

6Lipton; Exaltation. Venery is an archaic word for
hunting.

                                                    Bibliography:

Bruce, F. F.  Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.
Lawrence, Brother (Nicholas Herman). The Practice of the Presence of God, With Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids: Spire, 1967.
Lipton, James. An
Exaltation of Larks, Or The Venereal Game. New York: Viking,1979. Second Edition.

(c) Copyright Mark Jokinen, 2019

Do I Write Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I once asked a friend of mine who reads a great deal of Science Fiction and Fantasy what he saw as the essential difference between the two genres. He thought for a moment and said that Science Fiction “could happen” while Fantasy “could not.”

I think I know what he meant. In Science Fiction, the writer is cognizant of the physical laws operative within the story. If an SF writer were to describe space travel, Newton’s Laws of motion and gravity would be obeyed. Even here one enters a grey area: some writers would insist on using the speed of light as a fixed limitation while others would imagine a way around it.

In my high school years, I grew up on this genre and my love of science, in large measure, grew out of that reading. Several friends had urged me to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I resisted for a long time. When I did read it, it was as if a new world had opened up for me. It recaptured for me what I had experienced as a child on first reading The Chronicles of Narnia. There was a sense of nobility, beauty, and “rightness” about those imagined worlds that I had missed in my Science Fiction reading, which instead, seemed sterile in comparison.

The longer I thought about it, it came to me that I was encountering an unspoken presupposition that was embedded in most SF literature, that of a materialistic universe where all that mattered was atoms and molecules; chemistry and physics. In addition, I found that the more modern SF also grew more cynical, growing increasingly hostile to the very things that I loved in Fantasy. As a consequence, I read very few modern SF stories (although I do try them once in a while) and spend much more time reading Fantasy.

So how has this impacted my writing? I think, in The Halcyon Cycle, I write Science Fiction that reads like Fantasy. I spend a good deal of time thinking about the physics and chemistry behind my imagined world (I think some of my readers would argue too much, in fact), but I also have many of the elements of a Fantasy story (swords, nobility, right and wrong which transcends worlds and physical laws for example).

Check out The Halcyon Cycle Books … http://bit.ly/2qzzi4P-Author

 

Insights from Jordan Peterson on the Old and New Testament

My book club is reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life; An Antidote to Chaos. As part of this reading program I have been listening to various interviews of Peterson and a recent one, taken from a talk and interview at Lafayette College , caught my particular interest.

After a lengthy and colorful introduction by the moderator, Peterson posed a question to the audience. I am going to tell you what I heard in my own words, but I highly recommend you listen to his comments for yourself.

In my paraphrase and summary, his preamble and question went like this:

So called “right wing thinking” is concerned about establishing hierarchies (which are necessary for survival and for society to function), while “left wing thinking” focuses on equality and fights for the bottom tier of the hierarchies that have been established (which is also necessary).

He went on to say that we know where “right wing thinking” crosses the line into extremism: when they claim one group (usually their own) is intrinsically superior to other groups. Peterson then asked the question: Where is the line for extremism on the left?

He went on to answer his own question. The line is crossed on the left when their zeal for equality for the lowest tier in a hierarchy causes them:

  1. To focus on equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity
  2. To compel a certain kind of speech and thinking because it’s the only way to get people to comply with their demand for equality of outcome.

What Has This to Do With the Old and the New Testament?

Note: I’m not especially interested into entering into political discourse, important as that may be, but I am interested in how Peterson’s comments affect my thinking about the history of Judaism and Christianity described in the Old and New Testaments. I will confine my remarks to that subject.

I thought about the points Peterson made, and it struck me how this analysis parallels what I see in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, when primarily describing God’s dealing with His chosen people Israel, he clearly sets up hierarchies: indeed he set up a political one and a religious one each of which acted as a balances to the another. This structure enabled the Israelites to survive despite encountering many enemies and suffering under the afflictions they caused whether it be slavery in Egypt or captivity by Babylon. Even under the heel of the Roman Empire, their identity and cohesion as a people was preserved. When I look at it, the hierarchies in their culture and in their relationship to outsiders contributed positively to their survival and cultural cohesion. However, there was potentially the possibility of crossing the hierarchical line that Peterson articulated.

When Jesus came, he seemed to turn everything on its head. He came in at the lowest tier—as many thought—the illegitimate son of a Galilean carpenter. Yet Christ, while not destroying the Jewish hierarchy, taught that to be a leader in His Kingdom, the leader has to be servant of all. This seems very much like fighting for the lowest tier.

Given Peterson’s analysis, it’s striking to me how Christ came to restore a sense of balance to the hierarchies and keep the Jewish people (and hopefully Christians as well) from crossing the line into extremism where “chosen people” comes to mean “as a people we are superior.” This has been helpful to me because it shows a natural progression in the Old and New Testaments and shows how hierarchies and fighting for the lowest tier are both essential for balance.

Disclaimer: I know Professor Peterson has delivered some lectures on biblical topics. I have not listened to any of them.

©Peter Kazmaier 2018

A Christian SF Writer Comments on the Challenge: God is Either Loving or Weak

Is there a contradiction between the theological claims that God is omnipotent and that He is love?

A short time ago my teaching pastor, Bruxy Cavey was teaching on Three Beautiful Words (God is Love) from I John 4:8 (if you’re interested in this critical message you can download the podcast for free).

After the message, as is the custom in our meetings, the floor was opened up for questions. A query was texted in by Peter (not yours truly) and from memory the gist of the question was:

A speaker on TV said that God being loving and being omnipotent was a contradiction. If God were loving, he would fix the world to take away evil and suffering. Since he doesn’t that means either he can’t (therefore he’s not omnipotent) or he won’t (therefore he’s not loving). This has bothered me a lot. How would you answer this?

Now when I encounter challenges like this, I like to think through them and this is the reason for my post.

Thinking about the definitions

Omnipotence is a theological term that describes God’s power as creator and sustainer of all things. I don’t believe it is ever used in the bible but rather is used by theologians to describe the sum of the teaching on God in the bible on the subject of His power and sovereignty.

Before one can examine the claimed contradiction, I think it is useful to understand the word “omnipotent.” The TV speaker and I likely agree that omnipotent means “all powerful” but does that mean that there are no actions that are inherently impossible even to an all-powerful being?

I think the answer to that question is “no;” there are actions inherently impossible even for the omnipotent.
For example, the following actions are inherently impossible or necessarily limit the scope on omnipotence:

1. Actions that violate the law of non-contradiction: God can’t make it rain and not rain on the same spot, in the same sense, at the same time. Choosing to make it rain means He has already chosen against making it “not rain.” The decree and its complement come as a single package.
2. In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision. After that, all future decisions are constrained by what has already been chosen. Often subsequent choices are impossible because they violate earlier choices.
3. Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do.

Allow me to elaborate on points 2 and 3.

In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision

As a writer I see this principle in effect whenever I start a novel. When my page is blank I may write anything I like. Perhaps:
“In a galaxy far, far away …” or
“He found the body after midnight on the moor.” or
“When Dolores opened the letter, she knew her life would never be the same again.”

After the first line, my omnipotence as a writer has shriveled enormously. I can no longer do what I want. Everything I write afterwards has to be consistent with what I wrote before. I think God faces the same limitation of particularity. When he chooses a certain course in creation, the contingent choices have to be self-consistent. When He steps into time, what He can do now, is constrained by the choices already made.

Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do

Omnipotence argues that God could lie. What prevents Him from doing so? He could put the lying words together, but choses not to because of His character. We have the same kind of power: we can all formulate a lie, but in our better moments we chose not to. This argues that there are some things God could do, but does not do them because they conflict with His essence or character.

Okay so why doesn’t God end all wickedness and suffering right now?

I think this is really the heart of the question that bothered the texter, Peter, and I don’t have a full answer. Here is what I have: what would God need to do to fix all wickedness and suffering right now? I think we would have to change the role we currently play on this planet and wrest from us all impulses and desires contrary to His will whether we want to give them up or not.

One of my favorite fantasy book series is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®. In it a group of gifted people, called channelers, have enormous powers over their fellow humans. One power they have is called compulsion. With compulsion they can make subtle changes the thinking in the ungifted or even the gifted they have overpowered. For example, a channeler might compel a highly competent general to make subtle mistakes in a battle that to lead to disaster. On the other hand, compulsion can be used to completely take over a person’s mind so that the compelled must worship the compeller and be willing to kill or give up their lives for him. In the books, compulsion was rightly seen as a great evil in all its forms because it turned humans into automatons.
If my memory serves me correctly, there was a vision in the last book in which all people were compelled to be kind, productive, generous etc. But their humanity was sacrificed to make them that way against their will. They were no longer human. The protagonist saw this compelled change as a great loss to evil.

I think this is the fundamental flaw in having God fix things right now—it would have to be done against our will and our nature and that action itself would be an evil even if the end were good.

So where does that leave me?

I believe God is fixing things (perhaps it might be more correct to say He has fixed things in Christ) but the full effect of the cure has not fully spread through the system yet. The need for the means and the end to be true and good means the process will take some time, but it encourages me enormously that God in Christ came down into creation as a man and suffered right along with us. He was born into a poor family, of an oppressed people. His father likely died when he was a young man. Finally, he was crucified as an innocent man, while dying for His enemies who did not value His death at the time. This gives me great hope that God deeply cares about our (and my) condition in this flawed and marred world filled with flawed and marred people.

One of my favorite pictures is the one shown at the head of this blog taken of a framed print in my home. In Michelangelo’s fresco of The Creation of Adam, God is seen as touching Adam’s finger ever so slightly. Through this lightest of touches, He is communicating His love, but also His gift of independence and free will. The touch is there so Adam can choose to move toward Him or away from Him. Alas, we have moved away. He pursues us, but the touch continues to be light to preserve our free will. It is always my choice whether I move toward the touch or away from it. If I have to choose between becoming automaton or having God work the process to bring us home when we are willing to move towards Him, I choose His timing and process.

A final comment on theologically-skeptical snipers

I must end this blog with a protest about theologically-skeptical snipers. I can’t directly complain about texter Peter’s TV speaker because I never saw the program, but I have seen many others like it. The speaker, in criticizing theism or Christianity trucks out some challenge and then leaves it hanging. In my experience, they never go on to say: “This is my world view and this is how I answer this question that I have just asked.” That would reveal that their own answers are at least as problematic as the Christian’s and thus leave them open to challenge. In other words, these skeptics are often not skeptical enough because they don’t challenge their own views along with the Christian’s.

In my mind, these speakers are like snipers who are happy to lie hidden in the brush taking pot shots at their opponents. As long as their own position is undiscovered they can happily fire away without taking any return fire.

If you are interested in these kinds of questions and you find the musings of a non-theologian, Science Fiction author helpful, why not check out my book Questioning Your Way to Faith? In story form, it discusses questions I have wrestled with, in the context of a respectful conversation between friends who profoundly disagree on the answers. ©Peter Kazmaier 2018

The Uncanny Life of a Science Fiction Author: Seeing Yesterday’s Imaginations in Today’s News

Peterson Tweet2Yesterday, I was browsing my Twitter feed when I came across a link to an article by Mallory Millett (I believe Peterson meant “Millett” rather than “Miller”) from September 1, 2014 describing her life in the feminist movement, particularly under the influence of her sister, Kate.

I had never heard of Kate Millett, nor read any of her writings (were I better read, I suppose I should have); what struck me as I read Mallory Mallett’s account of her personal experience, was the uncanny resemblance to imagined dialogue I had written in my 2009 science fiction novel, The Halcyon Dislocation.

It is the work of every science fiction writer to ask the “What if?” question. Generally, one takes present-day observations on technology, sociology and political developments and extrapolates them to imagine what present trends would look like in the future.

Front Page - Mallory Millett2In my specific case, I had spent many years, first as a student, then as a researcher and Adjunct Professor to formulate a guess as to what present trends I saw in the university might look like in the future. What would happen if, say’ sociologists saw their university dislocated to a parallel world and they had an unique and unprecedented opportunity to implement their ideas of sociological “progress” in an environment over which they had complete control? Where would they take their students with their teaching, their laws, and their behind-the-scenes machinations?

Then a tweet led me to an article by Mallory Millett and I was startled to find her experience could have come directly from dialogue in my book. I had expected to see the effects of my predictions, but not their articulation. The fact that promiscuity was spoken of openly as a way of destroying the family (patriarchy) as early 1969 in the small women’s groups was sobering.

Here is a quote from Mallory Millett about her experience in a “consciousness raising group:”

We gathered at a large table as the chairperson opened the meeting with a back-and-forth recitation, like a Litany, a type of prayer done in Catholic Church. But now it was Marxism, the Church of the Left, mimicking religious practice:

“Why are we here today?” she asked.
“To make revolution,” they answered.
“What kind of revolution?” she replied.
“The Cultural Revolution,” they chanted.
“And how do we make Cultural Revolution?” she demanded.
“By destroying the American family!” they answered.
“How do we destroy the family?” she came back.
“By destroying the American Patriarch,” they cried exuberantly.
“And how do we destroy the American Patriarch?” she replied.
“By taking away his power!”
“How do we do that?”
“By destroying monogamy!” they shouted.
“How can we destroy monogamy?”

Their answer left me dumbstruck, breathless, disbelieving my ears.  Was I on planet earth?  Who were these people?

THD-2_Front_PageThis is a new experience for me, hearing my fictional extrapolations come to life in a personal memoir only a few years after I wrote them in dialogue. It is a strange feeling, reading about people openly speaking about destructive social change with intention, and conviction as if it were the most desirable thing in the world. Gone is the idea of freely chosen outcomes. There is no thought for making room for others with different aspirations and convictions. The prospect of living in an environment that adopts the tyrannical manipulations of the fictional University of Halcyon is deeply dismaying. It was a prediction and observation on university life about which I had fervently hoped to be wrong!

Peter Kazmaier is the author of the science fiction series, THE HALCYON CYCLE. His books can be found on Amazon, Chapter/Indigo, iBooks, Google Play, and at your local library through Overdrive.

My Review of H. G. Wells’ THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU

The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thought-provoking book about the dangers of science unencumbered by morality and man’s penchant for wanting to play God. An added benefit for me: a chance to see how the relationship and nature of man and animals was viewed through the eyes of a late nineteenth century writer.

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My Review of D. S. Martin`s CONSPIRACY OF LIGHT

Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. LewisConspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis by D.S. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I share D. S. Martin`s love for the writings of C. S. Lewis. For that reason, reading Conspiracy of Light was for me a double pleasure.

On the one hand, I can enjoy D. S. Martin`s poems on their own merit. For example I can picture a lion standing between two mountain ashes in What Lucy Saw and be carried on to plumb the depths of what it means to follow Christ even when the path is unclear and uncertain.

On the other hand, when I re-read one of Lewis`s books, I can also read a poem associated with it from this collection. D. S. Martin has a helpful Notes & Acknowledgements section in the back which makes it easy to read the poems associated with a particular Lewis book or essay. Reading “Conspiracy of Light“ in conjunction with Lewis adds a dimension to my enjoyment. The beauty and logic of Lewis`s writings is amplified by the pictures and emotions that D. S. Martin`s poems evoke.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading Lewis.

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