Friday, December 31, 2010

Movie Review: 3D TRON: Legacy (2010)


Back in 1982 I went off to see TRON at the movies and, if I remember correctly, enjoyed it quite a bit. Now, 28 years later, TRON: Legacy arrives at our screens in 3D – technology that did not exist back in the '80s. It’s a new story that loosely follows on from the first story but seeing the first movie is not necessary.

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), once known as one of the world’s best video-game designers in the world, disappeared 20 years ago without a trace. His 27 year-old son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), is now a disinterested, disillusioned and rebellious owner of a massive software company about to float on the stock market and who is haunted by the his father’s mysterious disappearance. Pretty much all he does is try to interrupt the success of the company.

One of his father’s trusted colleagues receives a strange and unexpected message from a phone number which has been disconnected for years and which is located in an old games arcade previously run by Sam’s dad. As Sam investigates the source of the message he is drawn into a digital world in which his father has been trapped by a computer character he had created. Together, they will need use all their “gaming” skills to escape, aided by the beautiful Quorra (Olivia Wilde, House M.D.) who is a fearless warrior within the virtual world.

TRON: Legacy is pure entertainment with little of significance to say (although, there is the odd hint at the dangers of virtual worlds that become too realistic). The pace is uneven and the movie seems too long running at over 2 hours.

Technically, TRON: Legacy is very glossy with its over-hyped special effects that try too hard without success and, in my view, did not need 3D. It is interesting that the shooting of the film only took 64 days while the special effects that needed to be added afterward took 68 weeks! And this disproportionate emphasis on special effects shows in the movie’s overall dullness when it comes to the acting and narrative. The story is cheesy and clichéd, at times, and the acting is nothing more than adequate. It was hard to really care about any of the characters and viewing the movie always had the effect of being at a distance from the action. Film-makers need to accept that spending money on special effects and a good soundtrack (which it is) does not a movie make.

TRON: Legacy is a pretty average movie and looks even worse when compared to what we know is possible in a movie like Avatar, for instance. More attention to the story rather than special effects might have produced a very different result.


Positive Review
'On the heels of another revelatory turn in True Grit, Bridges is sensational again, here in a groundbreaking performance.' – Pete Hammond/Boxoffice Magazine

Negative Review
'Tron: Legacy will only be enjoyed by men in their thirties and early forties searching for a Proustian moment.’ – John DeVore/Premiere

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie Review: The Tourist (2010)

I wasn't expecting much from The Tourist. Everything I had read by critics had been negative. But I was pleasantly surprised by this clever crime caper.

The beautiful Elise (Angelina Jolie) receives a letter from her lover,  saying that it is dangerous for them to meet. So he has given her instructions on how to distract the police from identifying him. The police have been following her for two years waiting for Elise to contact her lover – a man who has embezzled over $2 billion. Elise is to allow herself to be tailed, hop on a train, pick a man of similar height and build, and sit down acting in such a way that the police will believe that it is him. While the police are distracted by all this, Elise will be able to be contacted by him. So Elise follows the instructions and the random man, of course, is Frank (Johnny Depp), who has recently lost his wife and who is overwhelmed by a random beautiful woman taking an interest in him. He soon discovers that he has become part of a cat-and-mouse game where his life is in danger.

Jolie and Depp are great in their roles. Jolie is consistently in control of the situation and clearly enjoys playing this game. Depp conveys a mixture of depression/sadness at the loss of his life, a willingness to go along with the bizarre events – he has nothing to lose – in a delightfully nuanced performance.

The plot is intriguing with a nicely revealed surprise at its climax. The story moves along at a good pace with some great scenery as we travel to Venice where most of the events occur. Venice is wonderfully portrayed and its waterways are used to great effect for some tense chases.

In my opinion, the critics who have come down hard on The Tourist, in particular criticising the chemistry between Jolie and Depp, have missed the obvious point that the relationship between them has been constructed for reasons other than romance. Frank is being used. Elise is in love with another man. If the chemistry had sparked a typical Hollywood romance it would have undermined one of the essential premises for the story happening in the first place.

The Tourist is not one of the best movies of the year. But it is good, clean entertainment with some subtle humour, good characters, and a decent story. It’s an old-style, Hitchcockian-flavoured, sumptuously photographed, espionage mystery. Check it out for a very pleasant couple of hours at the movies.


Positive Review
'If Elise and Frank are opaque to each other, they're opaque for a reason, as, sadly, lovers sometimes are. (Come to think of it, this picture has more in common with "The Lives of Others" than you might expect.)' – Stephanie Zacharek/Movieline

Negative Review
'In a year of craptaculars, The Tourist deserves burial at the bottom of the 2010 dung heap. It offers talented people trapped in creative inertia. A microscope and a search party could not discover any trace of chemistry between Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.' – Peter Travers/Rolling Stone

AUS: M (infrequent coarse language and violence) – now showing
USA: PG-13 (violence and brief language) – now showing

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Holy Cheating?

I’m intrigued by the number of recommendations to pray for students around examination time – particularly the ones that ask God to help them do well in their exams. I can’t help wondering whether this is a form of holy cheating. Surely if God helps a person do better on an exam as a result of prayer but doesn’t help another student who hasn’t prayed, wouldn’t that be in the same category as a performance enhancing drug?
I’ve been trying to think of what one could pray for without cheating – better memory? answers to questions that haven’t been learned? increased energy after a hard night? Surely all of these are enhancing aspects that would provide an unfair advantage over others – cheating!
Maybe what students can pray for is the wisdom to know the relationship between hard work, lots of study, learning how memory works, critical thinking skills and good grades. Now that is something that could be prayed for! Let’s stop asking God to help our students cheat. Instead, let’s ask God to assist in making then better students before they enter the examination room.
POSTSCRIPT: I'm specifically referring to any prayer in relation to an exam that would involve God somehow giving a student an advantage over another student. As Christians, we are constantly exhorted to pray for things that are not appropriate. For example, a woman once told me that someone she knew would become a Christian because she had asked God to convert the person. But what about free will? God doesn't force people to accept God against their will - people have a choice and so for the woman to assume that someone she was praying for would definitely become a Christian, just because she was praying for them, attributes something to God that God would not do - as far as I can see from Scripture.
Asking God to help a person pass an examination by any supernatural means would be asking God to do something unethical. I work in a tertiary institution where, for example, it is forbidden to take notes into an examination. Students are severely punished if they are found doing so. So asking God to bring something to a student's memory in an exam by some sort of supernatural intervention, would be no different to taking notes in to the exam room.
Examinations are not the only place we hear Christians ascribing things to God that may be unethical. I have heard footballers claim God helped them win goals/games. Really? Is God intervening so that certain players/teams win a football game?
So: the point is - as Christians we need to think about some of the things we ask of God and expect God to do. What does the Bible say we should pray for? That is a question we need to all ask and spend our time praying for those things rather than asking God to engage in our sometimes self-interested desires. Check the New Testament some time to see the sorts of things we can legitimately pray for:
  • pray for our enemies
  • pray for the Holy Spirit
  • pray for wisdom
  • pray for peace
  • pray for joy
  • pray for healing
  • pray for one another
and so on...
I hope that clarifies things...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The debate begins (continues) again …

With the release of the next in the Chronicles of Narnia film series, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the debate over what is good and evil in literature rears its immortal head again. People who worry about such things want to characterise Rowling’s work (Harry Potter) as evil and Lewis’s (Chronicles of Narnia) as good even though they both use magic and mythology as central elements of the worlds in which the stories occur.

HarryPotterL_468x456 It seems to me that much of this discussion assumes the ability to categorise literature easily into "good" and "evil". I don't think it is that easy. Much overtly Christian literature has elements that I would be very wary of. And there is much that is overtly non-Christian that has much value. Surely the whole point of the need for discernment is because, in a beautiful fallen world, there is good and evil everywhere and we need to mine it for all it is worth. The human mind has the capacity to see and hear what it will in almost anything. If we wish to see evil - that is what we will see and hear; if we wish to see good - that is what we will see and hear. It is our initial frame of reference that determines, to a large extent, what we will see and hear. I don't think anything should be excluded from consideration and so would encourage all to readthe-chronicles-of-narnia-prince-caspian-20080422050922373_640w Lewis and Rowling and Tolkien and Pullman and much more. All creativity is evidence of the image of God in the world and to assert that only Christians can produce such slivers of imago dei is arrogant. Christians need to think critically about everything we read and permit expressions of God's grace in what may seem to be the most graceless literary places. The ruthless dichotomy of good and evil as if everything can be sorted in such a black/white way is, in my view, completely unhelpful.

Movie Review: Somewhere (2010)


Sofia Coppola’s (Lost in Translation) Somewhere is a movie of such ordinariness that it is extraordinary.

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a Hollywood actor who lives the hard life – women and alcohol on tap, long hours, constant publicity, luxury hotels. But he is profoundly lonely and his life is a meaningless circularity. This frenetic lifestyle keeps the depression and boredom just at bay. The opening scene is symbolic of Johnny’s life. We see a dirt track with Johnny driving his sports car around and around for maybe five minutes. When he finally stops and steps out of the car, he stands with no sense of purpose.

Then he receives a call from his wife who is leaving and sending their 11 year old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), for him to care for her until Cleo attends an upcoming vacation camp. We then observe father and daughter as their relationship slowly deepens and, as a result, Johnny begins to revitalise his connection to real life.

Sofia Coppola has directed Somewhere with absolutely precise pacing. The film, on one level, is boring as it mirrors the deep boredom and pointlessness of Johnny’s life. Perhaps the first third of the film is a repetitive “documentation” of monotonous ordinariness. By the time Cleo, his daughter, arrives we are desperate for something interesting to happen. And Coppola makes a decision that means this movie transcends the typical sensationalism of the “Hollywood” movie – we have more ordinary life as father and daughter get to know each other as they do ordinary things together – go swimming, eat gelati, go to ice skating class, and talk.

As we watch this story unfold, it is rivetingly mundane and yet shot through with a message that the most important things in life are about relationships. Johnny is forced to confront the reality of his unreal life as a celebrity and he begins to discover a sense of purpose and meaning in his relationship with his daughter. This is the message of the movie – we are built for deep relationships which occur in the ordinariness of everyday life. Without relationship there would be nothing but frenzied despair.

Relationships bring us to crossroads in life and we are forced to choose a life of meaning or a life of meaningless based on how we respond to the relationships that are available to us. Johnny is forced to confront this decision. What and how will he choose?

Somewhere will not be a movie for everyone. It is an hour-and-a-half of tedium that seems interminable. But after persevering with it Somewhere’s message haunts us as we are confronted with our own lives of ordinariness and how and where we find meaning in them.

Somewhere opens in Australia on December 26 and is in limited release in the US on December 22.


Positive Review
‘It may not have Lost In Translation's reach, but it's original and smartly funny with top performances.’ – Ian Free/Empire

Negative Review
‘Somewhere has a lot of good impulses, and a salutary faith in an audience's patience; but the film's tone, in its script, performances and visual style, is studiously uninflected. It's a document of people seen remotely, maybe from outer space.’ – Richard Corliss/Time

Content Advice
sexual content, nudity and language


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Book Review: Absence of Mind

Science dominates our culture as the ultimate way of knowing. For many, if science can’t demonstrate it then it is not true. In her masterful book Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self Marilynne Robinson, an award-winning author of fiction, argues that parascientific writings have too quickly dismissed the mind’s own evidence of its nature.

Parascientific literature is that which is written in response to scientific discoveries which are assumed to bring about a radical change in understanding and a complete reversal of what is known before. These include the “discoveries” of great thinkers such as Darwin, Nietschze, Marx and Freud. It is often assumed that thinkers like these have turned around our ideas of human nature to such an extent that all that has gone before that moment has to be radically revised or jettisoned.

Robinson comments on writers such as Rorty, Dennett and Dawkins arguing that, while their intention to bring a rational approach to topics such as religion, they do not do justice to the inadequacies of a rationalist, positivist approach which is limited in its ability to generalise about such things.

The first chapter of the book deals with human nature and the way in which humans have expressed and recorded their own experiences and understandings throughout the millennia – and the way in which modernist thinkers have unquestioningly accepted that ‘… we have stepped over a threshold that separates old error from new insight…’ resulting in a ‘[t]riumphalism [that] was never the friend of reason.’

Robinson describes how she

… was educated to believe that a threshold had indeed been crossed in the collective intellectual experience, that we had entered a realm called “modern thought,” and we must naturalize ourselves to it. We had passed through a door that could swing only one way. Major illusion had been dispelled for good and all. What we had learned from Darwin, Marx, Freud, and others were insights into reality so deep as to be ahistorical. Criticism was nostalgia, and skepticism meant the doubter’s mind was closed and fearful. (p. 21)

For Robinson,

The great new truth into which modernity has delivered us is generally assumed to be that the given world is the creature of accident, that it has climbed Mount Improbable incrementally and over time, through a logic of development, refinement, and elaboration internal to itself and sufficient to account exhaustively for all the complexity and variety of which reality and experienced are composed. Once it was asserted, and now it is taken to be proved, that the God of traditional Western religion does note exist, or exists at the remotest margins of time and causality. In either case, and emptiness is thought to have entered human experience with the recognition that an understanding of the physical world can develop and accelerate through disciplines of reasoning for which God is not a given. (p.23)

All of this (and more that she discusses just in the first chapter!) has led to a situation where those writing from a perspective of science about things religious, have not successfully constructed arguments that satisfy the rigorous demands of science itself. Robinson has made it clear in interviews that she loves science and the cosmological theories that have been developed are beautiful – but they do not necessarily say anything that is automatically antithetical to religion and religious understandings of human nature.

In the second chapter of Absence of Mind Robinson turns to ‘the strange history of altruism’. Explaining the altruistic impulse in human behaviour that has been a contentious issue between evolutionary theorists and those that wish to affirm the self-sacrificial nature of altruism. How is one to understand altruism if everything must be explained in terms of the survival of a group or a selfish gene? Here, too, writers of parascientific literature confidently assert ‘…that science has given us knowledge sufficient to allow us to answer certain essential questions about the nature of reality, if only for dismissing them.’ (p. 33) One of these areas is the ‘felt life of the mind’ – the self-reporting of the subjective experience of a phenomenon like altruism is dismissed on the assumption that science can now explain everything including what is “really” going on with the mind. According to Robinson, ‘… the renunciation of religion in the name of reason and progress has been strongly associated with a curtailment of the assumed capacities of the mind.’ (p. 75)

The third chapter then turns to analysis of the ‘Freudian self’ and the often-forgotten fact that Freud’s psychodynamic theories were developed within a very specific historical, political, and sociological context. One of the problems with Freud’s theories is that they are mostly immune to scientific criticism and reduce, once again, the phenomenon of altruistic morality and other aspects of the life of the mind to seething, self-centred, obsessive drives that completely deny the positive subjective expressions of the mind as it tries to understand itself. As Robinson points out, Freud’s fundamental and pervasive premise about the mind is that it is not to be trusted. Since Freud, the mind’s subjective experience has been devalued in preference to the parascientific assertions that all can be reduced to the physical, chemical, and mechanistic rules of evolution.

Marilynne Robinson calls for a rethinking of our approach to mind and, in particular, a recognition of the condescending, arrogant approach of parascientific writing that assumes it has all the answer for the questions raised by the mysterious human mind. Robinson, as she has said elsewhere, loves science. But she believes it has its place and that it has neglected the best of what religion may offer in our pursuit to understand the mind. The long history of the mind expressing itself needs to be listened to and we need to resist the poor thinking of parascientists who wish to reduce everything to their perspective.

It is impossible for me to do justice to Absence of Mind in this brief review. Based on a series of lectures, it is a short book but each page requires deep thinking. It is a polemic against poor thinking and a call for deep inquiry that respects the intransigent mysteries of the mind. The language is often abstract but always prosaic with a vocabulary that provokes deep reflective thought. This is a book I am going to return to again even if only for the inspirational perspective that the mind is more than the sum of its physical parts, rationalist sociological processes, reductionist evolutionary forces, or unconscious negative psychopathologies. The mind is a mystery and that mystery will never be comprehensively quantified by limited perspectives that ignore the rich heritage the mind itself has produced – art, music, philosophy, religion. Absence of Mind is a great book and worthy of every thinker’s bookshelf.

- Steve Parker

Book details

Robinson, M. (2010). Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Steve Parker wants to stay in touch on LinkedIn



I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

- Steve Parker

Steve Parker
Associate Dean (Teaching & Learning) at Flinders University
Adelaide Area, Australia

Confirm that you know Steve

© 2010, LinkedIn Corporation

Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Review: 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

On the shelf in the bookstore, Rebecca Goldstein's work of fiction, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, looked like it promised to be a meaty and entertaining philosophical novel on a topic that has had high public profile in recent years. But it was a disappointment.

Cass Seltzer (get the joke – Alka-Selstzer – there are lots of these), the main protagonist of the novel, is a psychologist who has leapt to fame following the publication of his book The Varieties of Religious Illusion. He has been called ‘the atheist with a soul’ by the media and his approach to religion has resonated with a wide readership. As the novel progresses, we meet various people Cass knows including a philosopher who has very strong delusions of grandeur. As the story tediously meanders through 344 pages Cass develops a relationship with a six-year-0ld mathematical wizard who is part of a fundamentalist sect and who is destined to become its leader. There’s also a past lover that turns up who is pursuing immortality. These are just a few of the many characters populating the story, none of whom we really come to feel much care for. Cass, his philosophical mentor, and his love interest, and the math genius are really the only characters that are developed with any degree of depth.

According to the author’s comments on, because ‘Arguments alone can’t capture all that is at stake for people when they argue about issues of reason and faith’, she wished to

… place in fiction, in its power to make vividly present how different the world feels to each of us and how these differences are sometimes what is really being expressed in the great debates of our day on the existence of God.

Unfortunately, 36 Arguments suffers from the author’s uninhibited exploration into all sorts of esoteric subjects which distract from the narrative arc of the book and mostly prove how clever and knowledgeable she is.  There is a tenuous relationship between these forays of obtrusiveness and the theme of religious experience. If you read the book, keep a dictionary handy! It’s almost unreadable at times and I have to admit to skipping a few chapters during the last third of the book.

I did appreciate Chapter 34 which describes a debate between Cass and a Christian apologist which articulates the nature and basis of a secular morality wrapped within an argument on the existence of God. I was relieved to arrive at this chapter as the essential perspective of the author coalesced in a moment of clarity.

In case my readers jump to the conclusion that I am biased against this book because I am a theist and it essentially argues against the existence of God, I hasten to tell you that the Appendix following the story is worth the price of the book! In this appendix, Goldstein outlines 36 arguments often used in support of the existence of God. For each one, she identifies the significant flaws that undermine their power. This is done concisely, articulately, and, at times, with wit. Anyone wishing a brief summary of the best arguments and counterarguments on the existence of God will find this very valuable and deeply thought provoking. It is a shame the novel itself did not have these same characteristics.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Recent DVD Release Recommendations

animal kingdom

Animal Kingdom


A very compelling Australian drama of a family caught in the web of crime. Very moving.

Positive Review
‘It's a remarkable film: A gritty, gut-churning, crime thriller based on a true story. Its greatness lies in its unwavering fidelity to human nature and the unstoppable laws of the wild.’ – Amy Biancolli/San Francisco Chronicle

Negative Review
‘Michôd wants a Greek epic but doesn't have the material. Animal Kingdom is a work of obvious ambition, and seeing a debut filmmaker swing for the fences like this is its own kind of moviehead satisfaction.’ – Michael Atkinson/Village Voice

Get Him To The Greek Movie

Get Him to the Greek

Some funny moments but not really impressed.


Positive Review
‘So comically fertile and yet so grounded in the reality of its characters that it's really a kind of marvel.’ – Mick La Salle/San Francisco Chronicle

Negative Review
‘This final act goes on far too long and devolves into such a miasma of pap that it's clear Stoller had no idea how to wrap things up.’ – Marc Mohan/Portland Oregonian

Friday, November 12, 2010

Movie Review: The Loved Ones


What a lovely title for a movie – The Loved Ones. But don’t be misled! This Australian movie is one of the most shocking revenge horror movies to come along for a long time.

Six months have passed since Brent (Xavier Samuel) has lost his Dad in a car accident he caused. He is riddled with guilt and has immersed himself in metal music, drug use, risk-taking behaviour and is a complete mess. But he is still the most eligible young guy in high school.

Holly (Victoria Thaine) has agreed to go with Brent to the upcoming school prom. Holly recognises the despair that Brent is experiencing but is prepared to take on this relationship because she can see beneath the surface. But Holly is not the only one interested in Brent. Lola (Robin McLeavy), an angelic, sweet, vulnerable young girl also asks him out and, of course, Brent says no. Big mistake!

Lola and her Daddy (John Brumpton) have their own prom celebrations planned for Brent. They kidnap him and drag him off to their quaint little house on a farm where the party consists of torturing poor Brent with knives, injections of Drano, electric drills, psychological abuse, and actions that just cannot be described here. While all this is happening, we are shown a series of flashbacks and parallel subplots that eventually come together in a loose sort of way.

As a genre movie, The Loved Ones is far superior to the torture movies coming out of the US like the Saw franchise and Hostel (which I have never seen but the trailers tell it all!). The Loved Ones adds a layer of serious teen issues like grief, loneliness, desperation for meaningful friendships, and guilt which propels this genre into new territory.

Within that wrapping, however, is some very twisted, perverse, shocking torture which some have suggested verges on “torture porn”.  As an example of the revenge horror genre, it is better than most. But I definitely do not recommend it!


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Friday, November 05, 2010

Jesus Only?

There's a lot of nonsense spoken in the name of God/Jesus. I'm sitting in a bookshop next to a table where there are two guys having a conversation. One of them is telling the other about a talk he's giving to some young people on the upcoming weekend. Here's the essence of his talk:
Friends are unreliable. We may expect them to satisfy our needs but they never live up to our expectations. The only friend that can bring complete satisfaction is Jesus. If I found myself on a desert island with no other people (friends) I could experience complete satisfaction because I would have the perfect friend in Jesus. Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden needed no one else but God to speak with. So that is all anyone needs. So if I find that my friends are letting me down, remember: they are fallible. Jesus is completely reliable and is the only friend I really need to be completely satisfied.
This is, of course, complete nonsense for the following reasons: It completely ignores what we know about relationship needs from psychology. Humans have a fundamental need for relationship with other humans. This includes a profound need for physical touch, without which humans cannot thrive. If one is going to use the Eden story to support the complete fulfillment of a person with God alone, one could just as easily argue that God making a couple after not finding a partner suitable for Adam from the animal kingdom, demonstrates that true fulfillment comes as a result of human relationship. Adam's initial aloneness is conveyed as something that needed to be rectified. That is why the story has God making Eve with the narrative culminating in them meeting and Adam celebrating their union. The whole Bible sees community as core to faith. It is only in the modern West that individualism has become so dominant as the norm. The New Testament is shot through with the communal basis of faith with metaphors of relationship. While Jesus is most certainly described as the matrix within which these relationships exist, there is constant advice to love, support, and encourage one's family, "family", and neighbors. What makes the plans of the speaker to give young people such thoughtless advice is the obvious irony of the situation. Firstly, the guy was married! Clearly, Jesus wasn't enough for him! After his talk to the youth he could go home and cuddle up to his wife. What right does he have to stand before kids who may be aching with loneliness and say Jesus is the only friend you really need and then go and satisfy his own human needs for relationship by being married? And he wasn't alone at the table (obviously). He and his conversation partner were obviously close friends. So here he was putting together a message that Jesus is completely satisfying in an intimate friend relationship! And all this happened to take place in a Christian bookstore coffee shop. Do you think that, as I looked around, I saw people all sitting at tables by themselves with looks of complete satisfaction as they communes with an invisible Jesus? Not at all. Every table (other than one) had at least two people leaning forward sharing conversation together. What response would this speaker likely get standing up to pontificate to lonely kids that then only friend they need is Jesus who will bring them complete satisfaction? Christians throughout history have been isolated from their communities for all sorts of reasons - persecution, accident, circumstances. Imagine a Christian shipwrecked on an island and completely alone. Have any in such circumstances refused rescue because they have found complete satisfaction in Jesus? Certainly many in these situations would describe God as sustaining them through ordeal. But it is an ordeal because it is a not how humans are made to exist. We need to get real with our spiritually vacuous advice to people. Apart from the mystics who deliberately went against their human nature and isolated themselves to commune with God alone, I know of no one would choose a life cut off from others. Surely a message to these young people would be that we are made for relationship. And if you are feeling lonely and neglected and isolated, we are here for you; we will genuinely listen to you; and we will support and encourage you while you learn to relate to others, develop friendships, and navigate the rou sea of living with other flawless people. A satisfying relationship with Jesus will only occur if it is enfleshed in real people who love and accept the lonely and marginalized in the same way Jesus did. Let's hope those young people the presenter was planning to speak to don't leave depressed, disillusioned -- and lonely.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Movie Review: Summer Coda

summer coda

Summer Coda is a languid, relaxing, summer movie set in Mildura’s  (Victoria, Australia) stunning orange groves.

Heidi (Rachael Taylor) is travelling back from the US to her birth place to attend her estranged father’s funeral. She hasn’t spoken to him since she was seven. She needs to bring this part of her life to a close. As she hitchhikes her way there, she is picked up by Michael (Alexis Dimitriades) and a friendship forms. After the tense funeral and subsequent wake, Heidi decides to stay on for a while to work through her emotions, relationships with family, and the deepening romance between her and Michael. She is employed on Michael’s orange grove as a picker. As she works alongside the regular itinerant fruit pickers, an undercurrent of tension mounts which confuses Heidi. Something is not right and she doesn’t know what it is.

Summer Coda is a very slow, gentle, beautifully nuanced story where most of the action is emotional and character-driven. It’s about grief, relationships, and the struggle to resolve pasts that haunt us. Taylor and Dimitriades are both good in their roles and the relationship they form is believable.

While it is a good movie, it does tend to lose momentum at times. It’s a thoughtful story and provides a refreshing relief from the more sensational fare on offer. It may be one you choose to wait for on DVD.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Recent DVD Releases and Recommendations


Iron Man 2


Positive Review
‘Iron Man 2 sets gold standard for sequels thanks to Robert Downey Jr.'s Stark performance.’ – Joe Ne


Harry Brown


Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Review: Road Out of Eden

I usually enjoy books that describe the spiritual/religious journeys of people. But LouAnne White’s Out of Eden – From Adventist to Atheist doesn’t quite achieve the qualities it needs to make it worth the price. I will approach this review by addressing two aspects of the book: the personal journey of the author; and the quality of the book.

The Personal Journey

Out of Eden tells the story of LouAnne White as she journeyed from Seventh-day Adventism to her current position of atheism. Her story is deeply  moving as she recounts experiencing what she labels child abuse. She writes:

Growing up in Adventism or in many religions where a religion is pushed upon a child’s mind to be absolute truth is in my experience a form of emotional and psychological child abuse. (p. 14)

White describes how, for example, her father would tell his children, when they were young kids, ‘that there were bears under our bed in order to keep us from getting out of bed at nighttime.’ (p. 15) She was taught that God’s love is conditional on being good. For White, her upbringing occurred in

… a very controlled and legalistic environment. Besides feeling guilt and shame from believing that God was judging me on a constant basis and determining my salvation based on my performance there was also the threat of judgment and hell fire that was used to control our actions. It was emotional blackmail. (p. 16)

White also describes how some of the unique doctrines of Adventism, such as the endtime scenarios arguing that Sunday laws would come in and persecution and death could result by not keeping Sunday as the Sabbath, led to a fearful relationship to God and religion.

After exploring the ideas and experiences that provided her with a very negative view of God and religion, White tells us how she went ‘from one extreme to another’ and, like the prodigal son, sewed her wild oats in the ‘”sinful world”’. Her “rebellion”, however, resulted in mounting feelings of guilt which led her to intermittently return to church, be rebaptised, only to leave again. Guilt and perfectionism sent her from bad to worse as she returned to the writings of Ellen White, Adventism’s prophetess. On the basis of her writings, she joined an extreme, cultic offshoot of Adventism that emphasised perfectionism and the keeping of a long list of rules derived from Ellen White’s writings. LouAnne documents about 43 of these rules covering just about every aspect of life — eating, drinking, dressing, sex, and on and on.

Her marriage to a member of this cultish form of Adventism, initially believed to be an “equally yoked” marriage, turned out to be hell as her husband emotionally abused her under the guise of religious piety.

LouAnne  always had a desire to find the truth. And so she begins to study into the early history of Adventism and discovers what many had before her — the tendency of Ellen White to use her authority to control people and discourage them from questioning her writings. Quotes from Ellen White were read to LouAnne such as:

It is Satan’s plan to weaken the faith of God’s people in the Testimonies (the “testimonies” were her [Ellen White’s] writings (sic) Next follows skepticism in regard to the vital points of our faith, the pillars of our position, then doubt as to the Holy Scriptures and then the downward march to perdition.”

Quotations like this clearly strike fear into the heart of someone who wishes to think and question their faith. But LouAnne persisted in her search, discovering the many Adventist leaders and theologians who have been evicted from the denomination or defrocked of ministerial credentials for their questioning of official doctrine, including Desmond Ford in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Finally, she leaves Adventism and then, as she continues to explore and discover, she realises, at age 50, she has moved away from religion altogether and adopted atheism. LouAnne describes how she struggles with old emotions and, in particular, the difficulties dealing with family members and others who are intolerant of her thinking and deciding for herself.

LouAnne’s journey is an interesting one and many who have travelled a similar journey will no doubt relate to her story. And it certainly raises issues about the nature of some forms of religion that are fundamentalist, sectarian, legalistic, and cultic in their approaches. Her story also shows how a person may experience severe emotional consequences, such as depression, for many, many years.

For all these reasons, there are many worthwhile aspects to this book.

The Quality of the Book

While the above positive aspects of the book can be identified, overall, the book is of a very poor quality and standard. Essentially, it needs a good editor to guide the writing and publication. It is full of grammatical and formatting errors that make the book irritating to read. It is clearly self-published and suffers for it. The presentation of the book is amateurish.

More seriously, in those places where White discusses the information she based her decisions on, much of the text is either a direct copying of source material or “dot-pointed” noting. While all of this material is acknowledged, it means the personal dimension of the journey is lost, apart from a few comments here and there by White herself. In the chapter on ‘The Origin and History of Religion’, the major source is D M Murdoch’s (aka Acharya S) Origins of Christianity and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. There are pages of material uncritically excerpted and presented as dot points to the reader.

Acharya S believes that Jesus was not a historical figure and that Christianity’s construction of Jesus is based on a range of pagan myths from various cultures. Nothing new in that. However, relying on Acharya S to make decisions about factual matters may not be very wise. She has been widely criticised, even by skeptics like Richard Carrier and Robert M Price (who also, by the way, believes that Christ was a mythological figure). So her ideas and theories are, to say the least, contentious, even from the point of view of those who agree with the idea of a mythological Christ.

The point here is that the material offered by White as evidence she considered in her move from Christianity to atheism is highly questionable. At least, to be fair minded, White should offer a critical view of this material.

White also cursorily surveys various reasons to abandon Christianity. Rather than articulate her own reasons, however, she summarises a pamphlet by Chaz Bufe, a contemporary anarchist author (according to Wikipedia). The summarised criticisms of Christianity are sweeping generalisations with no careful distinction or criticism made about them. For example, ‘Christianity is based on fear.’ Well… certainly, much of Christian theology is certainly based on fear. But not all of it. And one could argue, for example, that the New Testament specifically emphasises love as the basis and motivation of true religion. Not only that, much contemporary scholarship in Christianity itself criticises a fear-based approach to religion.

Or, ‘Christianity is anti-intellectual, anti-scientific.” Yes, fundamentalist brands of Christianity are; but any well-informed person will be able to easily identify many, many segments of Christianity that value intellectual activity and scientific enterprise.

In a remarkable irony, after citing all this material on the mythological Christ, White writes:

In light of this entire ridiculous repeating of fables down through history that has obviously been used to create all the different criteria for a deity for all the different cultures including the Christian deity and the fact that the few mentions of Jesus from historians came about during a time of rampant forgeries by the early church I must conclude that Pope Leo X hit the nail on the head when he said:

What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!” – Pope Leo X (p. 96, emphasis in original)

The irony? This alleged quote from Pope Leo X is completely inauthentic! For a detailed account demonstrating how this quote is derived from a satirical, anti-Catholic work by John Bale (1495-1563) click here. So one must ask the question: How well did White critically examine what she accepted as she read these works critiquing Christianity?


So Road Out of Eden is a mixed bag. The best parts are where White focuses specifically on her own experience, in particular, the emotional dimensions of her upbringing and the impact of that on the rest of her life. Her struggle to come to terms with her belief system and the confinement of legalistic, perfectionistic religion convey a sense of frustration, pain, and courage, as she tries to make sense out of her experiences. If the whole book had focused on this and had the benefit of a good editor, there would be a great book here. But the poor writing and presentation, and the uncritical repeating of secondhand ideas of others, reduces its value and makes it an unreliable guide for anyone else to follow the same intellectual journey.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Movie Review: The Town

Bank heist movies are a dime a dozen. But the Ben Affleck-directed The Town stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of them in some important ways.
The Town opens with a number of quotes informing us that Charlestown, a blue-collar neighbourhood in Boston, is a place where crime is a part of everyday life. In fact, it is America’s capital for all sorts of nasty activity including bank robbery. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) has grown up in this neighbourhood where a life of crime is passed down from father to son. Doug is the brains behind a group of ruthless gang members who are planning a bank robbery. Doug is desperate to leave Charlestown and make a new life for himself. But his friends expect that never to happen — certainly not until they have made all the money they need.
During the action-packed heist, Doug forces the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), to open the safe. Because the robbers are all in masks, they are not able to be identified. When the robbers leave the bank, they take Claire as a hostage, covering her head with a bag. Once clear of the bank, they drop her off, head still covered, at a beach, telling her to keep walking until her toes hit the water. She is terrified and traumatised.
But then the gang discover she lives near them in the same neighbourhood. Has she seen too much? Might she recognise them somehow? What is she saying to the tenacious FBI agent who is investigating the crime. One of the gang would rather kill her than take any risks. But Doug wants to proceed with caution. So he tails her to see if he can determine whether she represents any danger to them. Then he goes further and makes actual contact.
And, of course, Doug becomes attracted to Claire and begins to establish a relationship with her. And so begins a tense romance with Doug living in two worlds and the inevitable stress that results. I shall tell you no more … the rest of the movie is premised on this relationship and is set alongside the attempts of the FBI agent to bring the robbery gang down.
The heist narrative of The Town is not really new. If that were all there was to this movie, it wouldn’t be much of a movie at all. What makes it special is that it is character and place driven. The quotes referred to above that appear at the start of the movie, drive home the fact that this story is as much about Charlestown as it about anything. And then there are the characters. Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) all put in excellent performances and the relationships between them all provide the backbone of the movie. These relationships are sensitively and subtly drawn and we come to care deeply about them, particularly the two leads.
This is the second major film that Ben Affleck has directed. His previous one, Gone Baby Gone was excellent. But in The Town Affleck shows us how much real potential he has, building on the stunning co-writing he did for Good Will Hunting so many years ago. The action sequences are excellent, the dramatic tension palpable, and the cast give us believable characters that are flawed in very human ways. It’s a great movie.
Positive Review
‘A rich, dark, pulpy mess of entanglements that fulfills all the requirements of the genre, and is told with an ease and gusto that make the pulp tasty.’ – Lisa Schwarzbaum/Entertainment Weekly
Negative Review
‘Given the debased standards of action cinema these days this might be enough to make The Town a hit. But almost everything else about the movie is badly off balance, starting with Affleck's decision to cast himself as the implacably sexy and good-hearted Doug.’ – Andrew O’Hehir/

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Movie Review: Buried

It is hard to believe that a 90 minute movie with only one actor and only one location — an old wooden coffin buried underground — could hold one’s attention. But Rodrigo Cortes’s Buried does precisely that.

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is working in Iraq as a US contractor when he is attacked by a group of Iraqis and knocked unconscious. He wakes up to find himself buried alive in a wooden coffin with nothing but a cell phone and a cigarette lighter. He has until his oxygen runs out to escape. Can he do it?

The first seven minutes of Buried are unbelievably tense as we live through the first moments of Paul waking up to his fate. The tension is unrelenting and we wonder how is it going to be possible to do anything with this situation to keep our interest. But just as we are about to give up thinking that this is going to be 90 minutes of monotonous claustrophobia, things start to happen that keep us on the edge until the very last frame (literally!).

This movie should have been impossible to make but here it is! And it is brilliant! There are nasty surprises and twists, brilliant acting by Reynolds, and a wonderful script. And everything that happens inside that coffin is absolutely real and believable.

I won’t tell you anymore. Go see it.


Positive Review
‘In theory, we go to movies for enjoyment. Director Rodrigo Cortés inverts that notion with Buried, a terrific, claustrophobic, fist-clenching film in which he tortures his audience in exquisite fashion.’ – Bill Goodykoontz/Arizona Republic

Negative Review
‘Rodrigo Cortes keeps the action bound to the box, limiting his lighting to naturalistic approximations, so that much of Reynolds's performance consists of him grunting and heaving in the dark.’ – Karina Longworth/Village Voice

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Book Review: The Reason Driven Life

The moment I began reading Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life I didn’t like it. It was immature, simplistic, theologically inadequate, and ripped biblical verses from their context. But I have come to dislike it even more now I have read Robert M Price’s The Reason Driven Life: What Am I Here On Earth For? Price’s book is a brilliant critique of fundamentalist Christianity as illustrated by Warren’s book. And while Price is responding specifically to Warren, one doesn’t need to have read Warren’s book.

Price is an intriguing character. He has been a fundamentalist evangelical, a pastor of a liberal Baptist church, and came to eventually reject theism altogether. Reading his life story, as described in the introduction to the book, one can see he was a very committed fundamentalist Christian practicing as one would expect of a Christian in this tradition — attending church, having daily “quiet time”, training for Campus Crusade for Christ, president of InverVarsity Christian Fellowship, and so on. He has doctorates in theology and New Testament. He describes himself as a humanist and is currently, I believe, a member of the Episcopal Church. Price is also a fellow of the in(famous) Jesus Seminar and sometimes describes himself as a Christian atheist. He has also authored a number of books on the historicity of Jesus which he questions.

I recently heard Price speaking on a podcast addressing atheists who, in his view, disrespect the Biblical documents in the way they dismiss them. He argued that atheists need to at least treat the biblical documents with the same regard they treat other great classics of literature such as The Iliad. Instead, because of narrow-mindedness, many of them are blind to the Bible’s beauty and wisdom, even if they do not take it literally or accept the absolute claims made for it by fundamentalist Christians.

Hearing how Price spoke in such respectful language regarding the Bible and the deep scholarship and expertise he clearly had prompted me to buy The Reason Driven Life and have a read. And what a read!

Price’s essential message is that fundamentalist Christianity is narrow-minded, immature, and unthinking. In forty short chapters (emulating Warren’s book) Price explores the characteristics of fundamentalist Christianity and suggests that they:

  • are obsessively focused on continual religious activity to the exclusion of living life to the full
  • place people in a double bind of valuing the self and denying the self
  • deny scientific discoveries and understandings of human nature and existence
  • confuse and equate limited human perspectives and interpretations of the Bible with the very voice of God
  • take an immature approach to living life and making decisions and, instead, place this responsibility on a god who is constantly intervening even though it makes no sense to do so
  • constantly experience anxiety and depression at not measuring up to what is understood to be God’s standards for living and behaviour
  • discourage thinking and promote the need to adopt the absolute truth as understood by the denomination or church
  • require conformity to the group rather than development of individuality and uniqueness
  • construe as heretical any position that does not conform to denominational creeds and reject independent thinking
  • use friendships and other relationships for evangelising rather than experiencing these for their own value
  • and much more…

Price most definitely has a point! Anyone who has grown up in, or lived in, any religious group that leans towards a fundamentalist milieu will have experienced many of these things. Thinking — real, genuine, independent, critical thinking — is not high on the agenda. And many fundamentalist Christians, under the guise of faith in God, live lives of egocentric wish fulfilment. For many, God is more interested in them getting a car park or finding their keys than rescuing the millions of men, women, and children who suffer natural or moral disasters around the globe. Or God is mostly concerned about correct belief, defined by them, than about genuine loving of others.

There is an enormous amount of benefit in reading Price’s book. One of the most liberating paragraphs is found in the introduction where he says that he

…does not much care what you end up believing, partly because you should not jump to conclusions. Part of living the reason-driven life is that you no longer feel the false urgency to make up your mind right now what you believe. You realize you are not under any deadline. Nor are you likely ever to arrive at some definitive truth. Your thinking about the meaning of life will be an ongoing project, its own reward. And the conclusions you do reach will be tentative and always open to revision in light of new insights you may encounter.

This is, indeed, a liberating position to take in life. One of the features of fundamentalism is a constant need to be certain. The degree of certainty one feels is often made a matter of life and death. But with maturity comes an approach to living that does not require certainty about everything. Living with uncertainty and adopting one’s right to think for oneself rather than being told what to think is sometimes painful but always liberating.

For some Christians reading Price’s book, there will be many things unacceptable. For example, Price denies the historicity of Jesus and the reality of a personal God. In his view, there is inadequate evidence for either. He deeply respects people’s right to believe in either or both and he associates with Christians, even to worshiping with them and identifying himself as an Episcopalian. At times, he has accepted the term ‘Christian atheist’ to describe his perspective although he prefers to be called a humanist.

The Reason Driven Life is a fascinating book by a fascinating author. His essential critique of fundamentalist Christianity (his primary target) is often apt and accurate. Despite different readers probably rejecting some parts of the book and some of his ideas, it’s a good wakeup call to fundamentalist Christians to start thinking more seriously about their religion and their faith.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Movie Review: Boy

The way we construct our images of people when we can’t see them is always dangerous. When the reality appears, it can be devastating. The reality is rarely, if ever, as we imagine and we are often disappointed and struggle to come to terms with that reality.This is the central theme of the delightful New Zealand movie Boy written and directed by Taika Waititi.

Boy (Janes Rolleston) lives on a farm with grandmother, younger brother, Rocky (who believes he has magical powers which killed his Mum), and a goat called Leaf. When Gran leaves for a week to attend a funeral Boy is left in charge. Boy’s father, Alamein (played by Taika Waititi) turns up after being released from prison. He and his mates have formed a gang of three and are looking for some money from a previous robbery buried in one of the paddocks of the farm. During the absence of his father, Boy has imaginatively built his father into a hero of larger-than-life proportions. Of course, the reality is very different than Boy’s larger-than-life picture and, while he struggles to maintain the wish he has for his father to really be a hero, the reality gradually sinks in that his father is nothing more than a loser.

Boy is a delightful story filled with humour and sadness, joy and pain. The soundtrack tends to dominate a bit at times, but the characters are quirky and endearing and the struggle to come to terms with reality are wonderfully represented. The cinematography is just as one would expect from a New Zealand landscape but the buildings reflect the themes of the movie as they undermine the beauty of nature — the tension between idealised fantasy and everyday reality are a constant undercurrent in the film.

The poster for the movie is iconic of the story — innocence, beauty, humour. It’s a heart-warming narrative that takes you through heartache before a beginning maturity that can tackle reality headon arrives for Boy. The movie’s unassuming nature makes it unlikely to appear in mainstream cinemas. But, if it comes to a cinema near you, don’t miss it.


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Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: Ayn Rand for Beginners

I have been attracted to Ayn Rand's philosophy for quite some time. This interest was originally triggered by reading one of her novels for which she is very well known — The Fountainhead. Her other novel, Atlas Shrugged, I’m yet to read. And I have read a couple of other books on her philosophy plus some internet-based material. It’s been difficult to find something that simply summarises her ideas with authority — until now.

Andrew Bernstein’s Ayn Rand for Beginners is an excellent, easy-to-read, simple, and comprehensive introduction. He begins by introducing us to the Russian-born Alyssa Rosenbaum (who later changed her name to Ayn Rand) who, at the age of six, taught herself to read. At nine, she decided that her career was going to be writing fiction. Following the Bolshevik Revolution and the confiscation of her father’s pharmacy and years of severe poverty, Rand escaped to America at the age of 21 and stayed there for the rest of her life. Bernstein takes us from that point on her journey writing movie scripts, plays, and a novella until, in 1943, she published The Fountainhead after seven years of writing and rejection from multiple publishers. He then describes the rest of her life of writing and the development of her philosophy.

Bernstein then takes us on a brief journey to meet the main characters and the major themes of her two novels. This is followed by a chapter on the development of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, a chapter introducing the reader to her main ideas, another chapter going a bit deeper into her philosophy, and finishes with a discussion of the modern movement which keeps her ideas alive and disseminated.

Ayn Rand called her philosophy objectivism. According to Rand, values provide the meaning to life. The values an individual holds motivate all their actions. For Rand, the highest good was the pursuit of one’s values and she considered that a person should do so ‘selfishly’. She did not mean selfish in the common sense we use it. Instead, she believed that if a person focused completely on living by their values it would result in genuine care of others because of the values that would result from that care. She held that human life requires the achievement of values and that they should not be sacrificed for any other cause. For her, the best thing one could do was encourage others to achieve their own values and considered it morally wrong to sacrifice what is important to oneself for others. A rational human being who is working for their own happiness naturally loves others to achieve one’s own happiness. So other people then benefit from a ‘selfish’ approach to the pursuit of personal values. Helping others is a personal choice (rather than a result of an obligatory command). Helping of others cannot be good if it is not the result of personal choice.

For Rand, genuine love and care for others, then, is a result of self-interest and thus chosen rather than imposed. It is, therefore, a paradox that ‘selfishness’ leads to genuine care of others because of the mutual benefits that result.

And where do values come from? They should be derived from objective, rational thinking on the basis of evidence (hence the term objectivism for her philosophy). It is here that Rand comes into conflict with much religious thought which usually bases values on revelation from a god or gods. For her, these values are imposed and accepted by faith rather than derived from empirical evidence. As a result she rejects any form of religion.

In a secular society (which Western cultures are rapidly becoming/have become), it is not appropriate that values derived from a particular religion are imposed on the rest of society. An objectivist approach may provide common ground for exploring values in society. With increasing religious tensions within multicultural societies, this may be something we need. The challenge, of course, is to find objective bases on which to derive values that are a priori believed on faith. Many Christians won’t be willing to move to this approach because of the absolutist approaches to morality that is considered to be part of Christian foundational belief. It may also mean the jettisoning of some values that have no basis in any evidence.

In this brief review, it is impossible to do justice to Rand’s philosophy. I’m only learning about it myself. But if you want a plain introduction, then Bernstein’s Ayn Rand for Beginners is a good place to start. Bernstein clearly has a deep understanding of Rand’s thought and approaches it with respect and balance. Rand’s philosophy is fascinating, fresh, and provocative. Definitely worth a look!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review: Darwin, Creation and the Fall

Last year (2009) was the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his world-shattering book Origin of Species. Many Christians, particularly those on the conservative end of the spectrum, have had a very difficult time with evolutionary theory as it is considered, by them, to completely undermine the biblical narrative of human origins.

In the book Darwin, Creation and Fall: Theological Challenges, we have a fascinating exploration by a group of scholars who are conservative evangelicals and who accept the current consensus of scientists on the evolutionary origins of humans. Now that is interesting!

The two editors of the book come from different disciplines. R J (Sam) Sperry was Professor of Genetics at University College London 1984-2000. T A Noble is Senior Research Fellow in Theology at the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City. They have gathered a number of writers who, in this volume, explore the relationship between the biblical account of origins and Fall in Genesis 1-3 and the contemporary understanding of origins as articulated by the theory of evolution.

Each of the contributors to the book takes a particular aspect of the issue and describes, and attempts to resolve, some of the challenges once one accepts the biblical documents as authoritative and the modern consensus on evolution. The book begins with a chapter that sets the doctrine of creation in the context of worship of the Creator. This is followed by a historical survey of Darwin’s struggle to come to terms with his scientific discoveries and their theological implications. The next chapter takes a look at Darwin himself and the theological challenges that arose for him as he worked on his science. Another chapter revisits the early chapters of Genesis and discusses the issue of interpreting this text. Following this is a discussion of the concept of original sin and provides some fresh perspectives on the doctrine of the Fall. The last two chapters engage with two theologians — one ancient (Irenaeus) and one modern (Henri Blocher) who have contributed significantly to the discussions of the Fall, original sin, and theodicy.

In the epilogue to the book, the authors affirm the following:

  • An insistence that as new information emerges, Scripture, whilst God-given and authoritative, must be re-examined and may require reinterpreting. Christians of a former age had no doubts that the sun moves round the earth and supported their ideas from the Bible …; nowadays we unhesitatingly interpret the passages which seemed to speak of a fixed earth in other ways.
  • An awareness of the compelling genetic and fossil evidence that human beings have descended from an ape-like line, and that we are therefore related to other living beings.
  • The uniqueness of human beings as the only creatures made in God’s image, albeit ‘fallen’ so that life in fellowship with God is now only possible because of Christ’s redeeming and reconciling death. (pp. 197-198)

The authors conclude that they have arrived at a ‘…position which seems impossibly conservative but also surprisingly radical.’ (p. 198) They warn of the danger of ‘…rush[ing] too quickly to conflate the narrative of human origins and Fall in Genesis and the narrative of human origins given by modern science’, and they acknowledge the necessity of each discipline (science and theology) maintaining their own integrity with each contributing different perspectives on the issues. They arrive at the hypothesis that:

Our prehuman ancestors cannot be called immoral (let alone ‘sinful’) on the grounds that they killed, deceived, behaved promiscuously, and so on. But when God created the first humans, apes now in God’s image, or Homo divinus as John Stott has called them, these creatures, since they were now brought into this unique relationship to God, became moral agents. Although they shared many inherited — including behavioural — traits with their ancestors and animal relatives, this did not mean that they were dependent on or determined by them. Sociobiologists fall into the naturalistic fallacy when they argue that human ethical norms are no more than correlates of our evolutionary history. But the new relationship to God, being in his image, which led to new moral possibilities and responsibilities, was followed by a failure to believe and obey God, and consequently a failure to grow into the spiritual and moral greatness we were meant to exemplify. (pp. 200-201)

This hypothesis demonstrates how deeply radical and conservative the authors’ position is. The main benefit of this book, though, is not so much in the position they arrive at (which, of course, needs to be discussed, evaluated and critiqued) but more in the model it presents for conservative and liberal Christians in engaging both with science and with scripture. It demonstrates an approach which moves beyond dogmatism and the conflation of interpretations of the Bible with what the text may, in fact, authentically mean.

In the concluding paragraphs of the book, the authors write that

It is our conviction that there is no conflict between Holy Scripture and modern science. Indeed the Christian doctrine of creation provided the ground for the rise of science. The idea that Christian faith and science are in conflict and always have been is a myth propagated by Humanists for ideological reasons, but sadly they are helped by sincere Christian believers who think they are defending Holy Scripture when in fact they are doing nothing more than defending interpretations of Holy Scripture which are sadly inadequate. That does not mean to say that all the questions are answered, all the problems settled and all the mysteries resolved. That is never the case in either theology or natural science! Both are ongoing quests for deeper understanding. (p. 204 – emphasis in original)

 Darwin, Creation and the Fall is going to be very tough reading for conservative Christians. Undoubtedly, many will accuse the authors of heresy and blasphemy. If they do, then they will not have seen how deeply committed the authors are to the Bible and to God and how they are determined to give due weight to the biblical text as well as due weight to what we now know about human origins from a scientific view.

And, undoubtedly, there will be those who see these authors as doing nothing more than trying to rationalise their religious beliefs in order to legitimise what many atheists see as an outmoded, irrelevant, and even immoral, system of belief.

But for those of us who want to affirm our commitment to God and struggle to understand that commitment in the context of what we now know from science, this book will be a fascinating journey that, as the authors say, won’t answer every question, but will provide the opportunity to hear from others about a way forward in resolving an unnecessary conflict between faith and science. For anyone interested in these questions, and who are not afraid to think in new ways, this book is essential reading.

Book deteails: Berry, R. J., & Noble, T. (Eds.). (2009). Darwin, Creation and the Fall: Theological Challenges: Apollos.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Recent DVD Releases + My Ratings!

Beneath Hill 60

Released: 2010

Go to IMDb page

Information ©

Beneath Hill 60

Brendan Cowell, Steve Le Marquand, Alex Thompson, Mark Coles Smith, Anthony Hayes, Chris Haywood,


The Last Station

Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information ©

The Last Station

Helen Mirren, Paul Giamatti, John Sessions, Kerry Condon, Tomas Spencer, Wolfgang Häntsch,


The Book of Eli

Released: 2010

Go to IMDb page

Information ©

The Book of Eli

Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, Joe Pingue, Michael Gambon, Chris Browning,

My Review