Tuesday, February 27, 2007

If it's in the Bible it's not a sin?

I was listening to a Rich Mullin song (Jacob and 2 Women on his album The World as Best as I Remember It) the other day and was struck by these lyrics:
Jacob he loved Rachel and Rachel she loved him
And Leah was just there for dramatic effect
Well it’s right there in the Bible so it must be a sin...’
The reasoning here is:
P1: Jacob having two wives is in the Bible.
[P2]: Anything recorded in the Bible is not a sin.
T1: Therefore, Jacob having two wives is not a sin.
The problem with this argument is P2 (which is the implied assumption required to lead to the conclusion). There are many things recorded in the Bible which are clearly sins, eg, murder, rape. So the fact that something is recorded in the Bible is never enough to conclude that it is or is not a sin. If it was, then we could engage in all sorts of behaviours which are clearly proscribed elsewhere in the Bible!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Book Review: Comes a Horseman

Comes a HorsemanTwo FBI agents are called in to investigate a series of murders that apparently have nothing in common. However, it soon becomes obvious that they are being carried out by a member of a centuries-old cult. Once they learn what is happening, they also realise the killer is after them. How will they survive? And how will they save humanity?
Robert Liparulo’s Comes a Horseman is a gripping thriller based loosely on a number of end time passages in the Bible (I won’t reveal them otherwise I will give the plot away). Christian themes are subtly woven into the narrative by Liparulo in a way that is fresh and avoids cliches. The main protagonists are real people struggling to come to grips with the terror they find themselves having to handle.
Comes a Horseman is a great read by this new Christian author. The story gallops along at a cracking pace, the dialogue is snappy, there are plenty of twists and turns, and lots of action. The violence is pretty gruesome and vivid - so beware.
It’s an chillingly entertaining yarn with a subtle message about the seductiveness of evil, loyalty, love, and religion.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Book Review: The Dark Side of Christian History

The Dark Side of Christian HistoryI have mixed feelings about Helen Ellerbe’s The Dark Side of Christian History which attempts to document the sins of the Christian Church during the Dark Ages, the Medieval Period, the Reformation, and the Inquisition. There is no doubt that the Christian Church, throughout its history, has been guilty of political maneuvering, sexism, oppression, racism, witch hunting, and misrepresentation of God. Documenting these aspects of Christianity is not new and are important to consider. The problems I have with Ellerbe’s construction of this history are related to her causal explanations, some of her questionable historical claims, and simplistic approach. Ellerbe argues that the origin of all the sins of Christianity result from
... the belief in a singular supremacy, the belief that divinity is manifest in only one image. The belief in a singular God differed radically from the widespread belief that divinity could be manifest in a multiplicity of forms and images. As people believe that God can have but one face, so they tend to believe that worth or godliness among humans can also have but one face. Different genders, races, classes, or beliefs are all ordered as better-than or less-than one another. Even the notion of two differing opinions existing harmoniously becomes foreign; one must prevail and be superior to the other.
This is the fundamental premise on which Ellerbe builds her view of Christian history. It is obvious, when one considers the good side of Christianity, that the consequences of this belief do not necessarily lead to the evils documented in her book. Not only that, one needs to question whether her view is an accurate statement of Christian theology.
Ellerbe admits that her book is one-sided in the sense that there are many good aspects of Christianity. However, to suggest that all the sins of the Christian church are the result of this one idea ignores the complexity of that very history.
The further one reads in the book, the more evident the subtle tendency toward a pagan view of divinity becomes. She accuses Christian theology to be against the earth (which, in its best forms, isn’t). In addition, Ellerbe believes that there was a time when people lived in peace without conflict. This is a highly controversial claim and has, as far as I know, been discredited. And enough conflict has occurred in other religious traditions (including non-Christian ones) to show that Christian belief is not a sufficient condition for conflict.
In addition to this, when Ellerbe enters into a discussion of science she reveals a very simplistic understanding of things like quantum theory and Newtonian science. It is very common for critics of orthodoxy to appeal to such things. However, like much writing in this area, Ellerbe demonstrates a misunderstanding of science and, in particular, quantum physics - the principles of which have a limited application.
Ellerbe is correct in suggesting that, by denying evil, harm is done. Christians must look to their history and learn from it. But The Dark Side of Christian History is a very biased look that needs to be read with caution. It would be advisable to check the historical, philosophical, and religious claims before putting too much weight on them. In my view, the book is worth reading but with a good degree of caution. It would be better, perhaps, to read something like Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley alongside Ellerbe’s book.

My library online

You can now access information about every book in my library (plus some others) by clicking here. In addition, if you visit my online blog Thinking Christian you will be able to see random books each time from my library. It’s very cool!

Le Grand Content

Here is a fascinating little movie to check out. I’m not sure why it was made, but it certainly illustrates what might be called thinking by free association and provides an interesting graphical representation of that thinking. You can watch it here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Religious Correctness

Mark C Taylor has written a passionate article for the University of Chicago Press on Religious Correctness. He makes the observation that ’it seems that the more religious people become, the less willing they are to engage in critical reflection about their faith.’ Taylor explores this by reflecting on his changing experience teaching religion courses at his university. You can read the article here.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Movie Review: Little Children

Little Children is about a group of women who meet at a playground each day with their small children. But Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslett), a sociology graduate, wants more from her life than watching children and sharing superficial gossip with superficial women at the playground. To make matters worse, she is married to Richard (Gregg Edelman) who, she discovers, is more interested in "interacting" with porn on the ’net than spending time with her.

Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) is a stay-at-home Dad who has failed his law exams multiple times and takes his young son to the same playground each day. He’s married to a "knock-out" beauty, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) who doesn’t seem to value him as much as she should.

In response to a dare, Sarah strikes up a conversation with Brad one day and, to her surprise, they kiss - the start of an affair that finds them taking their children to the local swimming pool where they spend time chatting and getting to know each other. Soon, they are doing more than chatting.

Complicating all of this is the presence of a convicted sex-offender, Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley) who lives in the community and who is being harassed by an ex-cop who is "keeping and eye" on him. Brad gets involved with him and his football team.

All of these lives (and others) begin to entwine as the peace and serenity of their daily lives start to unravel, leading to some nasty surprises.

Kate Winslett, in particular, is excellent in her role and has deservedly been nominated for Best Actress at this year’s Oscars. Jackie Early is also good as the sex-offender, bringing a sensitivity and depth to the part that has earned him a nomination for best supporting actor.

The plot is complex but the screenplay by Todd Field and Tom Perotta makes it easy to follow and avoids many cliches that could have ruined the story.

In essence, Little Children is all about the deep desire for something better than what we presently have - a desire we all have probably experienced at some time. But how do we break out of the mundaneness and boredom of our existence when all seems so meaningless and routine? Little Children deals with a number of dangerous choices that people make in dealing with these desires - and their consequences. It’s an engaging and, at times, disturbing, journey with some surprising outcomes.

My Rating: **** (out of 5)

Positive Review

'The movie is one of the few films I can think of that examines the baffling combination of smugness, self-abnegation, ceremonial deference and status anxiety that characterizes middle-class Gen X parenting, and find sheer, white-knuckled terror at its core.' - Carina Chocano/Los Angeles Times

Negative Review

'It’s an unholy mess, simultaneously too Gothic and too sarcastic, that preaches liberation and delivers only puritanism. It’s a craftsmanlike but robotic imitation of "interesting" filmmaking, only in patches, and by accident, the real thing.' - Andrew O’Hehir/Salon.com

Content Warning

Strong sexuality and nudity, language and some disturbing content

AUS: MA
USA: R

'The "Vise" Strategy Undone' (Barbara Forrest)

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will be aware of the Kitzmiller et al. vs Dover Area School District case over the teaching of Intelligent Design in the science curriculum of the Dover Area School. Now, Barbara Forrest, one of the witnesses in the trial, has written an article outlining her role and the strategies of the Intelligent Design (ID) witnesses. It makes for very interesting reading and doesn’t do much for the reputation of those who support ID! You can read Forrest’s entire article here.

Related Links

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Movie Review: The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland is a potent story of the relationship between a young, naive, idealistic Scottish doctor working in Uganda and his relationship with Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), the dictator who ruled Uganda for eight years following a military coup.

Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) is a young, newly graduated medical doctor who can’t stand the thought of working in his father’s country practice in Scotland. He closes his eyes, spins a globe of the earth, and decides to go to the first place his finger lands on. He stops the globe and Canada and, after a brief moment, decides he will spin it again. The second time his finger lands on Uganda -- and that is where he heads.

He arrives in Uganda bright-eyed and idealistic, wishing to make a difference. He starts working for Dr Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his wife, Sarah (Gillian Anderson). But a chance encounter with Idi Amin who is injured in a vehicle accident endears him to Amin who invites Nicholas to be his personal doctor.

All is well for a while. But soon Nicholas begins to realise what Amin is really like and becomes increasingly disturbed by evidence of genocide and other atrocities. Eventually, he decides he needs to leave. But Amin has other plans for Nicholas.

The Last King of Scotland is based on real events and both McAvoy (whose character is fictional) and Whitaker handle their roles with skill and believability. But this movie is Whitaker’s all the way. His portrayal of Amin is a virtuoso performance. It’s a great story and there are some moments of real tension, particularly as Garrigan’s conscience begins to awaken as Amin’s true character is gradually revealed. There is true danger when charisma and evil reside in the same person - particularly when relating to those who are innocent.

My Rating: **** (out of 5)

Positive Review

’Unlike Sean Penn’s demagogue in "All the King’s Men," you’re able to forget that Whitaker is acting. He embodies the role. When clips of the real Amin are shown at the end, it’s almost shocking to realize the extent to which Whitaker has become him.’ - Ruthe Stein/San Francisco Chronicle

Negative Review

’The Last King of Scotland joins the ranks of nightmarish innocents-abroad movies, from "Midnight Express" to "Hostel," where the disillusioned hero fights to return to civility.’ - Wesley Morris/Boston Globe

Content Warning

Some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language

AUS: MA
USA: R

Monday, February 05, 2007

Seeing the Light -- Of Science (Salon)

Ronald Numbers -- a former Seventh-day Adventist and author of the definitive history of creationism -- discusses his break with the church, whether creationists are less intelligent and why Galileo wasn't really a martyr. Read his interview here.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Has Noah's Ark been found?

Benjamin Radford responds to a reader's inquiry about whether Noah's Ark has been found in Skeptical Inquiree. You can read the answer here.

Related Links

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Book Review: The Man of Sin

The Antichrist. What does that name conjure up for you? It has been a symbol of evil for centuries. It has been the subject of many movies (most recently in The Omen II) and books. And many ideas and people have been "identified" as the Antichrist (the spirit of heresy, the Roman Empire, Nero, the Pope/papacy, Adolf Hitler, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Islam, a Jewish male, George W Bush, etc etc etc). The list can go on interminably. The Antichrist has been popularised in Christian fiction such as The Left Behind series. The concept of the Antichrist is firmly embedded in popular culture, even if many do not know its origins. What are we to make of all this? Who or what is the Antichrist? How are we to understand the biblical references to the Antichrist? Is the Antichrist past, present, or future? Does it matter? In the middle of a plethora of sensationalist, bizarre, agenda-driven ideas, Kim Riddlebarger's The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist offers a calm, solid, biblical view on the nature of the Antichrist. Riddlebarger explores common beliefs about the Antichrist and end times, examines the few biblical passages describing the Antichrist, surveys the various interpretations of these passages, describes the various understandings of theologians and writers throughout church history, and offers a number of conclusions. The Man of Sin is an excellent book - carefully considered, clearly written, and avoiding sensationalism and hype. Riddlebarger arrives at three basic conclusions. It is his
contention that Christ's church will face two significant threats associated with Antichrist. The first of these threats is a series of antichrists who arise within the church and are tied to a particular heresy - the denial that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. This threat has been with us since the days of the apostles and will be present until the time of the end. The second threat is the repeated manifestation of the beast throughout the course of history, taking the form of state-sponsored persecution of Christ's church, which will finally culminate in an end-times Antichrist. It is likely that these two distinct threats combine into a single threat at the time of the end.
Riddlebarger's argument in arriving at his conclusions are persuasive (to me, at least!). If you are looking for something sane to read about the Antichrist, Riddlebarger's Man of Sin is a good place to start. Related Links

Movie Review: The Fountain

Francis Bacon once wrote that '[i]t is as natural to die as to be born.' Why, then, does death seem so unnatural? Why is death so difficult to deal with? Why is it so hard to move on from someone's death?

Darren Aronofsky's new film The Fountain tackles death head on in an incredibly deep metaphysical tapestry. Tom (Hugh Jackman) and Izzi (Rachel Weisz) Creo are deeply in love. But Izzie is dying of a brain tumour. Tom is a medical research scientist who brings all of his energies to bear on finding a cure for Izzi. He is desperate - he cannot accept that Izzi is going to die to the extent that his obsessive search for a cure ironically takes him away from the person he loves.

Izzi decides to write a story set in the time of the Spanish conquistadors about Tomas (Hugh Jackman) who goes on a search for the biblical Tree of Life, which is also spoken of in other religious legends and myths, in order to save his queen, Isabella (Rachel Weisz) and kingdom from its demise.

But Izzi leaves the last chapter blank, reassuring Tom that he will know how to finish it. As he struggles with the loss of his beloved, we are transported into space where Tom journeys in a bubble in pursuit of the Tree of Life which will bring his beloved back.

The Fountain moves between past, present, and outer space where we see three quite different, but interconnected, love stories in a kaleidoscope of religious imagery as we explore themes of death, grief, loss, obsession, and the need to let go and move on. Someone has said that The Fountain is easy to understand but difficult to grasp. This is a thinking person's film. It places demands on the viewer to come to grips with its subject matter.

After the film finished in the cinema, I turned to my friends and said, 'That was great. I enjoyed that'. Some patrons in the row in front turned around, grimaced, and said, 'What?! Did you get that?' This will not be a film liked, nor understood, by everyone. But what a great movie to provoke our thinking! I will be seeing it a second time to try to catch some of the more subtle nuances.

Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz are superb. Apparently, Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt were originally cast in the movie. But both walked away from the production. Aranofsky rewrote the script, Jackman (who signed on at a reduced rate) and Weisz accepted the roles to make the re-envisioned film.

The cinematography is brilliant. Instead of using CGI, Aranofsky chose, instead, to film chemical reactions in petri dishes believing that it would add to the timlessness of the movie. It's wonderful!

The Fountain is deeply religious/spiritual with a rich tapestry of ideas and symbolism in every frame. It is mesmerizing, beautiful, profound, engaging, and has something to say. Go and drink from The Fountain!

My Rating: **** (out of 5)

Positive Review

'If you're a movie lover who despairs that big-scale filmmaking today consists of little more than a self-cannibalizing system of clich├ęs; if you are fed up with putatively ambitious movies that turn out to sorely lack not just vision but actual brains and actual heart as well, then you need, badly, to see The Fountain, soon, and under the most optimum viewing conditions available. It may well restore your faith in the idea that a movie can take you out of the mundane and into a place of wonderment.' - Glenn Kenny/Premier

Negative Review

'Aronofsky's reach far exceeds his grasp with this film, and the muddle he concocts makes one wonder if there was ever a solid foundation for The Fountain. Hope may spring eternal, but this fountain is a dry hole.' - Marjorie Baumgarten/Austin Chronicle

Content Advice

Some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language.

AUS: M
USA: PG-13

The 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2006 (Christianity Today)

Christianity Today have posted what they consider are the 10 most redeeming movies of 2006. You can check out their selection here. I have seen them all, but I can most certainly recommend (I have linked to my reviews where I have them):