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Month: December 2015

Book Review: Sam Harris and “The End of Faith” (The Bible, Part 1)

Book Review: Sam Harris and “The End of Faith” (The Bible, Part 1)

After a week off from blogging to celebrate Christmas, it’s time to start posting again, well sort of. Over the next few weeks I am going to re-post a series I wrote on the atheist Sam Harris from my previous blog from five years ago. I have found it is a helpful exercise to read the works of people with whom you disagree, and then write responses. It challenges your own beliefs and forces you to think more critically about what you actually believe.

Sam Harris

Sam Harris became famous with his book The End of Faith. The title pretty much gives his thesis away: religious faith must end. In this respect, his book is very much like Christopher Hitchens’ god is not Great, and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. All three of them are essentially a re-hashing of the arguments put forth by Sigmund Freud 100 years ago, but with a little more hostility and bite. I will say up front that anyone who takes the time to actually investigate their arguments and claims will find their arguments are extremely weak and not convincing at all. They construct straw men, get basic definitions and concepts of Christianity wrong, misunderstand the Bible, and indulge overheated rhetoric than actual reality.

In any case, in my next few posts I will take you on a journey through the mind of Sam Harris, and we will go on sight-seeing tours of his various arguments against “faith” in his book, The End of Faith. Essentially, Harris’ arguments can be summed up within four categories:

(A) Harris has a distinct point of view regarding the origin of the Bible and other ‘holy books’
(B) Harris discusses what he feels are outrageous claims made in the Bible
(C) Harris describes what he views are the “core beliefs” of most religions, and Christianity in particular
(D) Harris makes tremendous claims regarding the “salvific effects” of science and reason

As I will show, most of what he says on all these topics is basically wrong.

The Harris Bible…or Koran…or Book of Mormon
One of the first things I noticed in Harris’ book was that he displays a tendency to over-generalize virtually any and everything regarding religion, to the point where he seems unable to distinguish between clear differences between religions. If one was to summarize his entire book in one sentence, it would have to be this: “All religions are basically the same, and they’re all oppressive and evil.” Well, they’re not all basically the same. (Let me recommend Steven Prothero’s book, God is Not One—educated people know that all religions are not the same.)

Case in point, let’s look at how Harris characterizes the Bible and the holy books of other religions. Early on in his book, he writes,

“…most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility” (12).

A bit later he writes specifically on the Koran and the Bible:

“Because they are believed to be nothing less than verbatim transcripts of God’s utterances, texts like the Koran and the Bible must be appreciated, and criticized, for any possible interpretations to which they are susceptible.” (34)

Anyone who has any knowledge about the Christian idea of inspiration and the canon of Scripture will be able to see the problem in Harris’ characterization. Let’s take the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and the Bible as our examples. Muslims claim that there is perfect and heavenly Koran, of which the earthly Koran is a partial but still perfect replica. They believe Allah revealed it in the Arabic language, and therefore no translation of the Koran is truly the Koran. So it is correct to say that Muslims claim the Koran is the perfect and infallible book that came from the mouth of God, through the angel Gabriel, and recorded by Muhammad—he didn’t so much write the Koran, as he recorded the dictation. As a Christian, I obviously don’t believe that, but that is what they claim.

The Book of Mormon is actually presented in a similar fashion by Mormons. Joseph Smith claims to have translated the Book of Mormon from some secret golden tablets with the use of certain “seer stones”—he did not so much write the Book of Mormon, as he simply divinely translated it. I don’t believe this claim either, but that is what Mormons claim. Consequently, both the Koran and the Book of Mormon claim to have more or less “dropped from heaven.” No human authorship is attributed to either one. Both Muhammad and Joseph Smith acted nothing more than just secretaries. So what Harris says is right…about those books.

On the contrary, with the exception of ultra-Fundamentalists like Ken Ham, nowhere in Christian history has such type of view ever been attributed to the Bible.

Inspiration
The unique claim regarding the Bible is that of inspiration. Neither Muhammad nor Joseph Smith was inspired to write—they simply took dictation. The Christian claim of inspiration fully acknowledges real human authorship of the various books in the Bible. The writer of I and II Samuel used his creative gifts and insights to fashion his account of the lives of Samuel, Saul, and David. When Paul wrote his letters to various churches, he employed his pharisaic education, his rhetorical gifts, and his inspired insights to address very specific issues within those churches. The same could be said for every single author of both the Old and New Testaments.

Inspiration does not mean that God simply wrote what he wanted through the authors, as if they were some kind of mindless automons. Unfortunately, there are some ultra-Fundamentalist Christians who actually have this caricatured idea of inspiration that the “human authors” somehow went into a trance while God took over their minds for a bit while he wrote out what he wanted. Such a view should be rejected—it has no standing in Church history.

Inspiration is simply the belief and acknowledgment that these human authors were in some way inspired by the Holy Spirit as they wrote. It simply cannot be easily defined or explained. Even Paul acknowledges this in his own letters. At one time he’ll say, “Now, what I’m about to say is just my opinion—it’s not a command from the Lord,” and then later he’ll say, “Now this is a command from the Lord.”

The point is that the Christian understanding of the inspiration of the Bible is considerably different than the Muslim understanding of the Koran or the Mormon understanding of the Book of Mormon. In the Bible we see human beings writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—there is a connection and interaction between the human and the divine, and that is important to realize. We do not simply see “God writing a book.” It is this false caricature that Harris is objecting to—and rightly so. The problem is that he doesn’t feel the need or inclination to actually find out what the traditional Christian understanding of inspiration really is.

Infallibility
Furthermore, the whole concept of “infallibility” is a slippery and often misunderstood idea that even Christians don’t quite get. Ultra-Fundamentalists take this to mean that every single punctuation mark is purposely put there by God—that God wrote the Bible “perfectly,” and that it is 100% literally correct and perfect in every single way. Such a view, though, is not biblical and it does not truthfully reflect the entire Church history regarding biblical understanding and interpretation. We have manuscripts that differ from each other—the New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman has made a small fortune blowing these differences out of proportion—but 99% of these differences are either minor grammatical differences or things that do not affect the meaning of the text in any way.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to claim that the Bible is a “perfect” book—it is an inspired canon of Scripture through which God reveals the true nature of Himself, human beings, and His creation. It gives us an inspired testimony and witness to how God worked through Old Testament Israel and the early first century church. It is this idea of canon of scripture that I now want to touch upon.

Harris the Literary Critic?
But before I do, I want to comment on another quote by Harris:

“The belief that certain books were written by God (who, for reasons difficult to fathom, made Shakespeare a far better writer than himself) leaves us powerless to address the most potent source of human conflict, past and present” (35).

I find it amusing when people like Harris fancy themselves literary critics. When he quips that it is “difficult to fathom” how a book supposedly written by God could be outdone by a mere mortal like Shakespeare, I just shake my head. My major in college was English, and I love Shakespeare. He was a literary genius. For years I have enjoyed teaching Shakespeare in my high school British Literature classes. At the same time, though, having focuses on the literary artistry of the Bible in my graduate school years, I have to say that the literary artistry and poetry throughout the Old and New Testaments is breath-taking, beautiful, and nothing short of genius…and yes, inspired.

It is easy for people in the English-speaking world to acknowledge the literary genius of Shakespeare because he was a writer that came from our common cultural heritage. It is harder for someone, though, to fully understand and appreciate the literary genius of a writer from a different culture who writes in a different language, simply because it is from a different culture and different language. Different cultures have different ways of writing literature, with different tendencies and emphases. On top of that, I’ll be honest, even the best English translations of the Bible pale in comparison to reading it in the original languages. Translations can get quite tepid.

One can only begin to appreciate it if one takes the time to learn the language and understand the culture. Obviously Harris doesn’t do either. His comment, therefore, is more akin to something like, “If Mozart was really any good, then why didn’t he write music more like Arianna Grande?” I mean, hey, Arianna Grande might be a good and talented singer, but I think it’s safe to say Mozart was a bit more talented. Harris’ comments reveal more about him than they do about either the Bible or Shakespeare for that matter.

The Canon of Scripture
Harris’ claim concerning how “these books were written by God,” also is fundamentally wrong when it comes to Christianity. I’ve already touched upon the concepts of inspiration and infallibility. Now I want to touch upon the concept of canon. Canon means “measuring stick” or “ruler.” The New Testament canon was acknowledged and formed during the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It is the collection of the early first century documents written by the early Church.

Now, the very fact that Christians have a canon of scripture points to the reality that they are able to interact with the Bible as they use it to address every day human concerns. The canon of scripture gives us the earliest witness of the first Christians regarding Jesus Christ and how he fulfilled the entire Old Testament story. If you want to understand the original testimony of the first believers, look at the Bible, just like if you want to understand the original views of the Founding Fathers, you look at the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Because we have preserved this canon of scripture, it is able to help us “measure” what various people say, claim, and do throughout history. When C.S. Lewis writes Mere Christianity, we can compare what he says to what the early church said, and come to the conclusion, “Yes, this lines up with that” and therefore we acknowledge the inspiration, if you will, of Lewis’ writing. When faced with problems like homelessness, oppression, and corruption, we are able to look at the witness of the inspired first believers and conclude, “Clearly God wants us to address these issues and try to bring healing and justice to the world.” The canon of scripture helps guide us in tackling the various tough issues that challenge us every day.

Consequently, when Harris says it “leaves us powerless to address the most potent source of human conflict,” I don’t even think he knows what he means. He seems to be saying, “Religious people can’t deal with real problems in the world.” But that would be a flat-out denial of the countless ways in which Christians have, based on the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the witness and canon of scripture, tackled human rights issues throughout history: hospitals, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, charities, the abolition of the slave trade…the list could go on.

Them People in Biblical Times..Theyz just dumm!
Another quote by Harris that deserves mention is the following: “The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strewn men and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology” (45).

The statement certainly has flair, but it betrays a frightfully high degree of historical ignorance. Indeed, I doubt that even Harris really believes this. The writers of the Old Testament lived among pyramids and ziggurats, during the great empires of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon—I’m pretty sure it took a much higher level of technology than a mere wheelbarrow to build the buildings, temples, and monuments that those civilizations built. The New Testament writers wrote during the height of the Roman Empire who established the most thorough road system in history to that point. Their military technology was highly advanced (any ever see the opening scene in Gladiator?). They built temples, monuments, and war machines everywhere they went. Again, I’m pretty sure their technology was slightly more advanced than a wheelbarrow.

What Harris is really displaying is a case of modern arrogance. What he is really saying is, “Those people back then couldn’t be smart, because they didn’t have access to cars and smart phones!” He’s equating having technology with wisdom and intelligence. To be consistent, he’d have to say writers like Homer, Dante, and yes, even Shakespeare were worthless hacks because their societies couldn’t play Xbox. It is obvious that Harris here is more concerned with coming up with cleverly inflammatory statements than he is with accurately debating history and making coherent points to advance his argument.

Such is Harris’ take on the Bible. Have we learned anything about the actual Bible? No. Have we learned anything about Harris’ lazy analysis of the Bible? Most certainly.

The Crash: Part 2 (How the Fallout Changed the Course of my Life)

The Crash: Part 2 (How the Fallout Changed the Course of my Life)

In my last post, I told about the life-changing car wreck I was in as a teenager on December 22, 1985. I said that it was that car wreck that changed my life, but that post really didn’t go into details as to how my life changed. In this post, I want to share a little bit of how the course of my life changed because of that car wreck.

Over the course of that Christmas break, I did a lot of soul-searching, at least as much soul-searching as a 16-year-old kid is capable of doing. Having grown up in a Christian home, having gone to an Assemblies of God church for most of my life, and as I was going to an Evangelical Christian high school, I was, simply put, a good suburban, Evangelical Christian kid. I was still a kid though, and for all practical purposes didn’t know all that much about anything outside of conservative Christian Evangelicalism.

In any case, the car wreck made me think—and what I thought about were the countless youth group sermons and high school chapels where I was constantly being told that I need to “get on fire” for Jesus, and not give into “apathy.” If you attended a Christian high school, you’ll be able to relate. I decided that it was time that I really did “get on fire” for Jesus—I was going to get serious, really serious, about my faith.

16-Year-Old Joel Gets Christian Hard Core

Franky Schaeffer

It was the mid-80’s, at the height of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” and I had started reading books like The Great Evangelical Disaster, by Francis Schaffer, and Bad News for Modern Man, by his son, Franky Schaeffer. These books, as others like them, had a single message: Evangelical Christianity is going down the tubes because of secular humanism and liberalism.

Now, to be sure, there really is a lot wrong with our increasingly secularistic culture, and I am by no means any kind of liberal. But, however well-intentioned books like those were, I think they helped whip up a certain amount of paranoia in the Evangelical world, and ended up blurring the lines between the Kingdom of God as proclaimed in the Gospel, and a right-wing political ideology of the GOP. Again, I say that as someone who still is largely conservative, and who has, by and large, voted GOP. I might overall agree with the GOP platform, but I know the difference between that and the Gospel. The two are not the same. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case with many people. But I digress…

Reading these books made a huge impact on me during the second semester of my junior year. I happened to be taking a Bible class on Doctrine that semester, and the major assignment was to write a doctrine paper. My paper wasn’t so much on any particular doctrine, as it was the parroting of the books I had been reading. The title of my paper was, Christianity 1986 AD: Rotting from Within. I still have it. The thing that strikes me most about it, is that it’s the kind of essay you could probably find written by Ken Ham, the ultra-Fundamentalist young earth creationist. In fact, he had written his first major book, The Lie, in 1987. I’m astonished to realize that my paper had a jump on him by about 9 months.

Instead of me explaining what my paper was specifically about, allow me to just share the first few sentences. It will give you an idea:

“Many liberals, under the name Evangelical and Christian, have twisted and molded Christianity into some fashionable, non-controversial religion that anyone can join without giving up one shred of immorality. The greater orthodox Christian community, on the other hand, has refused to speak out against these so-called Evangelicals, and has even said that staying uninvolved in biblical and love. These two groups make up the majority of today’s Christian church. Because these two groups compromise the Word of God and cop out, the secular liberals, in the meantime, are tearing down every wall of morality and even are attacking the church directly.”

It goes on in that vein for 12 pages. In the paper, I condemned church leaders and Christian colleges like Wheaton and Calvin; and I decried abortion, homosexuality, and somehow (yes, this is ironically true, for those of you who’ve read my other posts on Ken Ham) linked it to the creation vs. evolution debate.

I really didn’t know what I was talking about. All I knew was that if I was going to be “on fire” for Jesus, it meant that I judge and condemn any and all Christians who were, in my opinion, too compromised. It turned out that my Bible teacher was really impressed—so impressed, in fact, that she arranged for me to read my paper in chapel. I thought I had arrived. I was convinced I was going to start a revival at my school.

After I read my paper, I challenged the student body to stand up out of their pews if they were really serious about following Christ. Of course, being a Christian school, everyone did (more out of peer pressure than conviction). Then I challenged them to come down to the stage after chapel was over, and write their names down. I was going to form Christian action groups for next year. I was convinced that I was going to be some great “leader” for my Senior year.

And Then God Tapped Me On the Shoulder
The reason why most of my classmates might not even remember that chapel was because that great “movement” was I going to lead never happened—soon after school got out for the summer, God displayed his ruthlessness once again in my life…just not in the form of a car crash. I can’t explain it, really. I just had the sudden realization—conviction, if you will—that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or what I really believed. It was at that time that my sister was telling me about a book she was reading, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. She had also read something about Francis Schaeffer that was interest to me. After he had become a Christian, become a pastor, and had been a pastor for a number of years, he had the realization that he wasn’t sure what he believed. Long story short, he admitted it, left his pastoral position for a time, went off into the Alps, and completely rethought his faith.

That blew me away: here was a guy who was a pastor for years, and he admitted his crisis of faith, and essentially went back to square one. I was a 16 year old kid—what did I know? Maybe I should admit the same thing to myself. And so, over the course of that summer, without really telling anyone, I was essentially an agnostic. I took the summer to read Mere Christianity to see if there really was anything truly convincing and substantial to Christianity. (You can read all of my 30 + posts on Mere Christianity starting here). That book gave me a solid start and sure footing as to what Christianity really is. Years later, once I became an Orthodox Christian, and actually taught Mere Christianity in my 11th grade Bible class, I was amazed at how fundamentally Orthodox C.S. Lewis (an Anglican) really was.

As for Schaeffer, although I’ve ended up disagreeing with a number of his arguments about Christianity, philosophy, and Western Culture, I still appreciate the fact that he was one of the first Evangelical Christians to really attempt to engage Western philosophy and culture. His books opened the door to my attempts to understand culture and philosophy. His books, How Should We Then Live, The God Who is There, Escape from Reason, and He is There and He is Not Silent, are still worth the read.

Sting: The Evangelist
In addition to Lewis and Schaeffer, my sister introduced also me to the music of Sting—and Sting’s music probably can constitute the soundtrack of my life. In the summer of 1986, though, he had just come out with his first solo album, Dream of the Blue Turtles, an incredibly artistic, jazz-infused piece of musical perfection. Not only that, though, but the topics it covered and the lyrics of virtually every song spoke to my soul. I listened to “Moon Over Bourbon Street,” a song actually inspired by the Ann Rice novel, “Interview with a Vampire,” and heard in the lyrics the dilemma of being human.

I could comment on every song on that album, but I will limit my comments to just one more: “Consider Me Gone.” This song, probably more than any other, signified my leaving my childhood behind. After reading Mere Christianity, I realized two things: the Christianity Lewis described made sense, yet the Christianity I had grown up in smacked of shallowness. By the end of the summer, I knew I was going to follow the Christ I found in Lewis’ book, and that meant that I just wasn’t going to feel at home in the Evangelical world I had grown up in—hence, Sting’s song, “Consider Me Gone.” The lyrics are as follows:

You can’t stay there, you can’t stay there

There were rooms of forgiveness in the house that we shared
But the space has been emptied of whatever was there
There were cupboards of patience, there were shelf-loads of care
But whoever came calling, found nobody there

 After today, consider me gone

 Roses have thorns, and shining waters mud
And cancer lurks deep in the sweetest bud
Clouds and eclipses stain the moon and the sun
And history wreaks of the wrongs we have done

After today, consider me gone

I’ve spent too many years at war with myself
My doctor has told me it’s no good for my health
To search for perfection is all very well
But to look for heaven is to live here in hell

After today, consider me gone

I’ll say it right now, that song is my life’s soundtrack. That song speaks more of the hard part of the Gospel to me than virtually anything else: take up your cross and follow me; let the dead bury their dead; the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. That song set me out on my new life, and for the most part it has been quite lonely.

I Never Really Left, Until Recently
Now, I never completely “left” the Evangelical world. Even when my Christian journey led me to the Orthodox Church (I remember distinctly thinking the first time I ever went to an Orthodox liturgy, “I’m home”), I remained teaching Bible in Evangelical schools for 16 years. That being said, I never did fully feel “at home” in Evangelical churches and schools ever since that summer of 1986. And I still don’t yet understand why, after I had found the Orthodox Church, God would take me away to a place where there is no Orthodox Church. I find myself a 46-year-old divorced Orthodox Christian with no Orthodox Church, and whom Evangelical schools have rejected because (as you know if you read my blog) I don’t think the universe is 6,000 years old.

So when Jesus turns to me and asks, “What about you? Are you going to leave me too?” What else can I say, other than the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom can I go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Translation? I keep driving. I keep wrestling with God…
…and I sing,

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”

The Crash: Part 1 (A Sort of Christmas Story From My Youth)

The Crash: Part 1 (A Sort of Christmas Story From My Youth)

Thirty years ago, almost to this day, I was involved in a car crash that changed the course of my life. I was a 16-year-old junior in high school who had his driver’s license for all of six weeks. It was the evening of December 22, 1985, and Christmas was in a few days. My brother was coming home from college the next day. Nothing was really going on in the Anderson household that night, and I wanted to get out of the house. I thought there might have been a home basketball game at my high school that night, but I wasn’t sure—it might have been an away game. In any case, I thought I’d kill some time and drive over to the school, just to see.

1968_Catalina

I hopped in our 1968 Pontiac Catalina (our car was white), and drove the few miles down North Avenue to the school. As soon as I turned into the school, it was all dark, so before I even made my way down to the gym and parking lot, I turned around to go home. I drove back down North Avenue, took a left at Kuhn Road, and was all set to go home. But I was enjoying driving, I was listening to Todd Rundgren’s tape Acapella, and I thought, “Maybe there really was a home game; maybe all the cars were down in the parking lot.” I figured I’d drive back, just to make sure.

I drove back to the school, went all the way down to the gym, and sure enough, everything was dark, and the parking lot was empty. Back home I went, down North Avenue, toward Kuhn Road.

I was on the inside lane, getting ready to make a left hand turn, north onto Kuhn Road. The light was green, but there was another car on the inside lane facing the other way, waiting to make a left hand turn to go south on Kuhn Road. Being the inexperienced driver that I was, since I didn’t see anything behind that car, without any hesitation I turned left at the intersection. It never occurred to me that there was a blind spot, and that there could be a car on the other side of the car waiting to make a left turn that I could not see.

As soon as I was into my turn, I saw the headlights. Instantaneously came the crash.

I know that sometimes, people who go through major car accidents black out the whole thing and can’t remember any of it. I remember it all. I remember the headlights screaming through my line of sight, I remember feeling the impact through my whole body as my car spun around and ended up facing the opposite direction. I remember feeling my knees slam up under the dashboard. I remember screaming out, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” to no one in particular. Although, in my heart I felt I was addressing God.

And I remember the tape player kept playing. The song was “Something to Fall Back On.”

When the car came to a stop, and I realized the music was still playing. I yelled, “Shut up!” and ejected the tape. Realizing that I had spun around, I knew that if I opened the driver’s side door, I would be stepping out onto the highway; and so I slid over and got out of the passenger’s side door. I looked at the car: the entire front chrome bumper was practically ripped off.

Pontiac Fiero

Then I looked up and saw the car that had hit me—or rather, the car I had pulled in front of: it was a red Pontiac Fiero. I was driving a Catalina tank, and I got into a crash with a fiberglass car.

Fortunately, I had turned just enough, so when the Fiero hit me, it was not a direct head on collision. The impact had spun my car around, and the Fiero had jettisoned off the road and hit a pole. I got over to the car and asked the driver and his passenger if they were alright. The only thing he said (he was obviously in shock) was, “Why did you do it?”

I remember being very angry at this question. I thought, “What do you mean, ‘Why did I do this?’ Like I had nothing better to do, so I thought this would be fun?” It’s weird the odd things you remember in times of crisis. I also remember learning that the driver had borrowed his friend’s car, and was taking a girl out on a date. Boy, did I make that date memorable.

Within minutes there were police cars, fire engines, and the flashing lights were everywhere. As it turned out, a classmate of mine was driving past the scene of the accident and saw it was me, so he stopped to see if I was okay. I asked him to drive up the road to my house and tell my family that I had been in a car accident. The police officers took me over to the police car, and I told them what had happened. I was shaking and on the verge of breaking down, so they told me to sit in the back seat. Things were going to be okay, they said. It wasn’t a matter of me being intentionally reckless. It was simply a matter of me being inexperienced.

It turned out that the couple in the Fiero (although they were going to be fine) were pretty much wedged in the car, and they had to use the “jaws of life” to cut open the car to get them out. If I would have turned a fraction of a second later, and it had been a head on collision, I think they would have been dead.

A few minutes later, my parents and sister drove up to the intersection. By then I had gotten a hold of myself, and was quiet in the back seat of the police car. When the police officers brought them over to the police car, though, and when I saw my mom, I broke down and sobbed as she held me. The terrifying reality of life hit me: we are all on the edge of death.

It was a long night. Officially, I was given a ticket for failing to yield the right of way. As soon as the police officer wrote out the ticket and gave it to me, the song “Yield to the Spirit” by a Christian singer named Joe English played in my head. This was the chorus:

“Yield to the Spirit, He has the right of way
Listen and hear it, we must obey.”

It had been more than just a car crash for me. It was the night I experienced the ruthlessness of God.

Eventually the tow trucks came and towed both cars away. Both were totaled. Both the couple and I were taken to the hospital to get checked out, and we all were eventually released to go home. My entire body was sore for the next few days, but somehow neither I nor they suffered any major injuries…although I am sure that my dad’s insurance payments took quite a hit.

The next day, when my brother came home from college, we had to tell him that I had totaled the car that my parents were going to let him take back to college. The other thing that happened the next day was that my dad took me out in the other car and made sure I drove. My grandpa had told my parents, “Make sure he gets right back behind the wheel. Don’t let him get afraid of driving.”

Such is the life God has given us. Such is the life He has given me.

From time to time in my life, not because I’ve been necessarily rebellious or bad, but rather because I’ve just been my inexperienced, fallible self, I have unwittingly failed to yield the right of way to the Holy Spirit, and have been hit back and spun around by the crashing waves of the chaotic sea of life that God’s Spirit has whipped up as He goes about creating…something I know not what.

All I know is that I still feel the impact of that car crash 30 years ago. It continues to echo somewhere deep down in the caverns of my soul. It is terrifying, angry, hostile and fearsome. And yet I’m not allowed to be afraid of it.

I have to get back in the car, and keep driving. Where I’m headed, God only knows.

About six weeks after the crash, my sister and I were passing through that intersection. As we were waiting at the red light, we looked at the side of the road and saw that there was still some debris from the wreck. And so, we pulled off the road and got out. Sure enough, there were still bits of glass, reflectors, and fiberglass parts to the Fiero strewn about. I picked up a piece of the Fiero and took it with me. I still have it, packed among the memories of my youth.

Ken Ham’s Impossible and Incompatible Claims About the Effects of Noah’s Flood

Ken Ham’s Impossible and Incompatible Claims About the Effects of Noah’s Flood

HamArkEncounter

As many of you know, I have been working on a book that I have entitled, The Heresy of Ham. In it, I am not only arguing that the claims of young earth creationists like Ken Ham have no scientific support, and the way they interpret Genesis 1-11 is exegetically unsound, but that in actuality, their claims have never been the dominant view throughout Church history. What’s more, many of their claims should be considered outright heretical when one considers the creeds of the early Church.

In any case, I am in the midst of editing it and trying to cut it down to size so it can get published eventually. One of the things I am currently doing is putting in footnotes to document their various claims. In the process of doing this, I came across a certain article on the Answers in Genesis website, and I noticed something I found rather astounding—it had to do with what were ultimately two incompatible claims about the effects of Noah’s flood that were part of the already impossible claim that 4,000 years ago the earth was completely engulfed in water within a span of 40 days.

Here are the two claims, found in two different articles.

All the Pre-Flood Advanced Technology
In the June 5, 2015 post, “Answering Claims About the Ark Project,” one of the objections Ken Ham addresses is that Noah did not have the technological capabilities to build such an Ark. Ken Ham’s answer consisted of two parts: (A) Noah probably hired thousands of workers (literally, a thoroughly unbiblical claim), and (B) in the pre-flood world, because human beings had super intelligence due to their more perfect genome, and because they lived for hundreds of years, they were able to develop supremely advanced technology—and that’s how the Ark was able to be built (again, this is a claim that has absolutely no biblical support). [See Claim # 7 in the article]

The logical rebuttal to that claim would be rather simple: “If that were the case, then why is there absolutely, 100% no evidence whatsoever, anywhere, throughout the entire planet, to support this claim of ancient, advanced technology? Why has no one ever dug up an ancient bulldozer, crane, or flux capacitor that would prove the ancient people were so technologically advanced?”

Ken Ham’s answer is thus: “For those scoffers who say that if Noah had such technology we would find evidence of it, they need to understand the sheer destructive processes of the global Flood. It essentially obliterated the pre-Flood world. Or as the Apostle Peter put it, “the world that then existed perished, being flood with water” (2 Peter 3:6). Our geologist, Dr. Andrew Snelling, suggests much of the original continent was subducted into the mantle anyway. We have remnants of some of the pre-Flood life preserved in the fossil record, but the vast majority of these are sea creatures—which is expected since it was a marine catastrophe (Genesis 6:7)!”

So there you have it. We don’t have any evidence of that glorious pre-flood technology because it was completely obliterated by the sheer destructive force of the flood. Got it? Good…Because here’s the next claim in question.

The Post-Flood Carnivorous Diet for Animals that Came Out of the Ark
On October 15, 2013, an Answers in Genesis post by John Woodmorappe addressed questions surrounding the animals on Noah’s Ark. Near the end of the post, he addressed the question, “Didn’t the Ark-Released Animals Eat Each Other?” The specific objection Woodmorappe addressed was this: “Those who attack the Bible say that the carnivores released from the ark would have soon eaten up the herbivores, leading to the eventual extinction of both.”

Not so, says Answers in Genesis! The “answer in Genesis” that Answers in Genesis gives (which, incidentally, is not actually found in Genesis) is this:  “The post-Flood world must have had plenty of rotting corpses of various animals that were not buried in the Flood sediments. Experience has shown that most carnivores prefer to eat carrion than to kill live animals for food. …These alternative sources of food must have diverted the attention of predators for a considerable period of time after the Flood. This would have allowed the prey populations to build up to an appreciable size before they became the main target of the predators.”

Let’s Think About This For a Moment
So, do you see the incompatible problem (aside from the obvious problem that in both cases, the answers AiG provides don’t have any biblical support whatsoever)? Let me spell it out for you.

In the first post, we are told that Noah’s flood was so destructive that all the advanced technology of the pre-flood was completely obliterated—totally, utterly, obliterated. All the bulldozers, cranes, trains, rockets, computer-guided missile systems of the ancient world were so obliterated, that there is absolutely no trace of any of it, anywhere, because of the destructive power of the flood.

In the second post, we are told that despite the fact that the flood completely obliterated, disintegrated, and otherwise vaporized all the heavy machinery of the pre-flood advanced technology, the bodies of the animals who perished in the flood somehow remain intact throughout the entirety of the flood, and thus were able to be the food for the carnivorous animals who came off the Ark.

Do you see the problem yet? Let’s use one more example. Let’s say we built a giant-sized blender, the size of Ken Ham’s Ark. And let’s say we put in it all the bulldozers and trucks used to build his Ark, along with a few hundred animals from a local zoo. And let’s say we turned that giant blender on, to “liquefy.” I guess, theoretically, if you kept the blender on long enough, those bulldozers and truck would eventually be obliterated beyond recognition, but here’s my question: what would get obliterated first, a bulldozer or a sheep? A truck or a cow?

Yes, that’s right: Answers in Genesis is making two claims that are completely incompatible with one another (much less being impossible in their own right). If bulldozers and trucks were obliterated in the Flood, it’s safe to say that there would be no way that the bodies of dead animals would have survived intact. If you don’t believe me, go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, order some chicken, and then tear into a drumstick with your teeth—you can do it, right? Now go to your car, take out the engine, and then tear into it with your teeth—you can’t do it? Why? Because the body of a chicken is easier to disintegrate than a car engine.

This is What Answers in Genesis Does
This is what I find so fascinating about Ken Ham’s organization. Not only are all the “answers” they give actually not in Genesis (let alone anywhere in the Bible), but the answers they give are nonsensical in and of themselves.

Ken Ham likes to claim that he is a “biblical creationist,” but the fact is, he isn’t. It’s about time we stop letting him use that title. His claims about the natural created world are not biblical at all. Not only does he reject basic science, not only does he make up supposed biblical answers that aren’t actually in the Bible, but he ignores the historical and literary context in which Genesis 1-11 was written.

He is so obsessed with trying to prove Genesis 1-11 is a modern scientific description of origins, that he willfully ignores basic rules of biblical exegesis, rejects basic scientific facts, and comes up with completely impossible and incompatible claims that he doesn’t even take the time to recognize are impossible and incompatible…with each other.

Simply fascinating.

Ken Ham vs. Michael Gungor: Round 2

Ken Ham vs. Michael Gungor: Round 2

Gungor

A few days ago I received a comment regarding my original post on Ken Ham’s attack on Christian singer Michael Gungor. I promised this person I’d share my thoughts on Ken Ham’s other post on Gungor. So here it is…

In a September 8, 2014 post entitled “Award Winning Christian Musicians Mock Biblical Creationists,” Ken Ham once again went after Michael Gungor for saying that “science and rational thought” convinced him that the Noah story was not meant to be understood as literal history (I wrote about Ham’s initial attack on Gungor here). Ham interpreted this comment to be “mocking” the Bible, and then said, “So in other words, man’s autonomous reasoning and what Gungor calls ‘science’ supposedly mean we can’t take the account of the Flood in Genesis as a historical record.”

First of all, I personally didn’t see how Gungor’s comments were “mocking.” Secondly, it isn’t a matter of “autonomous reasoning,” but rather him using his God-given ability for rational thought to understand God’s creation better and to understand God’s Word the way in which the original hearers would have understood it. Part of that means admitting that modern science has shown that the universe is a lot older than 6,000 years, and that there was no massive, world-engulfing flood a mere 4,000 years ago.

Ken Ham, though, has his own special definition of science that I’ve discussed before. His comments here are nevertheless worth noting. He says that the proper definition of “science” is nothing more than “knowledge.” Therefore there are different kinds of knowledge: “observational science,” (the kind that builds technology), and “historical science” (the kind that is untestable, unprovable belief about origins).

Having established these fictitious categories that are not recognized within the scientific community, Ham then confidently and arrogantly proclaims, “When Gungor is asked why he doesn’t believe in the literal Flood account from Genesis, he is really answering this way: ‘Because of my autonomous reasoning as a fallible sinful human taken with fallible man’s evolutionary views based on naturalism, I can’t take God’s Word as written in Genesis.’”

Now a basic fact of biblical exegesis and biblical history is that if we take Genesis 1-11 “as written” to the original audience, then we absolutely cannot read it as a 21st century scientific eye-witness account of the origins of the material universe. There is absolutely no way the ancient Hebrews would have even been asking modern scientific questions; and therefore there is absolutely no way God would inspire Moses to convey something to them that they would have no ability to understand. Such a view goes completely against our understanding of inspiration. The one who is using autonomous reasoning, completely divorced from Church Tradition and basic Biblical context is Ken Ham, not Michael Gungor.

Do the Math: Ham’s “Kinds Claims” Don’t Work
In any case, Ham proceeds to make his case for a historical reading of Noah’s flood. He begins by claiming that Noah only had to take two of each kind, and not each species. “Kind,” according to Ham, is a modern scientific classification of animals that was used in the ancient world, but that is not recognized as a category in the modern scientific classification of animals.

Let that sink in for a moment.

In any case, Ham then claims, “Noah may have only needed fewer than 1,000 kinds of animals on the Ark, thus needing only 2,000–3,000 animals.” The problem with this claim comes down to basic math. As Bill Nye pointed out in their debate, in order for Ham’s claims to work, so that those original “kinds” on the Ark a mere 4,000 years ago would be able to branch off into the current 16 million species we have today, that would mean there would have to be 11 new species coming into existence every day for 4,000 years straight. Does that sound believable? Have you read any news about 11 new species coming into existence today? I don’t think so. For that matter, even if one species came into existence every day from those original “kinds” of Noah’s ark, it would still take 44,000 years to get 16 million species.

NOTE: Given what the NaturalHistorian alerted me to (see the comment below), I need to update Bill Nye’s math. If you start with “1,000 kinds” and then claim that from those “1,000 kinds,”  500,000 different species of land animals have developed over the course of the past 4,000 years, that would require an entirely new species to come into existence every 8 years. Granted, that’s nowhere close to 11 new species every day…BUT if you think about it, that’s a pretty extraordinary claim in and of itself. That would be an original “dog kind” would have had to have bred so much, and gone through so many generations within the span of 8 years, that there would have been enough genetic mutations to have produced an entirely new species of dog.

So let me suggest an experiment. Take your dog (let’s say it’s a beagle), and have it breed like crazy with another beagle; and then as soon as their puppies get old enough to breed, have them breed like crazy with each other. Keep doing this consistently for eight years. If by the eighth year you’re getting a litter of Siberian huskies, then congratulations–you will have proven Ken Ham’s claim to be correct. If you’re still getting beagles, don’t be upset. All that means is that evolutionary changes don’t happen that quickly. If you are suspicious that “a monkey can turn into a man” even after a few million years, okay. But if you feel that way, then you’ll have to be even more suspicious of the claim that a beagle can turn into a Siberian huskie within eight years.

Observational Math vs. Historical Math?
Simply put, Ham’s own claims take more than 4,000 years—the math simply doesn’t work. Perhaps Ham will reveal soon that there are two kinds of math: “observational math,” which is the kind of math you use for your checkbook and grocery bill, and “historical math,” which is the kind of math you use to calculate how 1,000 kinds can transform into 500,000 species within 4,000 years. You can’t understand it, and can’t actually calculate with it—it’s just a matter of faith that you can’t test or observe. That’s “historical math.”

If that sounds too harsh, I’m sorry. It’s essentially the very reasoning Ham uses to argue against Gungor…just change the word “math” for “science.” Astonishingly, Ham has the audacity to claim that scientists have not proven the “belief” that life arose over millions of years. He actually says, “There is no evidence to confirm molecules-to-man evolution or long ages.” Not to be too blunt, but everything in biology, geology, and astronomy provides evidence for the gradual evolution of life into its various forms and that the earth is millions of years old. All the evidence points in that direction.

So how can Ham say this? Simple–with his made up category of “historical science,” he has already ruled out the possibility of any kind of evidence either way—it’s all “starting points” and “beliefs.” Nothing can be proven, because “historical science” isn’t about evidence. It’s about belief! In this respect, Ham proves himself to be the reincarnation of Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, who argued that there is absolutely no way to be certain of any event in the past.

Gungor is Calling Jesus a Liar? No, but YEC is Docetism!
Ham though, as he always does, goes even a step further. Because Gungor doesn’t think Genesis 1-11 is meant to be read as literal history, Ham accuses him of not believing the Bible is true, and actually says, “If Gungor says that we cannot trust the Bible when it comes to Genesis, then he is essentially calling Jesus a liar—as well as the Apostles Peter and Paul!” After all, they all at one point or another quote from Genesis 1-11. Therefore in Ham’s view, since they quote from Genesis 1-11, that means they must take it as a 21st century scientific/historical account. Ham apparently knows what Jesus, Peter, and Paul were thinking when they quoted Genesis 1-11.

This reminds me of an encounter that a friend of mine had with a young earth creationist who brought up this very point. My friend had said that Jesus didn’t know about modern science, and therefore probably assumed Genesis 1-11 was historical. To that, the young earth creationist said, “So you deny his divinity, the Trinity, and the resurrection too? Is Jesus dumb or just a liar?” To that, my friend responded, “No, I affirm that he was fully human, fully divine, and that I am not a Docetist.”

For those of you who don’t know, Docetism was the heresy that said Jesus was really just God who only seemed to be human, thus having no real human limitation whatsoever. It was a denial that Jesus really had human limitations. This is quite important when understanding the claims of young earth creationism, for this very argument (i.e. Jesus quoted Genesis 1-11, Jesus was God, Jesus was omniscient, therefore Genesis 1-11 must be historical, or else Jesus isn’t God, and is just a liar) is fundamentally a form of Docetism…a heresy the early Church condemned as not being reflective of the historical Christian faith.

***Side Note: the young earth creationist said in response, “Jesus is the Word and the Word is the Scripture, therefore Jesus is the Scripture, and the Scripture just means what it says.”

I don’t even know where to begin with that quote, so I’ll just leave it at that, and let you, the reader, soak it in.

Some More Problems with Ham’s Thinking
Ham continues in his typical fashion with various over-simplistic and uncritical accusations against those who believe the universe is older than 6,000 years old. I will comment on just one. I find it incredibly ironic that Ken Ham, time and time again, accuses everyone who doesn’t agree with him of “trying to fit millions of years into the Bible,” and of putting their fallible beliefs over the infallible Word of God—for this is what Ham does himself on a regular basis. Where in the Bible does it talk about things like power tools for Noah, that Cain married his sister, that “kind” should be interpreted as a modern scientific classification of animals, and that the 16 million species developed at a rate of 11 per day for the past 4,000 years?

The answer, of course, is nowhere. It has to be clearly stated, Ken Ham’s organization Answers in Genesis is a misnomer, for none of the answers he gives are actually in Genesis.

In any case, Ham ends his post by saying “if Genesis is a myth, then the gospel is also a myth.” By saying this, Ham displays his inability to understand the concept of literary genre, as well as his uncritical acceptance of the Enlightenment concept of truth. Saying that Genesis 1-11 is a “myth” is not saying that it’s not true: it is saying it bears the marks of a certain kind of ancient literature. It’s like saying Jesus’ story of the prodigal son is a parable, or that Psalm 23 is a psalm. It’s a description of literary genre, not a statement of whether or not it is true. Yet Ham cannot understand this, for he is too busy believing what atheists like Thomas Huxley say about Genesis 1-11 than what biblical scholars like N.T. Wright say about Genesis 1-11.

Finally, although Ham often claims he never says a literal reading of Genesis 1-11 is a “salvation issue,” he actually says in this post, “the foundation of the gospel is in Genesis, where we read about the origin of sin, death, and our need for a Savior.” This is a perfect example of double-speak: “It’s not about salvation…it’s about the gospel…which is about salvation.”

Ham ends with a question: “If we can’t trust God’s Word in Genesis, then why are we to trust His Word in the gospels?” To that, we can simply say it isn’t a matter of “not trusting” God’s Word in Genesis; it’s a matter of valuing the Bible so much that we make sure we are reading it correctly. Claiming that Genesis 1-11 as an “eyewitness, historical account” of the material origins of the universe, is in fact to lie about the Bible.

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah and A.I.

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah and A.I.

ai-logo

The final movie I want to discuss is the science-fiction film A.I.  It is unique in that although it contains much of the same imagery and symbolism found in Pinocchio and the story of Jonah, and although the ultimate theme deals with the hope of re-creation and resurrection, A.I. in fact denies this hope. It ends up being a perfect example of a post-modern culture that attempts to retain a positive and optimistic hope concerning meaning in life, while denying the very thing that gives life hope and meaning. Consequently, the final thirty minutes of the movie that deal with, and ultimately reject, the very concept of re-creation and resurrection end up being the downfall of the movie. The reason why the ending does not work is because it attempts to be optimistic about life while it is at the same time denying any hope about resurrection.

A.I. is purposely patterned after the Pinocchio story, and therefore contains much of the same connections with Jonah as Pinocchio. The setting is in the late 21st century. The polar ice caps have melted, the climates have become “chaotic,” and the world’s coastlands have been submerged under water. Thus we learn that the one city mentioned in the movie, New York, is underwater, with only the tops of the skyscrapers still above water. This will have significance later on.

Mechas, David, and the Failed Human Experiment
In the opening scene of the movie, we find an inventor, Professor Hobby, discussing with his colleagues his proposal to attempt to create a boy “mecha” who is able to love. Since the cosmic upheaval, human beings had to monitor their numbers, so that they would not grow so numerous as to deplete the remaining natural resources. Yet because of human beings’ advanced scientific knowledge, they were to create adult mechas—robots that looked, acted, and reasoned like human beings. They were used as house-keepers, nannies, doctors, prostitutes, as well as other positions, in order to serve human beings. Once created, they did not eat or consume any resources.

Professor Hobby, though, for reasons that will become apparent later, wanted to create a child mecha who would have the ability to love. His stated reason for this proposal was that these child mechas would be available to couples who were not able to have children. Throughout the rest of the movie, we see the tragic inhumane response human beings have to these machines they have created.

A couple who works for the company that produces these mechas volunteer to take the first one made because their own son is in a seemingly irreversible coma. The name of the boy mecca is David. Once programmed, he loves his mother unconditionally. Eventually though, the couple’s son comes out of the coma, and the couple eventually reject David and abandon him. While living with the family though, David was told the story of Pinocchio; so when he is abandoned, he believes that if he can find the Blue Fairy, that she will turn him into a real boy, and then his mother would love him and accept him. The rest of the movie is about David’s search for the Blue Fairy.

The story of A.I. is patterned after the story of Pinocchio, but contains some vital differences. Geppetto loved Pinocchio, and went out to search for him when Pinocchio was led astray. David though is abandoned by his human family, and he ends up being hunted and chased by human beings who want to destroy mechas. At every turn, though he is programmed to love, he is ironically treated inhumanely by humans. Also, within the fairytale of Pinocchio, the Blue Fairy is a real person, whereas within the world of A.I., the story of Pinocchio, and thus the Blue Fairy, is understood to be a fairytale, and not real at all. The tragedy is that David does not realize this.

His search for the Blue Fairy is doomed from the start, for there is no Blue Fairy.

David’s Search for His Maker
In any case, with the help of a gigolo mecha named Joe, David eventually finds his way to where he believes the Blue Fairy lives—New York City, now submerged by the waters of the ocean, and known to the mechas as “the lost city of the sea at the end of the world.” In a skyscraper still above water, David finds the company that produces mechas, and meets the man who designed him—his maker and “father.” Yet tragically David finds out he is not special and unique at all. When he meets Professor Hobby, the professor explains to him that he was their “great experiment,” and though they had lost track of him when his “parents” abandoned him, they hoped he would be able to develop the ability to hope and dream, and eventually find his way back to New York City.

AI Riddle

Once David was abandoned, Professor Hobby put out a “clue” in the information banks of “Dr. Know” (an interactive question-answer data base where people can pay a certain amount of money, ask any question about anything, and find information on that topic) that the Blue Fairy lived in the lost city of the sea. Since Professor Hobby found out David had heard the story of Pinocchio, his hope was that David would believe in the fairy tale so much that he would hope that it was true, and would go looking for the Blue Fairy, so he could become a real boy. The professor tells David the “experiment” was whether David, being a mecha, would logically reason that, “the Blue Fairy is part of the great human flaw—to wish for things that don’t exist;” or whether his love for his mother would create in him the human hope and desire to override the logical conclusion, and actually go searching for the Blue Fairy.

According to Professor Hobby, this “greatest human flaw” is also an exceptional gift that allows humans to dream. After he is told this, David says, “I thought I was one of a kind,” to which Professor Hobby replies, “My son was one of a kind; you are the first of a kind.” It is then when we realize that Professor Hobby had made David to look like his own son who was no longer alive.

When Professor Hobby goes off to gather his colleagues, David enters another room, and finds the entire room contains an assembly line of partially made mechas that look exactly like him. He realizes, although he has always been told he is unique and special, that he is, in fact, not unique at all. Each real human being is unique; but he, being a mecha, is simply one copy of an entire assembly line of meccas. His belief in his individuality and uniqueness is shattered.

Jonah Connections
At this point connections with Jonah can be seen. David, upon seeing that he is not unique, jumps into the sea, and ends up being carried by a school of fish (though not a great fish) to Coney Island, where he sees a glimpse of what he believes is the Blue Fairy. As they carry him to what we later learn is the Pinocchio ride at Coney Island, we see in the background the giant “great fish” model that is one of the props to the ride. The allusion is clear: this is a re-telling of Pinocchio, which in turn carries with it the basic re-creation/death and resurrection theme of the Jonah-inspired passages of the gospels. What David thinks is the Blue Fairy is really only the statue of the Blue Fairy at the Pinocchio ride at Coney Island. Yet David, completely enraptured by the sight of what he believes is the Blue Fairy, simply stays underwater, forever praying to the Blue Fairy.

Blue Fairy

Two thousand years go by, the human race is now extinct, and the world is in the midst of an ice age. The only things that survive are an advanced form of the mechas, and they are conducting “excavations” on a now frozen over New York City. They find a frozen David, but since he is not human, he is still alive. When they wake him up, he walks up to the frozen statue of the Blue Fairy, touches it, and it breaks apart before his eyes. The advanced mechas explain to him that the entire human race is extinct, and that he is the only one in the world who has had firsthand contact with the now extinct human race. They can learn much about the human race by using his mind as a “database” and reading his memories.

When he asks if his “mother” is still alive, they tell him that she has long since died, but they can resurrect her from his memories, and he can see her again. The only thing though, is that anyone they resurrect can only survive for one day. At the end of that day, they go to sleep, never to awake again, and never being able to be resurrected again. David, since he has been programmed to love, still wants to see her again. So the advanced meccas resurrect her, and David and his mother spend one beautiful day together. At the end of the day, when she goes to sleep, we are told that David does something he has never been able to do before—he falls asleep. The two never wake up again. That is the end of the movie.

Conclusion
What makes this movie so tragic is the complete denial and rejection of human dignity, resurrection, and hope for a re-creation. Although it uses much of the same imagery and symbolism seen in Jonah, expounded in the New Testament, and interpreted by PinnochioA.I. ultimately rejects the hope of resurrection and re-creation. What A.I. teaches is that human beings are not made in the image of God, for there is no God. In fact, human beings are more inhumane than the machines they make. Furthermore, David learns that his individuality and uniqueness is an illusion: David can never become a real boy, for that is impossible. The Blue Fairy, the hope of resurrection and the longing for re-creation, is a fairytale. Besides, what good would it do if David became a real boy? Human beings were now extinct, with no hope of any sort of lasting resurrected life.

Somehow, the movie tries to put a good spin on all of this. The fact that David, who is programmed to love (and thus must—is that really love?), is able to spend one happy day with the woman who abandoned him, only to have both of them sleep into oblivion at the end of the movie, is somehow supposed to leave the movie-goer feeling optimistic about life. David never becomes a real boy, and human life is extinct. A.I. tries to give purpose and meaning to life while it at the same time denies resurrection.

Pinocchio incorporated a simplified version of the death and resurrection, and “re-creation” themes, and showed that a wooden puppet was re-created into a real boy after his ordeal within the sea monster. Finally, A. I. is an example of a film that purposely re-tells the story of Pinocchio, yet ultimately denies the hope of resurrection and re-creation. All four works are modern examples of intertextuality with the story of Jonah; yet as is quite evident, all four works choose to reinterpret the story of Jonah in very different ways.

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah, Pinocchio, and a New Creation

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah, Pinocchio, and a New Creation

Pinocchio

One of the things I loved to do when I covered Jonah in my 9th grade Old Testament class was show my class the movie Pinocchio by Roberto Benigni. I wouldn’t show the Walt Disney movie because most of them had already seen it, and I wanted them to watch the story with different eyes. Both Benigni’s and Walt Disney’s movies come from Carlo Collodi’s nineteenth century children’s tale of the same name.

In the case of Pinocchio, the case of biblical intertextuality is very straightforward and relatively simple. Once you realize that Jonah is fundamentally a story about re-creation, one can not only see how the story of Jonah is used in the Gospels, but one can also see how it is used in various stories still today, be it The Matrix or Pinocchio.

Jonah Themes…in Jonah and the Gospels
Let me first clarify what I mean when I say Jonah is a story about re-creation:

(A) God wants Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, but Jonah refuses and flees;

(B) God sends a storm at sea, and Jonah ends up being thrown overboard into the sea and swallowed by a big fish—this “big fish” symbolizes Sheol itself. In a metaphorical sense, Jonah “dies;”

(C) After three days Jonah get vomited up onto dry land, and proceeds to then go to Nineveh to preach judgment upon the Ninevites;

(D) Surprisingly, Nineveh repents; and even more surprisingly, God forgives them—Gentiles! And not so surprisingly, Jonah is upset—he wants God’s judgment to fall on these Gentiles, and instead, God has brought forgiveness and new life.

(E) The point in Jonah therefore is this: when God “re-creates” his people after the “death” of exile, what will that new people of God look like? The answer is shocking: it’s going to include even Gentiles who repent. Thus Jonah is a story of death and resurrection, in a very peculiar way.

In the Gospels, we find this concept then applied directly to Jesus: he, like Jonah, goes down into death; and like Jonah, three days later Jesus comes out of death and brings salvation to the entire world, even Gentiles.

Jonah Themes in Pinocchio
With that in mind, we now turn to Pinocchio. What is the story really about? In the story of a wooden puppet who longs to be a real boy. But since he constantly disobeys his maker/father, Geppetto, he finds himself led astray by various people. Geppetto, though, because he loves Pinocchio, goes out searching for him, and travels across the sea, only to be swallowed by a sea monster.

When Pinocchio finally finds his way home and discovers that Geppetto went out searching for him, he goes to find Geppetto. His journey takes him across the sea, where he too gets swallowed by that same “sea monster.” Eventually Pinocchio helps Geppetto escape from the sea monster, and because of his brave deed, the Blue Fairy grants Pinocchio his wish, and turns him into a real boy. What we see in this fairy tale, therefore, is the story of a wooden puppet who is “re-created” into a real boy, only after a death-like experience in the sea monster. This speaks to a very fundamental Christian belief.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains sanctification by using the example of a tin toy soldier. Essentially, human beings in their natural state, having what Lewis calls bios life, are like tin soldiers. We have the shape of men. One can push the analogy further by quoting Genesis 1:27: we are made in the image of God. Yet we do not have the life of God, the Christ-life, within us. The story of the Gospel is essentially this: Christ became a tin soldier so that he could impart his life, what Lewis calls zoe life, to us. Thus, the entire Christian life is one of a Christian slowly being transformed and recreated from a tin toy soldier into a real man.

Lewis makes many other observations and points concerning this, but for our purposes the basic analogy is enough. It is this analogy that can be seen in the fairytale Pinocchio—the wooden puppet is given animated life, but is not yet a real boy. The story thus tells about his trials and attempts to become a real living boy. The story is about transformation and re-creation.

One can see numerous analogies between the story of Pinocchio and the biblical understanding of sin and salvation. The wooden puppet Pinocchio is not really “evil,” but rather is very gullible and is easily led astray. When you think about it, isn’t this what we see with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? No one who reads Genesis 3 honestly can conclude that the actions of Adam and Eve were “evil and devious.” They seem more like gullible children. This, incidentally, is the very view that the early Church Father Irenaeus had of Genesis 3 back in the 2nd century.

That is why it is so easy to see ourselves in the story of Adam and Eve—it is basically our story. Let’s face it, everyone can simply look at their own life admit that, while there certainly are many times one consciously and knowingly sins, there are also many times “sin” happens due to one’s immaturity, gullibility, and ignorance.

Pinocchio and Whale

Pinocchio, like everyone at some point, finds that he is lost. It is at this point in the story where the Jonah theme of re-creation/death and resurrection is apparent. In order to find his maker and father, Pinocchio journeys into the sea and is swallowed by a sea monster. It is within the belly of the sea monster where Pinocchio meets his maker and father Geppetto again. The story ends by Gepetto and Pinocchio escaping from the great fish, getting chased by him on the sea, and eventually reaching dry land safely. Because Pinocchio proved himself brave by going into the sea in search for his maker and father, his wish to become a real boy is granted. It is his experience within the belly of the great fish that transforms Pinocchio from a wooden puppet into a real boy.

The story of Pinocchio is not like Jonah in every respect. It does not have anything about Pinocchio preaching to other puppets that they would be made into firewood, and it does not have Pinocchio complain to Geppetto that those cursed alarm clocks Geppetto had in his workshop should be destroyed. Pinocchio simply takes one snapshot from the story of Jonah, a snapshot everyone is familiar with, and reworks and reinterprets that snapshot within a very memorable fairytale. The basic theme of going into death (symbolized by the great fish), and being transformed and reborn (re-creation into a real boy) is nevertheless retained. Pinocchio is, in fact, a modern example of intertextuality.

Biblical Intertextuality: Five Biblical Themes in “The Matrix”

Biblical Intertextuality: Five Biblical Themes in “The Matrix”

The_Matrix_soundtrack_cover

Given the basic plot of The Matrix, there are five essential biblical themes, one of which is a “Jonah theme,” that are essential to furthering the plot. The other four must first be briefly mentioned so that the Jonah theme can be seen within the context of the whole.

The Bondage of Sin
The first theme has been outlined in the story overview—humanity is in bondage, and the world that human beings know is in reality a prison. Human beings are born into bondage within a computer program called The Matrix, much like we are born into a fallen and sinful world. They are not only victims imprisoned within the Matrix, they are also a part of the Matrix and serve its purposes. As Morpheus says, “The Matrix is a system. That system is our enemy. Look around and what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. Everywhere you look, there are people. Somewhere else, somewhere in the future they may be human beings, but here these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. It is important to understand that if you are not one of us, you are one of them.” The [Matrix agents] can become anyone who is still a captive of the Matrix. “If the Matrix is a prison, then the agents are its wardens and if humankind is to survive they first must be stopped.”

The Idolatry of Babylon
The second theme is the “Babel/Babylon/idolatry theme.” As we can see in Morpheus’ speech, the human race at the end of the twentieth century was much in the same position as Nebuchadnezzar, when he glorified himself in Daniel 4:28-33, and the people of Babel in Genesis 11.  What happens to the human race in The Matrix is something seen time and time again in the Bible. Human beings eventually become enslaved to the very things they create for their own majesty and pride. Nebuchadnezzar was brought low because he put himself on the level of God. The people of Babel, in their attempt to build a tower to heaven, in order to “make a name” for themselves, were scattered by God.

As seen all throughout the Old Testament, the idols that mankind makes end up being the cause of its destruction. In Agent Smith’s own description of human beings, after he states that every mammal develops a natural equilibrium with his environment, he says, “Yet you humans move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every resource is consumed. And then you spread to another area.” An organism that does this is a virus. “Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet. You are the plague, and we are the cure.” In case anyone doubts that the creators of the movie had this in mind, one only has to take into consideration the name of Morpheus’ ship to be convinced—The Nebuchadnezzar.

The City of Zion
The third biblical theme centers around the city of Zion, and the ancient Near Eastern creation myth that pits the Sea of Chaos against the primeval hill of the gods. As Othmar Keel states, “The abyss is a dimension of Chaos and of death, but the high place, the mountain, belongs to the temple. In the psalms, the location of the Temple is Jerusalem, or more precisely, Zion.” Although Morpheus and most of his crew are people who had been “grown” inside the Matrix, and who have been freed from it, there are still a handful of people, like two of the men on Morpheus’ crew, who still have been born “the old-fashioned way,” in the real world, in the last human city called Zion. Its location is near the earth’s core, where it is still warm.

If the machines can capture Morpheus and get the access codes to Zion from him, they would be able to find Zion and gain access to its computers that allow the free people to hack into the Matrix. Then Zion would fall, and the last hope for human freedom from the machines would be extinguished. Throughout the movie Morpheus’ ship is constantly fleeing from the sentinel machines in the real world that are searching to destroy the ship. They machines are called “squiddies,” and they resemble giant squids. Consequently, what we find in The Matrix is a battle for the fate of the world between the last human city, Zion, and the destructive forces of the A.I. machines that resemble the terrifying sea monsters of the primordial Sea of Chaos. The Ancient Near Eastern myth of creation finds its way into our modern culture once again.

The Son of Man/The Son of God
The fourth biblical theme in The Matrix involves the main character, Neo, and can also be seen on the plaque on Morpheus’ ship that gives us its name. Immediately under the ship’s name is “Mark III, No. 11.” When one looks up Mark 3:11, one finds this: “Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’” This is a clear reference to Jesus in Mark’s gospel, yet in the movie, the Christ figure is that of Thomas Anderson, who goes by the name “Neo.” He is the one who is able to destroy the matrix, and to free the human race. As Morpheus explains:

“When the Matrix was first built, there was a man born inside who had the ability to change whatever he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit.  It was he who freed the first of us, and taught us the truth. As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free. After he died, the oracle prophesied his return, and that his coming would hail the destruction of the Matrix and end the war, and   bring freedom to our people.”

The movie at this point incorporates ideas of reincarnation, and of a Greek-like oracle, but the basic idea of a “prophesied one” to free the human race can easily be seen against the biblical backdrop of Acts 3:22, where Jesus is the prophesied “prophet like Moses.”

The Matrix essentially shows the process in which Neo eventually realizes that he is “the One.” Christians throughout Church history have debated and argued at what point Jesus actually became the Son of God. Was it as his resurrection? Was it at his baptism? Was it at his birth? Or was he pre-existent before time began? The Matrix takes the position that although Neo may be “the One,” he certainly is not aware of it at the beginning. In fact, he is “born” inside the Matrix, just like everyone else born into its bondage. His mind has to be freed by those people in the real world. And even after he has been freed, he does not believe he is the prophesied One at first. It is precisely because he does not believe he is anyone special that is the reason he risks, and ultimately sacrifices, his life to save Morpheus, who has been captured and is being interrogated within the agents’ stronghold in the Matrix. It is only after he is killed in the Matrix by the “agents” that he then is resurrected, and endowed with the power over the Matrix.

Jonah and the New Creation
The fifth biblical theme in The Matrix is arguably the over-arching theme to the entire plot: that of death and resurrection, and thus re-creation. As we have already seen, Jesus himself paralleled his upcoming death and resurrection with Jonah spending three days and night in the belly of the “sea monster.” The “great fish” in Jonah, already equated with Sheol in Jonah’s prayer, is called “the sea monster” in Matthew 12:40 and is equated with the grave.

Furthermore, the very act of baptism is a re-enactment of death (going down into the sea/Sheol/the grave), and resurrection. We have also seen that this imagery is not simply referring to Jesus coming back from the dead; but has as its over-arching theme that of God’s re-creation of his world. This death and resurrection theme can actually be seen twice in The Matrix. The obvious one is at the end of the movie, when Neo actually is shot and killed, and then resurrects with a transformed body, and thus begins to re-make the Matrix as he sees fit. The other one is earlier in the movie, where the “Jonah theme” can be subtlety seen—when Morpheus frees Neo’s mind, and he is thus “re-born” into the real world.

The event leading up to this scene is where Neo first meets Morpheus within the Matrix. Morpheus tells him, as seen in his previous speech, that no one can be told what the Matrix is; they have to see it for themselves. When Neo agrees to let Morpheus show him, Neo is hooked up to a computer-tracing system, and they essentially wake up his mind from its unconscious sleep. The scene in which Neo “wakes up” to the real world for the first time is, in fact, called, “The Rebirth.” What we see in the movie is the body of Neo, which has been “asleep” in a pod in the real world for his whole life, wake up. Neo, though a grown man, is naked as bald as a baby, and is hooked up with wires and tubes, much like a battery is hooked up to a machine, and much a baby hooked up to life support.

The script at this point specifically describes the scene as Neo’s body “floating in a womb-red amnion.” What he sees is his pod as one of millions, all hooked up in some sort of power plant. An A.I. machine that is maintaining the power plant sees that he is awake, and proceeds to unhook him, and flush him out into the sewer, similar to the “great fish” vomiting Jonah out onto dry land. It is at that point, naked and thrown away into a sewer in the real world, that Morpheus’ ship locates him, rescues him, and slowly begins to rehabilitate and rebuild his body that he has never actually used.

The way this “rebirth” scene is described in the script is extremely important to note. As Neo looks around at all the pods hooked up to the power plant, the scene is described in this way: “Tower of glowing petals spiral up to incomprehensible heights, disappearing down into dim murk, like an underwater abyss. His sight is blurred and warped, exaggerating the intensity of the vision. The sound of the plant is like the sound of the ocean heard from inside the belly of Leviathan.”

An allusion to Jonah cannot be more clearly stated. The death and resurrection/rebirth theme is played out once again with similar imagery. Genesis 1 has God creating the world out from the Sea of Chaos, which was ruled by the great Sea Serpent in ANE mythology. Noah’s flood is essentially a story of God destroying the old creation, and re-creating a new one. Jonah picks up on this “re-creation” theme from the Noah story, includes an allusion to the Sea Serpent/Leviathan of ANE, and of Job, and Isaiah, and the Psalms, and combines these in order to teach something about how God is “re-creating” his people after the death of the nation during the exile, and how this “re-creation” will involve Gentiles. Jesus and the Gospels take the next step and use the story of Jonah to allude not only to Jesus’ own transforming death and resurrection, but to also the beginning of God’s New Creation. The association of the Sea with Death has been around since ANE mythology and Genesis 1. The association of the great Sea Serpent of ANE with not only death, but also as a mode of rebirth, has been around since Jonah, and picked up in the Gospels. Here, the same imagery is found in The Matrix to describe essentially the same thing.

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah and The Matrix (along with a few other biblical themes)

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah and The Matrix (along with a few other biblical themes)

The_Matrix_soundtrack_cover

As hard as it is to believe, The Matrix is 16 years old. As I sat in the movie theater, watching The Matrix for the first time, I had two distinct impressions. First, as I watched the black leather-clad Trinity vault herself into the air and commence to wipe out the police officers who were trying to capture her, I distinctly remember thinking, “I am in love!” …not because I have some grudge against law enforcement, but because it was Carrie-Anne Moss in black leather. But I digress…I’m allowed to—it’s my blog. For what it’s worth, here’s the clip from the movie that made my heart go all aflutter.

On a serious note, the other impression developed over the course of the movie: this was a deeply profound movie, and I saw Gospel themes throughout the entire thing. As I originally wrote my analysis of The Matrix for what was to be my discarded chapter for my master’s thesis on Jonah, I focused, of course, on the parts of the movie that could be compared with Jonah. What follows is my analysis of the Jonah themes in The Matrix.

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The story of Jonah and the Whale became symbolic in the early Church for the death and resurrection of Jesus, and for the past 2,000 years of Western culture, that is the primary theme that has been taken from Jonah: Jonah as a prototype of Jesus, and the “great fish” as a prototype for the grave. Thus, Jesus’ resurrection is seen also as the beginnings of the new creation. This theme of the new creation has its roots within the Old Testament itself.

When we look at Jonah within its Old Testament context, we find that just as God re-created the world in the time of Noah’s flood, and just as Jonah took this theme of re-creation and applied it God’s recreation of His people after the exile, so does the resurrection of Jesus signal the beginning of God’s “re-creation” of the ultimate “New Creation.” Jesus’ resurrection was simply not the coming back to life of Jesus. It was not simply resuscitation. It was, in fact, a transformation from the old kind of corruptible life that we all experience every day, to a new kind of resurrected life that we one day will experience after death, in God’s re-created New Creation.

This is precisely what is meant by Jesus’ resurrection being the “first fruits” of God’s new creation. In short, the New Testament interprets Jesus’ resurrection in light of the Old Testament themes found in Genesis 6-9 and the book of Jonah, and ultimately testifies to the belief that resurrection means re-creation. These themes often find their way into modern literature and movies…The Matrix obviously being one of them.

The 1999 movie The Matrix is an excellent example of intertextuality in modern cinema. Given the “global consciousness” of today’s world, The Matrix not only draws its story and themes from the Bible, but from other philosophical and religious worldviews as well. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the main theological thrust of the movie is undeniably biblical (although the latter two movies took things in an unbiblical direction). I, though, would like to show how The Matrix incorporates the “Jonah theme” of re-creation/rebirth, into its own story concerning the main character, Neo, who is clearly portrayed as a Christ figure who must undergo a death and resurrection of himself before he can begin to recreate the world into which he was born.

The Plot in The Matrix
The Matrix takes place roughly 200 years into the future, approximately around the year 2199 A.D. The world has been devastated and overrun by machines of artificial intelligence that had, ironically enough, been created by human beings at the height of their civilization in the early part of the 21st century. There are essentially “two worlds” in the The Matrix—the real world, which is the vast wasteland of the earth around the year 2199 A.D., and a computer generated “dream world,” much like the popular computer game “Sim City,” that the A.I. machines have constructed for reasons that will be revealed shortly.

Within the real world of 2199 A.D., there are a handful of human beings who are still fighting the machines, and who hope to someday defeat them. The majority of human beings in 2199 A.D. are “grown” in fields, placed into pods, completely unconscious, and then hooked up and plugged into what is essentially a power-plant, run on the energy and heat produced by the human body, so that the A.I. machines can survive.

These people, though, never know this, for from the moment they are grown, these A.I. machines have “plugged” their minds into the computer-generated program, set during the height of human civilization—the late twentieth century. While their bodies are being used as batteries for the A.I. machines in 2199 A.D., human beings live their lives in this computer program, thinking they are living free in the late twentieth century. The small group of human beings who are free and conscious in 2199 A.D. live in the real, devastated world, and are constantly fleeing from these machines. Yet they are able to tap into the Matrix, as one would tap into a computer program, and free the minds of certain people. How they do this will be described shortly.

The essential “problem” in The Matrix, therefore, centers on the computer-generated “prison” that these A.I. machines have made. Early on in the movie, the character Morpheus explains to Neo this basic problem, and how these machines came to dominate the world:

“At some point in the early twenty-first century, all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to A.I. [Artificial Intelligence], a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of   machines. We don’t know who struck first, us or them, but we know that it was us who scorched the sky. At the time they were dependent on solar power, and it was believed that they would not be able to survive without an energy source as abundant as the sun. Throughout human history we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.”

“The human body generates more bioelectricity than a 120 volt battery and over 25,000 BTU’s of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion, the machines had found all the energy they would ever need. There are fields, endless fields, where human beings are no longer born—they are grown. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world, built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into [a battery].”

The Message of the Matrix
This may sound simply as a rather far-out science-fiction movie, and some may wonder how a movie like The Matrix could possibly relate to the Bible, let alone the book of Jonah. Yet when one reflects on the basic plot and theme of The Matrix, one will find that this movie not only re-interprets and weaves together a number of biblical stories and themes, it ultimately re-contextualizes the story of Jesus Christ to speak to our modern culture. The message of the Gospel is essentially the same message put forth in The Matrix.

That message is essentially this: the very world we know and are familiar with is a world in bondage. “The Matrix,” as Morpheus tells Neo at their first meeting is “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” And that truth is that, “you are a slave. Like everyone else you were born into bondage; born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

The computer-generated Matrix of the movie can be equated with our fallen world. We are born into this world, and it is the only one we know; yet at the same time, all of us sense that there is something wrong with it. We are “slaves to sin.” The battle for freedom from, and destruction of, the Matrix, and the machines that control it, is essentially the same battle that we find as we read the Bible: a battle for freedom from the power of sin and death, and the ultimate destruction of evil and Satan himself.

Tomorrow I will discuss the five basic biblical themes we can see in The Matrix.

Ken Ham, Ron Burgundy…and a Little bit of Skepticism and Silliness

Ken Ham, Ron Burgundy…and a Little bit of Skepticism and Silliness

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This evening, I noticed that Ken Ham had a new post on his blog, entitled, “A Hero in My Life.” No, he wasn’t writing about a hero in his life. He was writing about how children are telling him that he is a hero in their lives. It’s quite an extraordinary piece, really. He claims it was written by a 13-year old girl for a school paper. You can read the whole piece for yourself, or just consider this bit:

“These magnificent truths clarified some puzzling questions I had about the Bible. Some of the articles introduced ideas I had not even thought of before reading about them. Interestingly, Noah lived during the Tower of Babel and Adam could have written an autobiography. These articles introduce unique concepts that are completely possible, but are not expressed in any other literature.”

Speaking as a former high school English teacher, that doesn’t come across as the writing of a 13-year old…perhaps more of a 64-year old Australian who believes that Noah lived during the Tower of Babel and that Adam could have written an autobiography. You know, someone who might be trying to convince people to buy tickets to his museum, or buy his books and curriculum material…but who knows? I could be wrong.

In any case, Mr. Ham’s post reminded me of something anchorman Ron Burgundy once said:

Thanks Ken, for an interesting read.

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