Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

There’s a new book out by Israeli professor of engineering at Ben Gurion University, Haim Shore, called “Coincidences in the Bible and in Biblical Hebrew” that I think I’m going to see if I can get a digital download for my reader. In it Shore examines a number of remarkable instances of ancient Jewish sages contemplating notions passed down through their scriptures and traditions that lead them to some remarkably accurate scientific conclusions. And they did it all without experimentation or even clinical observation hundreds and even thousands of years before scientific discipline caught up with them.

Author Adam Jacobs give an intriguing review of the book in the following article for The Algemeiner. You can check out Jacobs’ review at the following link…

The Scientific Foreknowledge of the Jewish Sages.

My thanks to Dr. Claude Mariottini for bringing the article to my attention.

When I was a kid there were two books that served to make me a life long reader. The first was Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”, the second was “A Princess of Mars” the first book in the Barsoom Series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Barsoom is Burrough’s fictional local name for the planet we call Mars. The planet first appeared in the story “Under the Moons of Mars” serialized in All-Story Magazine  in 1912. It’s the story of a Confederate Civil War captain named John Carter who finds himself mysteriously transported to the planet Mars and gets caught up in the warfare happening there between the different races competing for control of Barsoom. Not unexpectedly, he also gets caught in the arms of the princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris.

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the novel’s publication Disney will be releasing it’s John Carter Movie early next year. I’m really looking forward to it as I still enjoy rereading the series from time to time. Most industry mags say it’s the most expensive movie Disney has ever made and, visually at least, the trailer would seem to back that up.

Now, lets just hope they didn’t spend all that money screwing the story up.

Jesus And Nonviolence: a third wayI would like to admit up front that I have always had something of a problem with the traditional pacifist interpretation of Jesus’ command in Matthew 5, “Do not resist an evil-doer.”  It has always seemed to me rather like the Prime Directive of Star Trek’s Federation; a convenient excuse to do nothing and just stay out of the way. Too often in the history of the church it has done just that, standing idly by while the downtrodden are oppressed all in the name of ‘turn the other cheek.”

I have just finished reading Walter Wink’s book “Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way” and I have to say few books have ever thrilled and challenged me so much. It’s only 103 pages (small pages at that) but each page caused me to rethink years of teaching that I have received on passive-resistance. Consider the following:

When a church that has not lived out a costly identification with the oppressed offers to mediate between hostile parties, it merely adds to the total impression that it wants to stay above the conflict and not take sides. The church says to the lion and the lamb, “Here, let me negotiate a truce,” to which the lion replies, “Fine, after I finish my lunch.

This message [Matthew 5:38-41], far from being a counsel of perfection unattainable in this life, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed. It provides a hint of how to take on the entire system in a way that unmasks its essential cruelty and to burlesque its pretensions to justice, law, and order.” [Square brackets mine for clarity]

When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God.”

This is my first exposure to Walter Wink and that may be more of a statement to my reclusivity than his obscurity, but I will certainly be searching out his other titles in the future.

I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking a Biblical stance on social justice. Actually, even if you’re not looking you should read this anyway and start.

Shalom.

Jesus and nonviolence: a third way – Walter Wink – Google Books.

Let me begin by saying that for many years I was not a reader of Christian fiction. I usually found it incredibly bland with predictable plots, two dimensional charcters, and storylines that all ended with exactly the same result – bad/unsaved guy/girl gives his/her life to the Lord. I stayed away from it like the lactose intolerant avoid Dairy Queen.

Authors like Mike Duran are changing that. Smart, imaginative plots, characters and storylines with unpredictable endings. Problem is for some people they aren’t “Christian enough”. Mike is also a great blogger and the following article touches on the two camps he’s observed in Christian fiction. Check it out and then come back.

Why Christians Can’t Agree About Christian Fiction.

As someone who reads a fair bit and has even written about fiction here, I’m curious; which camp do you fall into? Holiness or Honesty? Or do you percive a third camp? Do you read Christian fiction at all?

Answer in the comments.

Beware the Dark Side

Posted: September 17, 2010 in Books, Spirituality
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[Note: This post is part of a series on Science Fiction and Spirituality that had its genesis HERE.]

Yoda: “Yes. A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

Luke: “Vader… Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.[1]

Nearly one hundred years before the above conversation took place on the silver screen, a young Scottish novelist and poet used the genre of science fiction to explore the dark side of the human psyche. His name was Robert Louis Stevenson. The novella in question – Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. [2]

The duality of human nature has found its way into many of our stories;  you’ll find it in fables, doppelgänger literature, devil tales and gothic novels to name but a few. It should come as no surprise then that during the Victorian age of reason, the notion of a scientific solution to the duality of humanity should appear in literature.

In Stevenson’s tale, Dr. Henry Jekyll is troubled by the side of his personality that finds pleasure in the ideas and activities that Victorian society frowns upon. Though the apostle is never quoted, Jekyll’s mood very much echoes the sentiments of Romans 7:22-23 – “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”

Being a scientist, convinced that such proclivities are chemical in nature, Jekyll seeks a potion that will isolate the dark side of his nature and allow the good in him to rule unopposed.  He succeeds, after a fashion, but while he has managed to separate the good from the evil, it is the dark side that takes over his waking hours to the point of deforming Jekyll’s physical appearance as well. The result is the amoral and self-indulgent Mr. Edward Hyde.

The novel actually chronicles the experiences of Jekyll’s good friend & lawyer Gabriel John Utterson after he witnesses the bizarre act of a man trampling over a small girl and then compensating her family with a cheque written by Utterson’s friend Henry Jekyll. The nature of the connection between Hyde and Jekyll continues to elude Utterson as he discovers other tales of Hyde’s immoral behaviour.

The bulk of the novella therefore, centres on Utterson’s efforts to convince Henry that Hyde is a scoundrel and all connections to him should be severed immediately. It is not until the last two chapters, after Hyde’s apparent suicide, that Utterson discovers his good friend Henry and the despicable Hyde are in fact one and the same person. (This suspense generating device of keeping the reveal until the end is a feature of the novel rarely used in the various movie adaptations. As a result the story is often thought of as a horror tale rather than as science-fiction.)

The dilemma facing Henry Jekyll is one that is common to all humanity; we aspire to a level of character that is noble, good and worthy of the admiration of our fellow citizens, and yet there is at the same time a desire for the baser things in life.  We find ourselves overcome by the desire for pleasure, we crave it, seek, lust after it, even when we know that to indulge it will ultimately lessen the quality of our lives. Short term stimulus takes presidence over long-term well-being. It is the very nature of addiction, and we are all subject to it, regardless of class, education, or breeding.

It is also the foundation of every religion in the history of mankind.  The subject of eternity and the afterlife may indeed be prominent in many cases, but the bulk of all sacred writing, be it the Theravada, the Torah and Talmud, the Sruti, the New Testament, or any of a hundred others, is focused on successfully overcoming the struggle between our dual natures.  Religion, indeed spirituality of all forms, seeks to guide us in the everyday struggle to conduct ourselves in a manner that positively impacts our surroundings while not abandoning our own needs. It is variously described as a narrow path, a balance between forces, and a tightrope walk.

The story of Jekyll and Hyde then becomes an expression of the desire to relieve ourselves of the struggle; to ease the burden by taking self-control and personal effort out of the equation and relying on science, specifically a drug, to solve the problem for us. If we could simply remove the temptation, isolate the two natures and give the nobler side unfettered control, the struggle would be over.

But freedom, our hero discovers,  is a two-way street. If good lies unfettered then so too does evil, and as Yoda observed while evil is not stronger it is, “Quicker, easier, more seductive.” The lesson of Stevenson’s story, though I’m not sure he intended it to be, is that there is no short-cut to a moral character and an upright life. It requires that we devote ourselves to a religion, a spirituality of some kind that has its origin outside of ourselves from where we can draw strength to survive the struggle, and hopefully win it.

So we see then that even though science-fiction may rarely quote scripture of invoke God’s help in resolving a plot line, the sci-fi story is quite often a morality play, forcing us to consider life in ways we may not have indulged before, and whenever a person seriously considers the nature of their own existence, the opportunity exists for God to reveal Himself to them. And in this I rejoice.

Totally Aside but an Interesting Little Tidbit Dept: – Not long after the publishing of this story, Stevenson moved to the South Pacific, cruising for a number of years on a yacht named the Casco. During this time he visited the leper colony at Molokai and befriended the famous Father Damien. Such was the relation ship that when a Honolulu Presbyterian minister attacked the character of Father Damien, Stevenson wrote a scathing open letter of rebuke. The name of the object of his displeasure – the Rev. Dr. Hyde.

Until next time – Shalom.

—–

[1] from: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Lucasfilm, 1980

[2] Original title. In modern publications “The” is added to the title to make it grammatically correct, but in the original publication Stevenson was explicit in his desire to omit the definitive article.