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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion, re-visited.

I recently re-read Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion. The book is a trilogy, published as a single volume, which volume is over 1,000 pages in length as a paperback.  Moon has won the Nebula award, for the best science fiction work published in a year, as judged by other writers -- a prestigious award. The trilogy, however, is another type of fantastic literature, variously called epic, high, or sword and sorcery fantasy.

I don't wish to give away much of the plot, but will present some general themes, and also link to previous posts on the work. The story takes place in a fantasy world, which may or may not be part of earth at some time in the past. There is no  internal combustion, no gunpowder, no antibiotics or printing presses, no easy way to communicate over distances. Several kingdoms are involved, over hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles.

Paksenarrion began life as a sheepfarmer's daughter, which is the title of the first book of the trilogy. But she ran away from home, seeking glory as a soldier, and fleeing from an arranged marriage. Many fantasy stories tell of some obscure person discovering that they are actually of royal descent. Paksenarrion does not discover this. She does gain recognition by hard work, by learning from those more experienced, by her intelligence, and her general goodness. She is taller than most women, and strong. Eventually, she becomes one of the best, perhaps the best warrior of her time.

Many novels include a romantic element. Paksenarrion never falls in love with a man. She thinks that she could have, but that chance ended with the death of her friend. She does, in a non-erotic sense, fall in love with her military leader, and with the deities of her world.

Moon claims to be a Christian, and is an active participant in a local church. I have no reason to doubt this. Paksenarrion begins by not taking any religion very seriously, or at least no more seriously than the average farmer in her culture -- she pays lip service, only to the religion of her culture. But she comes to believe in a real supernatural High Lord, and in at least one saint, or subordinate god, Gird, and develops a relationship with them both.

The trilogy, as indicated above, portrays Paksenarrion as a truly good person, although she makes a few bad choices. She is virtuous, at least partly because of divine guidance. She is so good, in fact, that she sacrifices herself, sometimes in extremely dangerous ways, for others. As she matures, she puts the directions of the High Lord, Gird, or her leaders, above her own plans and desires, and the directions of the High Lord, or Gird, above the desires of earthly leaders.

There are evil beings, gods, orcs, other nasty non-humans, and humans who have permanently chosen evil over good in this world. There is a good side, and a bad side, and it's clear that Paksenarrion, and Moon, are on the side of good. Paksenarrion has several very difficult experiences. She is falsely accused by another, she is captured and tortured, twice, and, of course, she becomes a soldier, experiencing weather, sleeplessness, lack of food, and fighting. She loses good friends to death.

All in all, this trilogy is one of the finest works of fantastic literature available. Although it takes a little from Tolkien -- there are elves and orcs in it -- the elves aren't exactly the same as Tolkien's, and the books are definitely not derivative. There are no hobbits, or ents. There's no Gandalf-like figure. Women are given roles equal to men, on merit, not their sex. The hard work of getting ready for battle, and training, and setting up a camp, or a fort, is thoroughly presented (Moon has military experience herself).

I have previously posted on this trilogy, and on the question of whether it is a Christian work, on Biblical morals in the work, and on whether a Christian writer may be justified in presenting God in ways different from those in the Bible.

Thanks for reading. If you have the stamina, read The Deed of Paksenarrion. It is one of the finest works of fantasy available.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 30

It is my only purpose in this chapter to point this out; to show that whenever we feel there is something odd in Christian theology, we shall generally find that there is something odd in the truth.
I have alluded to an unmeaning phrase to the effect that such and such a creed cannot be believed in our age. Of course, anything can be believed in any age. But, oddly enough, there really is a sense in which a creed, if it is believed at all, can be believed more fixedly in a complex society than in a simple one. . . . For the more complicated seems the coincidence, the less it can be a coincidence. If snowflakes fell in the shape, say, of the heart of Midlothian, it might be an accident. But if snowflakes fell in the exact shape of the maze at Hampton Court, I think one might call it a miracle. It is exactly as of such a miracle that I have since come to feel of the philosophy of Christianity. The complication of our modern world proves the truth of the creed more perfectly than any of the plain problems of the ages of faith. . . . This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it. When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it’s elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Honor the King

Honor the King 
Honor the King
I’ve done it myself. I’ve ridiculed a person in authority. Based on these verses, and the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”) such behavior is wrong. We aren’t certain about the time when Peter wrote, telling his readers to “Honor the King.” (Some translations say “Honor the Emperor.”) But, no matter which king or emperor he had in mind, he wasn’t talking about a political authority who was friendly to Christians. Some Roman Caesars expected to be worshiped as if they were Gods. They presided over an occupied Israel. Roman soldiers had officiated at the crucifixion of Jesus. Some of the Caesars had Christians executed in various humiliating and painful ways. Some of them forced Christians to worship in secret. Peter might have been referring to Nero, who is said to have used Christians as living torches at his parties. These were not nice people. Yet Peter said to honor and respect them. So did Paul.

Jesus said, in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount, that we shouldn’t call other people fools, or equivalent words, and there may be a punishment, the most serious one, if we disobey this.

So what does this mean for today? It seems to me that it means just what it did to the early Christians. We are to honor and respect the President, the Supreme Court, the local school board, the mayor, and people in other such positions. It was wrong for a popular cartoonist to present President George W. Bush as a bedraggled, empty helmet. It is wrong to produce, or share, caricatures of President Obama as a monkey, or to call him an idiot. Those are just examples of wrong behavior. There are a lot more. You don’t have to go far on Facebook to find some related to President Obama. You won’t have to go far to find Internet and TV material ridiculing and dishonoring whoever becomes our next President, from whichever party.

What about the coaches and players and cheerleaders and fans of my team’s most despised rival? Do I respect them, do I honor them, do I acknowledge their skill and intelligence? I should treat them with respect, too.

Do we have to root for the other side? No. Do we have to agree with everything an elected official does? No. Do we have to vote for them? No. Can we disobey them? Yes, if it’s done respectfully, giving due honor, and for a sound Biblical reason.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Sunspots 528

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Christianity: A list of virtues you should pray that your children develop.

Benjamin L. Corey points out that God hadn't destroyed the US long before the legalization of homosexual marriage, but there had been plenty of reasons why He might have.

Health: National Public Radio reports that lots of us lie to our dentists, claiming that we floss our teeth, when we don't.

Humor: (If they are on someone else's lawn) NPR also reports that the man who is responsible for pink plastic flamingos has died.

A free on-line crossword puzzle generator. (Also for use by classroom teachers.)

Science: Wired reports on the possibility of using yeast organisms to make medical opiates.

Wired also reports on what several common food additives look like before they are added to our food.

And Wired reports on the science of how light is made. (LED, fluorescent, incandescent and fire.)

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Excerpts from Orthodoxy by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 29

The fancy that the cosmos was not vast and void, but small and cozy, had a fulfilled significance now, for anything that is a work of art must be small in the sight of the artist; to God the stars might be only small and dear, like diamonds. And my haunting instinct that somehow good was not merely a tool to be used, but a relic to be guarded, like the goods from Crusoe’s ship-even that had been the wild whisper of something originally wise, for, according to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world. But the important matter was this, that it entirely reversed the reason for optimism. And the instant the reversal was made it felt like the abrupt ease when a bone is put back in the socket. I had often called myself an optimist, to avoid the too evident blasphemy of pessimism. But all the optimism of the age had been false and disheartening for this reason, that it had always been trying to prove that we fit in to the world. The Christian optimism is based on the fact that we do not fit in to the world. I had tried to be happy by telling myself that man is an animal, like any other which sought its meat from God. But now I really was happy, for I had learnt that man is a monstrosity. I had been right in feeling all things as odd, for I myself was at once worse and better than all things. The optimist’s pleasure was prosaic, for it dwelt on the naturalness of everything; the Christian pleasure was poetic, for it dwelt on the unnaturalness of everything in the light of the supernatural. The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence. But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring. The knowledge found out and illuminated forgotten chambers in the dark house of infancy. I knew now why grass had always seemed to me as queer as the green beard of a giant, and why I could feel homesick at home.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Guidelines for Christian Behavior

We can divide the commandments in the Old Testament (OT) into three types:
Cultural and Civic -- for the OT Israelite culture, like commands on how to divide the land among the tribes.
Ceremonial -- concerning the Israelites' worship.
Moral -- for all cultures, at all times, like the commandment that husbands stay with their wives (Genesis 2:24, repeated by Jesus in Matthew 19:5). Moral commandments, stated first in the OT, are also found in the New Testament (NT).
We can't always tell which type of command was meant. The church generally does not hold that the first two types of commandments are binding on Christians. At the Jerusalem conference, when some Jews felt that gentile Christians must obey the ceremonial law, the leaders wrote: Acts 15:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: 29a that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality At least one of these prohibitions is not usually taken as binding by most Christians anymore, (eating blood) and at least one wasn’t always followed in NT times: 1 Corinthians 8:8 But food will not commend us to God. For neither, if we don’t eat, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better. 9 But be careful that by no means does this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak. The Acts 15 statement was about the ceremonial law. It does not undo God's moral laws.

Some questions to ask ourselves before starting a new activity or relationship, or making a significant purchase:
1) Is it consistent with the Bible? Especially Mark 12:29b ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
2) Would it put my spiritual health at risk? Physical health is also important.
3) How will it affect other people? Will this drive others away from Christ, or attract them to Him? (See
Romans 14:1-15:8)
4) Why am I considering this? Be careful to do nothing because of pride.
5) Has God given me a personal conviction against this (or for it)? If so, I'd better abide by that conviction. (Convictions are personal – not everyone will agree.)
6) Have I promised not to do this (or to do it)? Promises, including church vows, and marriage vows, should be kept.
7) How much will it cost me? (In money, time, effort and emotionally)

The questions above were revised on July 1, 2015

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sunspots 527

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else: 

Christianity: Relevant asks why so many Christians are afraid of dating.
Education: FiveThirtyEight questions some proposed limits on the time children spend watching screens of various kinds. The article claims that watching a TV program is of much less value than playing an interactive learning game on a tablet, for example.

Health: An article by a hospital psychiatrist, in First Things, on evidence that doing sex-change surgery doesn't really help those who have had the surgery. (Thanks to a reader for mentioning this to me.)

Humor: (Sort of) Relevant reports that Samsung has developed a transfer truck that you can "see through." That is, monitors on the back of the truck show drivers following it what is ahead of the truck.
Science: A video of a bird using bait to catch fish.

National Public Radio reports that the American Chestnut tree may be coming back, courtesy of some genetic engineering.

Wired reports on the difficulties of breeding better strawberries (and says that, yes, most strawberries could taste better.)

And Wired asks "Can my brain get too full?"

Image source (public domain)

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Pope's encyclical on climate change

As you are probably aware, Pope Francis has released an encyclical on climate change. (Here is a link to that document.)

Here is extensive coverage from CNN, including some video reports on papal infallibility, and on climate change.

Wired and Christianity Today have commentary on the pope's action. So does the BioLogos forum, an organization of Christian scientists and others. These comments are largely favorable.

Some commentators associated with Fox News were not so positive, by a long shot. See here and here, for samples. Some prominent Republicans, including some Catholics, also did not support the Pope on this matter.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 28

It was as if I had been blundering about since my birth with two huge and unmanageable machines, of different shapes and without apparent connection—the world and the Christian tradition. I had found this hold in the world: the fact that one must somehow find a way of loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must love the world without being worldly. I found this projecting feature of Christian theology, like a sort of hard spike, the dogmatic insistence that God was personal, and had made a world separate from Himself. The spike of dogma fitted exactly into the hold in the world—it had evidently been meant to go there—and then the strange thing began to happen. When once these two parts of the two machines had come together, one after another, all the other parts fitted and fell in with an eerie exactitude. I could hear bolt after bolt over all the machinery falling into its place with a kind of click of relief. Having got one part right, all the other parts were repeating that rectitude, as clock after clock strikes noon. Instinct after instinct was answered by doctrine after doctrine. Or, to vary the metaphor, I was like one who had advanced into a hostile country to take one high fortress. And when that fort had fallen the whole country surrendered and turned solid behind me. The whole land was lit up, as it were, back to the first fields of my childhood. All those blind fancies of boyhood which in the fourth chapter I have tried in vain to trace on the darkness, became suddenly transparent and sane. I was right when I felt that roses were red by some sort of choice: it was the divine choice. I was right when I felt that I would almost rather say that grass was the wrong colour than say it must by necessity have been that colour: it might verily have been any other. My sense that happiness hung on the crazy thread of a condition did mean something when all was said: it meant the whole doctrine of the Fall.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sexual sins not mentioned in the Bible

The Bible mentions a number of sins having to do with sex. Adultery, which is violating the marriage covenant, is so important a misdeed that it is mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Homosexuality is presented as a sin. Some sexual sins, all of them specific prohibitions (don't have sex with an animal, or with your sister) are listed in Deuteronomy 27. But the Bible doesn't cover all sexual misbehavior. The New Testament is probably more about our attitude, our relationship with God, than about setting forth all the possible dos and don'ts. The Old Testament, too, can be summarized in the commands to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do these things -- and we need divine assistance to do them -- we will meet God's behavioral standards.

Here are some sexual behaviors that I believe are sinful, but that are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, so far as I know:
* Having sex with a child. I suppose we should have sense enough to know that is wrong, without a scriptural prohibition. The Golden Rule, and the "love your neighbor" also prohibit this.
* Although both prostitution as a part of idol worship, and "ordinary" prostitution, and the use of prostitutes, seems to have been considered wrong, there is nothing direct in the Bible about pimping -- making arrangements between prostitutes and customers.
* Jesus said that looking on a woman to lust after her was a form of adultery. He didn't say that for a woman to look on a man in this way was a form of adultery, but it must be. So, I guess, must homosexual look-lusting be sinful.
* There is nothing in the Bible about sex slavery.
* Using, and producing, pornography must also be sinful, because it's lusting after images of someone, or helping someone else to lust after such images.  
* The Bible doesn't say so, but using sexual images or other stimuli to sell merchandise seems to me to be sinful.
It seems to me that all six of these behaviors are sinful, although the Bible doesn't specifically say so. Probably the last three of these weren't really possible in Bible times. Unfortunately, they are now.

The Bible does indicate that sex outside of marriage between a male and a female, committed to each other, is wrong, in many ways. But see here -- I was surprised at how little the Bible really says about this.

Stay pure. 1 Corinthians says that there is hope for us when we haven't been pure in the past:
1 Corinthians 6:9b Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom. 11 Some of you were such, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God. (World English Bible, public domain)

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sunspots 526

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

The Arts: The History Blog tells us about the return of the best-known (and almost the only) picture of J. S. Bach to Leipzig

Christianity: An article on the errors the so-called Prosperity Gospel makes in interpreting the Bible.

Benjamin L. Corey thinks that John Calvin either didn't understand Christ's teaching, or deliberately disobeyed it, and explains his thinking.

Health: (or something) As of June 11, 2015, Amazon was offering a free book, in Kindle format (the price may go back up in the future) entitled How to Survive by Eating Insects and Learning Entomophagy [eating insects]. I didn't download it, but it caught my attention.

Science: Wired points out that the wings of the dinosaurs in Jurassic World aren't large enough.

The courtship display of a peacock spider, in a 3 minute 2 second video.

Wired also has an essay about dinosaurs in general. If we did produce one now, would it be like the extinct ones? How would we know? and other interesting questions.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 27

Thus the ancient world was exactly in our own desolate dilemma. The only people who really enjoyed this world were busy breaking it up; and the virtuous people did not care enough about them to knock them down. In this dilemma (the same as ours) Christianity suddenly stepped in and offered a singular answer, which the world eventually accepted as the answer. It was the answer then, and I think it is the answer now. This answer was like the slash of a sword; it sundered; it did not in any sense sentimentally unite. Briefly, it divided God from the cosmos. That transcendence and distinctness of the deity which some Christians now want to remove from Christianity, was really the only reason why any one wanted to be a Christian. It was the whole point of the Christian answer to the unhappy pessimist and the still more unhappy optimist. As I am here only concerned with their particular problem, I shall indicate only briefly this great metaphysical suggestion. All descriptions of the creating or sustaining principle in things must be metaphorical, because they must be verbal. Thus the pantheist is forced to speak of God in all things as if he were in a box. Thus the evolutionist has, in his very name, the idea of being unrolled like a carpet. All terms, religious and irreligious, are open to this charge. The only question is whether all terms are useless, or whether one can, with such a phrase, cover a distinct idea about the origin of things. I think one can, and so evidently does the evolutionist, or he would not talk about evolution. And the root phrase for all Christian theism was this, that God was a creator, as an artist is a creator. A poet is so separate from his poem that he himself speaks of it as a little thing he has “thrown off.” Even in giving it forth he has flung it away. This principle that all creation and procreation is a breaking off is at least as consistent through the cosmos as the evolutionary principle that all growth is a branching out. A woman loses a child even in having a child. All creation is separation. Birth is as solemn a parting as death.
According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it. I will discuss the truth of this theorem later. Here I have only to point out with what a startling smoothness it passed the dilemma we have discussed in this chapter. In this way at least one could be both happy and indignant without degrading one’s self to be either a pessimist or an optimist. On this system one could fight all the forces of existence without deserting the flag of existence. One could be at peace with the universe and yet be at war with the world. St. George could still fight the dragon, however big the monster bulked in the cosmos, though he were bigger than the mighty cities or bigger than the everlasting hills. If he were as big as the world he could yet be killed in the name of the world. St. George had not to consider any obvious odds or proportions in the scale of things, but only the original secret of their design. He can shake his sword at the dragon, even if it is everything; even if the empty heavens over his head are only the huge arch of its open jaws.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sunspots 525

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else: 

The Arts: A Speculative Faith blogger tells us why Tomorrowland (currently showing in theaters - but probably not much longer) is important.

Christianity: Relevant wants to know why Christians are so judgmental.

On sort of the same subject, a blogger considers the reaction of many Christians to the former Bruce Jenner.

Computing: If you save or print web pages, but don't want to save or print ads, lists of blog posts, and the like, try printfriendly. Feed it a URL, and it strips out the chaff, and leaves the good stuff, or at least it comes close. I tried it on a blog post, and it eliminated everything I didn't want. It also eliminated the tags, but I could easily paste those in.

Macintosh computers are vulnerable to being controlled by hackers.
Health: Elissa Ely had a problem with her knee.

Science: The National Association of Evangelicals has released a booklet, When God and Science Meet: Surprising Discoveries of Agreement. Here's one place to obtain the item. I haven't read it yet, but plan to, and, perhaps, I'll blog about it.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 26

Nature worship is natural enough while the society is young, or, in other words, Pantheism is all right as long as it is the worship of Pan. But Nature has another side which experience and sin are not slow in finding out, and it is no flippancy to say of the god Pan that he soon showed the cloven hoof. The only objection to Natural Religion is that somehow it always becomes unnatural. A man loves Nature in the morning for her innocence and amiability, and at nightfall, if he is loving her still, it is for her darkness and her cruelty. He washes at dawn in clear water as did the Wise Man of the Stoics, yet, somehow at the dark end of the day, he is bathing in hot bull’s blood, as did Julian the Apostate. The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy. Physical nature must not be made the direct object of obedience; it must be enjoyed, not worshiped. Stars and mountains must not be taken seriously. If they are, we end where the pagan nature worship ended. Because the earth is kind, we can imitate all her cruelties.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here. Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.