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Monday, January 31, 2005

Trees and Seasons

Deciduous trees are trees that shed their leaves in winter.

Why do we think of four seasons, instead of two, three, six, or none? I'm not sure. Probably there have been cultures, and are, that think differently. There are probably cultures that talk about just two, the rainy season and the dry season, for instance.

One thing that reinforces the idea of four seasons is the appearance of trees.

We are now in winter. Some few years ago, I finally started paying attention to trees in winter. They are beautiful. Just bare branches, but beautiful. For one thing, they make marvelous patterns against the sky. You can see the sunrise through them. They look more individualized in winter, I think.

In the spring, trees bloom. That's certainly beautiful, too. Maples have tiny red flowers before they grow leaves. Apples, and other members of the rose family, have flowers with five petals, that eventually fall to the ground, one at a time.

In the fall, trees are gorgeous. God must have been in a good mood when he invented sweet gums, which can be green, red, yellow, and a sort of purple, all at once on the same tree. Other trees are gorgeous, too, in their own quieter way.

But what about summer? Trees are beautiful then, too. That monotous green is an absolute necessity. It means that other colors of light are not bouncing off the leaves, but being absorbed, so that the trees may continue. Green is the color of provision, of sustenance.

Trees are beautiful.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

on Evangelical blogging

I'm new to this (about a month) and I'm not sure anyone, except me, has ever read anything I've posted, or should.

But here's another try at relevance.

A couple of blogs I have read have a post on somehow increasing the presence of evangelical blogs. As an evangelical, on the face of it, that sounds like a good idea to me. However, on further thought, I'm not so sure. First question is, "why?"

If the why is to magnify Christ, and it works, then it's a good idea. No, a great idea. However, I'm not sure that some evangelical blogging really is about magnifying Christ. I have looked, a little, at what are claimed to be the most widely read evangelical blogs. Some of them read more like Republican blogs. Don't we have enough Red/Blue division already? I'm not sure that blogs like that magnify Christ.

A more fundamental reason for wondering about the value of evangelical blogging, per se, comes from the words of C. S. Lewis, who knew a little something about defending the gospel:

I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy's line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians about other subjects--with their Christianity latent. You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way around. Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the re-conversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians. . . Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly. C. S. Lewis, "Christian Apologetics," in C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970, pp. 89-103. Quote is from p. 93.

I have had an experience which illustrates the truth of what Lewis said. Over twenty years ago, I was asked to teach a course in physics, after not having done so for more than fifteen years. I needed to brush up. So I looked, in standard academic sources, for reviews of good books on physics. One such, according to a review, was The Particle Play, by John C. Polkinghorne. It was, indeed, a good introduction to particle physics, an area I needed to learn more about. I was astonished to read this, nearly at the end of the book:

Mathematics, which essentially is the abstract free creation of the human mind, repeatedly provides the indispensable clue to the understanding of the physical world. This happening is so common a process that most of the time we take it for granted. . . . It seems to me a remarkable fact. . . . Israel developed the idea of the Word of God who was his agent in the creation of the world. The Prologue to St. John's gospel not only makes the astonishing identification of that Word with Jesus of Nazareth but also says that the Word is the true light that lightens every man. The use of mathematics to comprehend the universe shows a relation between the workings of our minds and the structure of the world. I believe that this is one aspect of what the writer of the Fourth Gospel is telling us. (John C. Polkinghorne, The Particle Play, Freeman: Oxford, England, 1979, pp. 125-126)

Here, indeed, was a good introduction to particle physics by an author who obviously had a Christian world view.

To paraphrase Lewis for the 21st century, the best way to influence the world through blogging is to create great blogs on baseball, physics, photography, housewifery, travel, and many other subjects, posted by bloggers with a Christian world view.

* * * * *

The text above the asterisks was posted on January 25th, and has not been altered, except that I have colored the quotations.

This is my fourth post today, and I don't expect to keep that up, nor should I.

Another writer, not as well known (at least not yet) as Lewis, said much the same thing:

What makes for a good, Christian movie? In brief, a good, Christian movie is one that is well-crafted and true. A film that does not strive for artistic and aesthetic excellence cannot be a good film. It will be a shoddy or uneven film, making whatever story or message is being told almost impossible to digest, no matter how biblically sound it is. Likewise, a film that does not bear allusive witness to the truth cannot be a good film. This phrase "allusive witness" is intentional, for we are not suggesting the evangelistic film. We're suggesting rather the film that witnesses allusively, obliquely, to the splendor of goodness, the shabbiness of sin, the hunger to be forgiven, the yearning for the divine, the playfulness of creation—all things true—"What Is a Good Christian Movie, Anyway?" (Part 1) by David O. Taylor, posted 07/13/04

Lewis and Taylor are saying something important. The greatest real influence is made by excellence. May I achieve this, and not for my sake.

Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart

Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart
George Croly, 1854

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart.
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid us love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own--soul, heart, and strength, and mind!
I see Thy cross--there teach my heart to cling.
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find.

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh.
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The baptism of the heav'n-descended Dove--
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

See the Cyber Hymnal, which has words and music for this and many other Christian songs.

* * * * *

Reposted, so as to take advantage of the indexing utility provided by Bloglines.

This text from the 19th century is still pertinent into the 21st. Would that this truly were the prayer of my heart. I want it to be, I hope that it is, but I fall short. I worship me too much.

Article on ethics in science

Here's the URL of an excellent article on ethics in science, by the late Wayne A. R. Leys, "The Scientist's Code of Ethics," Physics Today, November, 2004, vol 57:11, pp. 55-59. This is a reprint from the original publication, also in Physics Today, March, 1952, pp. 10-15: http://www.eas.gatech.edu/resources/code.pdf

Warning: this is a .pdf file approximately 1 megabyte in size.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Science and the Bible

Some people believe that science and belief in the Bible are fundamentally opposed, and, of course, for some people, they are. Plenty of mistakes have been made by Christians wedded to interpretations of scripture that, in many cases, were actually man-made ideas. Plenty of mistakes have been made in the other direction, for example, claiming that broad statements of scientists are scientific, even though they are philosophical or even political, not scientific.

There are scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments which teach that a proper interpretation of scripture, and of scientific evidence, are not in opposition, but compatible.

Here's Psalm 19:1-3, in the KJV (which is in the public domain): Psa 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Psa 19:2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. Psa 19:3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.

And here's Romans 1:20a: For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.

The Bible tells us that people who look at what science teaches about the natural world with an unbiased heart can see evidence of God's design.

I believe that, if we had the correct interpretation of scripture, and the correct interpretation of scientific evidence, they would be completely compatible. Fallen creatures that we are, we have neither. Both of these are aspects of God's revelation of Himself to humans, as are our conscience, Jesus Christ, and other things.

* * * * *

Originally posted December 19th, 2004. The material above the asterisks has not been altered. I am re-posting on January 28th, 2005, now that the Bloglines Search utility has started indexing my blog.

Why this title?

The source of the title of this blog is Psalm 84:11 (KJV):
For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

There are other versions of the Bible that communicate better with 21st century humans, but the KJV is public domain, so I am using it.

To see this, or other scripture, in several versions, go to the Blue Letter Bible or the Bible Gateway, or other such sites.

* * * * *

The text above the asterisks was orignally posted on December 17th, 2004, and has not been altered. On January 28th, I saw, for the first time, evidence that the Bloglines search utility was indexing my blog. I am, therefore, re-posting older posts, so that the material in them can also be found by those using Bloglines to search.

I am using the KJV for most or all scripture quotations in my postings, for reasons explained above in the first posting.

Jack Vance

Jack Vance is one of the great craftsmen of fantastic literature in English. (He also seems to have a strong following in translation, especially in French.) He has been writing for a long time, from The Dying Earth, 1950, to the present. Some of his work is clearly fantasy, some is science fiction. I am defining the latter as fiction which extrapolates the present (usually into the future) more or less realistically. The former is less linked to the real world as we know it, and often involves magic of some sort.

Vance's craft consists in his fertile imagination, and in his baroque use of words. He isn't great on character development, and many of his plots are weak, but his settings are amazing. He tosses out whole new societies often, sometimes almost in every paragraph. Religions, mating customs, food, pastimes, music and language are some of the colors he gives his strange cultures.

I have created some pages, on the theme of vengeance in Vance's works (his imagination has been fertile on that theme) and with some links to other pages on Vance. Vance has used both science-aided vengeance, and fantastic vengeance (spells, and the like) in his works. Vengeance is found as a major component of most of his fiction. I have also created a page on the work of Patricia A. McKillip, a current major writer of fantasy, who has presented characters who have had serious wrongs done to them, but pulled back from taking vengeance, in several of her books.

See Romans 12:18-20.

Here's an example of Vance's baroque style, as well as of his imagination working on a remarkable type of vengeance--a spell making someone omniscient (!):

Stung by the derision of Widdefut, Sartzanek retaliated with the Spell of Total Enlightenment, so that Widdefut suddenly knew everything which might be known: the history of each atom of the universe, the devolvements of eight kinds of time, the possible phases of each succeeding instant; all the flavors, sounds, sights of the world, as well as percepts relative to nine other more unusual senses. Widdefut became palsied and paralyzed and could not so much as feed himself. He stood trembling in confusion until he dessicated to a wisp and blew away on the wind. -Jack Vance, Lyonesse, (New York: Berkley, 1983) p. 112.

Warning--there are plot spoilers on my pages on these authors. For me, who has read both these authors over and over, and probably will do so again, knowing a few plot details doesn't matter. For others, it might.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Thoughts on Hebrews 11:3

In the King James (so as not to violate copyright) Hebrews 11:3 says: Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into that verse, but I believe it means that believers cannot know or prove how God made the universe, but must believe that He did. This seems to apply to atheists, as well. Their faith tells them that there is no God, so they understand that the universe is here by chance.

The material above was posted on Dec 19, 2004.

Addendum, Jan 4, 2005 (and I confess--I corrected a usage error on Jan 25th)
A marvelous Edge, well worth reading in its entirety, came out today. The piece is responses, from over 100 intellectuals, to the question, "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" The responses touch on many subjects. Some of the respondents deal, directly or indirectly, with the origin of the universe. Some were theists, some not. Two of the most prominent atheists gave the following responses:

Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, and a columnist for Scientific American:
. . . In conclusion, I believe, but cannot prove...that reality exists and science is the best method for understanding it, there is no God, the universe is determined but we are free, morality evolved as an adaptive trait of humans and human communities, and that ultimately all of existence is explicable through science. Of course, I could be wrong...

Richard Dawkins, author of The Ancestors' Tale, The Blind Watchmaker, and other books:
I believe[, but I cannot prove,]* that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

These gentlemen do not believe that there is a God who was involved in the origin of the universe, of life, or of humans. They hold these views strongly, and present them articulately. Yet, as they should, they admit that their belief cannot be proved. This is compatible with Hebrews 11:3.

* * * *
October 24, 2008
*The material in brackets was removed from the response by Dawkins, I believe early in 2005.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

C. S. Lewis on faith and surgery

[In one sense, Faith] means simply Belief--accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity. That is fairly simple. But what does puzzle people--at least it used to puzzle me--is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue. . . . I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anaesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. . . . In other words, I lose my faith in anaesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other. . . . Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. pp. 121-123.

I am, of course, well aware that Lewis was writing about Faith, not surgery. I'm also aware that I'm merely having a diagnostic procedure today--a tube run down my throat--not surgery. But I'm to be anesthetized, and I also fear. Who doesn't? God is able to take care of me, whether, as I suppose, I recover normally, or whether I don't re-awaken. God has been good to me.

Postscript, Jan 22, 05: came through OK, thank God.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

C. S. Lewis on space travel

C. S. Lewis was arguably the most important Christian apologist of the previous century.

I found his writing in an unusual way. I was browsing in the children's section of the University of Wisconsin library while studying for my doctorate in genetics and zoology, and found the Narnia books.

Lewis wasn't God, of course--some of his writing, like mine, is probably pretty far off the mark. He wrote a lot, about a lot of subjects. Here's something he wrote about space travel:

I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can't bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. C. S. Lewis (interviewed by Sherwood Wirt) "Cross-Examination," pp. 258-267, in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970. Walter Hooper, ed. Quote is from page 267.

Lewis, himself, wrote about going to two other inhabited planets, in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, and fictionally illustrated transporting our sin and acquisitiveness to Mars and Venus.

Thanks to Bloglines, I have discovered "Off the Top." The blogger who writes it has been writing about the significance of some of Lewis' work off and on for the past few days. (Perhaps longer--I haven't been reading the blog for more than 10 days.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Is scientific knowledge reliable?

The simple answer is "usually." The hard part, of course, is to know when it is and when it isn't. Unfortunately, we humans lack the omniscience that would let us know which of the findings of science are reliable, and which aren't.

God has revealed Himself to us in several ways. Some of these are:
the Bible
our consciences
the wisdom of godly people
the guidance of the Holy Spirit
the evidence of nature, and especially
Himself, Jesus Christ, the God/man

The bible is clear that God does reveal Himself through the evidence of nature. In other words, through the observations of science. Here are two passages that say that:
Psalm 19:1. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
2. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
3. [There is] no speech nor language, [where] their voice is not heard.

and

Romans 1:20. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

(Both of these are KJV, as it is public domain)

God can be seen in nature, according to both the Old and the New Testaments.

What does science tell us about God? Here's a list. It's not complete, and it's tentative:
1) It tells us that God is immense, and extremely powerful.
The sheer size of the universe tells us that.
So does the activity of the sun. It converts about 4 million metric tons of mass into energy per second.
We don't know yet whether there is life on other planets. If there isn't, and the entire universe has only one planet with living things, that doesn't mean that the rest of the universe is, somehow, a waste. God's resources weren't diminished by creating the universe, however and whenever that may have happened.
(We don't know how large the universe is. It may be infinite, or it may merely be very large.)

2) It tells us that God is a God of order and regularity.
Actually, scientific observations, or, for that matter, casual observations, wouldn't be of much use without this regularity. Consider, for example, the periodic table. For another, consider the orbits of the various bodies in the solar system. For yet another, consider yourself. You probably have a few trillion cells. Each of them is descended from a single cell. With few exceptions, all of our cells have the same DNA as the first one.

3) It tells us that God is a God of infinite creative ability.
Estimates of the number of species now alive, or that have ever been alive, are only estimates. Best estimates of the number of species currently in existence on earth are between one and two million. Adding in species which have become extinct, and species yet to be discovered, the number may be as much as ten times that large, or even larger.
As Psalm 104:24 puts it: O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
Apparently, God loves variety.

Science doesn't tell us, but the bible does--the same God, capable of infinite creation, and limitless in power, is concerned about single individual humans, and even birds. (John 3:16, John 4:3-26; Luke 12:6)

Added January 27, 2012: For a more complete treatment of the ways God reveals Himself to us, see here.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Patricia McKillip quotations

Here are two I like, from the first book by McKillip that I read, and the last one:

"The giant Grof was hit in one eye by a stone, and that eye turned inward so that it looked into his mind, and he died of what he saw there." Patricia A. McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. New York: Avon, 1974. p. 70

". . . You were just roaming around Serre wearing that monster's face, terrifying every living thing -- Now you're going to warm up some old cabbage soup? Is that how life normally is for a wizard?"
"Some days you battle yourself and other monsters. Some days you just make soup. . . ." Euan, scribe, and Gyre, wizard, conversing. Patricia A. McKillip, In the Forests of Serre. New York: Ace Books, 2003. p. 295.

The inner life is important, and so is ordinary life, even for wizards.

-Martin LaBar

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Is Harry Potter a bad influence? Part II

Part I presented a brief analysis of the relationship between reading/watching the Harry Potter books and the Christian life. In Part II, I present a selection of links to other sources.

Jerram Barrs of the MatthewHouse project, which is linked to the Frances Schaeffer Institute, writes about "Harry Potter and His Critics," addressing three criticisms issued against the books, namely that they encourage exploration of the occult, that they encourage rebellion against authority, and that any fantasy, not just these works, is dangerous. He goes on to explain why he likes the books, and, at least in part, deals with the criticisms. (The first page of this article has a web link to the second.)

Wizardry may be taken as a form of technology. Like technology, it can be used for good or evil, as it is shown in the Harry Potter books.

Steven Greydanus, of Decent Films, compares the uses of magic in the works of Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis, at considerable length.

Douglas Leblanc, in Christianity Today, reflects on the film, and offers reasons why a continuing debate about Harry Potter among evangelicals isn't so bad.

Michael G. Mauldin, in Christianity Today Online, wonders why the positive reaction to Tolkien's Ring books, and the negative one to Rowling's Potter books, and suggests that they have a lot in common, and that if either has led people into the occult, it's Tolkien, not Potter.

Jeffrey Overstreet, in Christianity Today Online's May 6, 2002 article on Spider-Man, still upset about how some Christians accused Harry Potter, spends a paragraph comparing Spider-Man with Harry.

The Focus on the Family Organization has reviews of the first and second movies in Plugged In.

The Onion, an on-line humor magazine, published an article claiming that J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, was trying to promote Satanism, and that children, including children from Easley, SC, who had read the books, were becoming Satanists. The article also claimed that the American Family Association had condemned the books. Like all of The Onion's articles, this one was fiction. Unfortunately, this fictional article has been forwarded as the truth in e-mail many times. My guess is that the original forwarder knew that he was forwarding fiction, but I can't be sure. This is a disclaimer from the American Family Association.

The American Family Association has published an article by Berit Kjos, entitled "Twelve Reasons not to see the Harry Potter Movie."

Connie Neal has written a book (which I haven't read) entitled What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? which apparently says that the books are a great witnessing tool. Here's an excerpt from another book by Neal, The Gospel According to Harry Potter: Spirituality in the Stories of the World's Most Famous Seeker. which (The "World's Most Famous Seeker" part of the title strikes me as a bit too much). The second link in this paragraph is to an excerpt about Potter character Severus Snape as a stand-in for redeemed Christians. Neal agrees with me (independently--I didn't find her article until after I had written Part I) that we are probably going to learn more about Snape in books yet unpublished. I personally find Snape, Dumbledore and McGonagall at least as interesting as Harry, Hermione and Ron. (For anyone who needs reminding, Snape is the Potions Professor, a member of the house of Slytherin, who despises Harry, and is despised by him.)

Christianity Today book review "Virtue on a Broomstick," recommending Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Christianity Today movie review of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," with some parental guidance material.

Christianity Today compilation of excerpts from the reviews of "Prisoner" by several Christian movie critics, positive and negative.

An analysis of the books from Christianfantasy.net, pointing out that "the HP books tend to promote rule-breaking, lying, and revenge." The author also points to holes in some of the plots.

A roundup of Christian opinion on the Harry Potter books from Christianity Today, including a positive statement from Charles Colson.

"Surrounded by Sorcery: 10 ways to protect kids in an occult-filled popular culture" from the Christian Reader, condensed from Today's Christian Woman, has some ideas on how to guide children in making choices.

Christianity Today isn't only pro-Potter. Here's an article "The Perils of Harry Potter."

An article, "Harry Potter and the Inklings: The Christian Meaning of The Chamber of Secrets," is posted on the George MacDonald web site. (George MacDonald was a Christian writer who wrote fantasy. C. S. Lewis said that MacDonald was a great positive influence on him. The article was originally presented to the New York C. S. Lewis Society.) John Granger, the author, claims that Rowling's writing is really complex and uses Christian symbols a lot, and is the modern equivalent of medieval morality plays. He has also self-published a book, The Hidden Key to Harry Potter: Understanding the Meaning, Genius, and Popularity of Joanne Rowling's Harry Potter Novels. The MacDonald site posting of the article includes chapter titles from the book. The Amazon page on this book includes a review which points out that the book is self-published, hence probably could use quite a bit of constructive criticism, and suggests that some of Granger's conclusions are real stretches. I haven't read the book, but suspect that the reviewer is correct.

Azusa Pacific University, a Christian institution, has published articles by two of its literature professors. Emily Griesinger, in "C. S. Lewis and the Potter Debate," draws on her experience using Rowling in the classroom, and concludes that, although there are dangers, the books are good influences. She also believes that Lewis would have approved of them. James Hedges, in "Family Matters in the Harry Potter Novels," writes about the portrayals of good and bad families in the books.

Here's a sermon comparing Voldemort to Judas.

Here's a comparison of Lily Potter (Harry's mother) to Christ, which is part of a site on Christianity in the Potter series.

I cannot possibly link to every web site examining Christian symbolism in the Potter books, or warning against witchcraft in them. Try Google if you have more interest. My most recent productive Google search was using both "Voldemort" and "Christianity."

Most any book or movie can harm me, if I read or watch it when I should be doing something else, for example. Conversely, people have, and do, find Christ in all sorts of strange places. The Harry Potter books, and, I guess, the movies, can be one such place. I haven't seen Christ there--maybe I wasn't looking closely enough. I have seen goodness, and Christian symbolism.

Some source I read pointed out that a phoenix, a bird that dies and is re-born, is a Christian symbol. Dumbledore has a phoenix as a pet, and the fifth book is named Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I plan to see the second Harry Potter movie, and will probably add to this page at that time. I have added to the web page that this blog posting was based on as I have read the books, and expect to add more when I read the sixth book.

All links checked on January 12, 2005. Christianity Today seems to be going to fee-based use of its archives, but all the articles referenced from that organization were free as of the date I checked them.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Is Harry Potter a bad influence? Part I

Katie Couric: I'm not sure if we should bite this off, but I'm going to. Tammy in Kansas was wondering: "What would encourage you to write books for children that are supporting the devil, witchcraft and anything that has to do with Satan?" You've heard that before.
J.K. Rowling: Well nothing would encourage me to do that because I haven't done it so far, so why would I start doing it now?
Katie Couric: You have heard criticism along those lines ever since the beginning, and I think it also grew since more and more books came out.
J.K. Rowling: A very famous writer once said: "A book is like a mirror. If a fool looks in, you can't expect a genius to look out." People tend to find in books what they want to find, and I think my books are very moral. I know they have absolutely nothing to do with what this lady's writing about. So, can't give her much help there.from the transcript of a "Today Show" interview, October 20, 2000.

* * * * * *

With the release of the first "Harry Potter" movie, the debate among Christians over the books, and the movie, intensified. Should Christians read/watch these? Some say "No!--Scripture forbids dabbling in wizardry." Others say "Yes! This is great stuff! It entertains kids, and gets them to read." My own view, certainly not original with me, is that both these views are too simple. Here are a few ideas that may be helpful, with brief annotations.
1. Our mind should be the temple of the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 3:16) That being true, we should be careful what we put in it.
2. Philippians 4:8 exhorts us to think on what is good, beautiful, true, etc. Literature can present the good, beautiful and true.
3. Scripture does have exhortations to avoid witchcraft (Galatians 5:19-20, Revelation 21:8)
4. My time is not mine, but God's, and I should be careful how I use it. Reading for recreation, if not overdone, or reading for inspiration, can be good use of time.
5. Some things may tempt one person, because of that person's particular personality or background, that are not serious temptations for others.
6. There are some things that I personally have decided that I am not going to do (and some that I have decided that I will do) because I think I should avoid them (or do them.) There are, for instance, some sorts of TV that I won't watch, some kinds of books and magazines that I won't read. My choices are not binding on others, although if I were a parent of young children, I would have responsibility to guide them in making choices. One of the things that I have decided to do is to frequently read fantastic literature. I believe that I have been spiritually uplifted by such reading, including Watership Down, the Narnia books, and some of Tolkien. I believe that I have been entertained wholesomely by the Harry Potter books.
7. It is usually foolish to condemn things that we know little about. ("I haven't read the Harry Potter books, but . . .") This doesn't mean that there aren't some things that I can condemn without having personal knowledge of them (murder and child pornography, for example), but usually, if I am ignorant, I should keep my mouth shut.

I have read the first five Harry Potter books, some more than once. I saw the first movie, only once. I'm not an expert. The books, nor the movie, didn't tempt me into dabbling in witchcraft. They do present conflicts between good and evil, and Harry and his friends are clearly presented as good. The powers that they are learning at the Hogwarts School for Wizards are used to try to achieve clearly good ends. Two events in the first movie that particularly struck me as resonating with the Christian story were:
1) The statement, made by a person, Voldemort, who is clearly evil, in just about every way, throughout the books, that "there is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it1" No Christian, of course, would make a statement like that about good and evil, but the blurring of the two by the Lord of Evil and his servants goes back at least as far as the Garden of Eden, and the movie makes clear that this is an evil suggestion. Harry rejects the idea.
2) Harry's friend, Ron Weasley, sacrifices himself for others, for all he knew, to death, in a wizard's chess game.

There are a number of other ideas in the books that are compatible with Christianity. Here are some:
One of the conflicts, in all the books, is over how wizards should treat muggles--non-wizards. The good wizards treat them with special care. The evil ones, or those that are tending toward evil, do not. They even hate, and try to hurt, not just muggles, but wizards born to muggles.

Another conflict is over how wizards should treat other magical creatures, such as house-elves. Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, says "We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and are reaping our reward.2"

Throughout the books, one character, Severus Snape, the potions professor, is portrayed as having repented of his association, probably even worship, of Voldemort, before the books begin, although I don't believe that the word "repented" is used. In the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry learns that his now-dead father treated Snape very badly when they were both students at Hogwarts, which is why Snape has treated Harry badly throughout the books. ". . . at the sight of him Harry felt a great rush of hatred . . . Whatever Dumbledore said, he would never forgive Snape . . . never.3" My guess is that Rowling is setting up a scene in a later book where the two of them will forgive each other, and repent of their attitudes.

The fifth book presents many of the characters, in particular Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, and most of those under him, as having deliberately ignored the existence of evil--they refuse to believe that Voldemort, clearly a very evil wizard, has come back to power.

Harry has some crises of conscience in the fifth book. For example, he debates with a voice in his own head about Ron having been made a prefect, when he hasn't been.4

Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, the school for wizardry, confronts Voldemort, and tells him that "Indeed, your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness--" To the Christian, there are things more important than death, and dying for a righteous cause is not nearly as bad as living for a wrong one.

Dumbledore follows the theme of I Corinthians 13:13 when he tells Harry that the greatest power of all is the one in his heart, that Voldemort has none of. Clearly, although he does not name it, he is speaking of unselfish (agape) Love.6

None of these are peripheral matters. The books show a conflict between good and evil, both on a wide scale, and within the hearts and minds of the characters. It is clear which side Rowling is on, and it's not evil.

1- J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. (New York: Scholastic, 1997, p. 291) I believe that the movie used the very same dialog at this point.

2- Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (New York, Scholastic, 2003, p. 834)

3- Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (New York, Scholastic, 2003, p. 851)

4- Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (New York, Scholastic, 2003, pp. 166-7)

5- Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (New York, Scholastic, 2003, p. 814)

6- Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (New York, Scholastic, 2003, pp. 843-4)

I confess: This posting is adapted from one of my web pages. In the second part, adapted from the same web page, I hope to post some links to other postings on this subject.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Tobacco, not the Ring, behind Middle Earth

A screamingly funny posting in FrontPage magazine, which I had never heard of before, purporting to be a conversation between Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn (I confess--I hadn't heard of Zinn, either. Chomsky, yes.) on the global politics of Middle Earth. The orcs are oppressed and resource poor. Gandalf keeps coming to the Shire because he is hooked on tobacco, and more.

The FrontPage main page says it's "A parody exposing the absurd misanthropy of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky's post-modernism."

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Ursula Le Guin's Complaint

Ursula K. Le Guin is, arguably, the most important U. S. fantastic writer of the twentieth century. She is still alive, and still writing.

On December 13th and 14th, 2004, the Sci-Fi Channel broadcast "The Legend of Earthsea," based on Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan. Le Guin let it be known that she was not happy, in a posting to her own web site, a month in advance of the showing, and in an article on Slate, published on December 16th.

In the Slate article, Le Guin complained mostly about the lack of diversity of the actors. She wrote the books as if most of the people were brown, but, except for Danny Glover as Ogion, and a spear carrier or two, the actors were white.

The depiction of race is an important issue. However, in the posting on her own web site, Le Guin is more upset with a statement made by those responsible for the movie, "that the production tries to be faithful to the Ursula K. Le Guin novels upon which it was based." She strongly rejects such "faithfulness." Her main complaint is that the director tried to tell the story as a conflict between two belief systems, which he calls spirituality and paganism, and said that this was also Le Guin's intent. Le Guin responds that she had no such intent, and that the director should not have attributed such intent to her.

I watched the miniseries, and would like to comment on a number of differences, some trivial, some, like the ones Le Guin has written about, not so trivial.

Names. One of the important properties of Earthsea is that everyone, at least everyone in most of the islands, has a use name, and a true name. The use name is what everyone knows you by. The true name is given by a wizard, in secret, and is not shared with anyone except those who are most trusted, as knowledge of it may give others power over you.

In the miniseries, this concept is, indeed, applied to Ged, the main character. He is named by Ogion, the wizard, but Ged is his use name. In the books, it is his true name. The miniseries also shows the sharing of true names between Ged and Vetch, his best friend in the school for wizards at Roke, as do the books.

The miniseries, as Le Guin said, badly distorted the main ideas of Le Guin's Tombs. In her book, the two main characters are Ged and a young priestess. The priestess does not have a true name. Ged comes looking for part of an arm-ring, so that he may fuse it with the other part, and thus restore the possibility of rightful order to Earthsea. He looks for it in the labyrinth under the tombs of Atuan. The priestess discovers him there. The real story of Tombs is the story of the coming of age of Tenar, linked to the changing relationship between the priestess and Ged, who begins as her prisoner, lost in the labyrinth, without food and water, or even light, unless he makes it himself, and ends up showing her that she, too, is a prisoner of the Nameless Ones. He gives her her true name, Tenar, as he reveals her self to her, and they escape from the labyrinth together. None of this evolving relationship, and little of the coming of age, is in the miniseries, and the priestess is called Tenar throughout.

The Labyrinth. How can the labyrinth, which has turns and twists that only two priestesses know, be so spacious, and so well lit? Who lit all those candles, if the place was secret? The labyrinth of the miniseries is radically different from that of the book.

The Nameless Ones. In the miniseries, the Nameless Ones are evil spirits with bodies and wings, confined in the labyrinth by a locked door, and by prayer. Why should both be needed? If they are behind a locked door, prayer wouldn't be necessary.

Again, this is radically different. In the book, the Nameless Ones are spirits, bound to the location. They have no desire to escape. Instead, they want to enslave those who come near. They are worshipped, by sacrifices and rituals, but this doesn't keep them in. They don't seem to have any bodies of their own, although they can inhabit humans, and inanimate objects.

Vetch had a much greater role in the miniseries than in the books. (He wasn't in Tombs at all.)

The Kargad king was only a minor background presence, never described in Tombs. In the miniseries, he is a major character, shown more than Ogion, or the masters of Roke.

The breach. In Wizard, Ged's prideful deed, calling a dead woman back to life to show his wizardly power, created a breach in the fabric of the world, and not only called up the dead woman, but released an evil being from another world. This breach had to be fixed. The Archmage, Nemmerle, gave his life in the act of healing the breach Ged created. This was absent from the miniseries. There was no breach, and the Archmage didn't lose anything.

The dry land. The whole concept of the other world, the Dry Land, the world of the dead, which plays so prominent a role in Wizard, and in The Farthest Shore, the third book in the series, is absent from the miniseries.

The concept of equilibrium gets some mention, in speeches by Ogion, in the miniseries, but not nearly as much as Le Guin gave it. There is no mention of the master patterner, or the immanent grove, recurring symbols in Le Guin's Earthsea books, and the center of balance of her imagined world.

Ritual is present, but not nearly so prominent in the miniseries. Le Guin is the daughter of a great anthropologist, and it seems to show in these books. There are rituals aplenty. Naming rituals, rituals performed by the wizards, rituals performed by the priestesses of the tombs, rituals performed by the common folk.

Perhaps it is possible to capture even two of Le Guin's Earthsea series in four hours of commercial TV time, perhaps not. The Sci Fi channel's production didn't do it.

Originally posted on Dec 18, 04. Minor corrections added Dec 30, 04. Addendum added Jan 4, 05.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Challenger's Hope by David Feintuch

My wife asked me to get a science-fiction paperback for myself, to be given at Christmas. I had little time, and saw David Feintuch's Challenger's Hope. I turned a page at random, and, rather to my amazement, saw a prayer on it. So I got it.

I have now finished reading it. The book more or less lives up to its cover--there is a man with a hand weapon, and a monster, on the cover. There are frequent references to prayer, and to God. However, the God that the protagonist believes in is an Old Testament God. There is no love to Him, or from Him, no relationship with Him, just ritual prayer, and following the rules. God's love is mentioned, once, but the main character didn't seem to find any of it.

Back to the contents. Actually, what the book is really about is not the monster on the cover, but the monsters inside of Nicholas Seafort, and space Navy command regulations. The book is written in the first person, and most of it is about Seafort's relationships with his superiors, and, especially, with his subordinates. Over and over, he punishes them, all too often for trying to tell him something that he should be listening to. Over and over, he wonders if he has been too hard on them, and apologizes, and they usually accept this. However, reconciliation is hard. Even shaking hands, between ranks, is against regulations. All this turmoil gets old after a while. I haven't read the first book in this series, and probably won't. I suppose that, in that book, the background of these regulations, the significance of the Navy Oath, and of Seafort's own soul, is introduced. Probably there is more on his relationship with his father.

Near the end of the book, after a harrowing voyage, full of accidents, conflicts, and deaths, Seafort's father comes to meet his son (Their relationship has apparently been very distant and cold). The younger Seafort is convinced that he is damned, because he had to break his Oath. Both times, there were good reasons, and it seems sure that a God of mercy, or even a God of justice, would have understood and forgiven both of these actions. The father tells the son that, maybe, God will forgive him, and, surprisingly, tells him that God is a God who loves.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Beginnings

I doubt if anyone is reading this, at least not yet, but, just in case, Happy New Year!

New beginnings are always full of hope. They should be. God, somehow, somewhen, somewhere, started the universe. There is still hope for it.

New babies start out innocent and sweet. There is hope that some of them will end up that way, too.

Reading a new book usually seems like a new, exciting adventure. Sometimes it is so, all the way to the end.

God bless you!