Saturday, December 31, 2005

Yeah, but the Book Is Better (Forward Newspaper Online)

Have you ever heard anyone who has seen a movie based on a book say, 'Yeah! But the book is better!' I bet you have. And I bet you have probably said it yourself. But is that really true? Thane Rosenbaum, the author of Second Hand Smoke has recently been working on a screen adaptation of the book and discusses, in this article, the differences between movies and books and how they might be judged in comparison with each other. Read the article here.

The 2005 Dubious Data Awards

STATS has compiled a brief report on some of the media's biggest 'flubs' when it comes to science reporting. The 2005 Dubious Data Awards survey seven news reports that stress 'shock over substance'. Another great reminder that we can't believe everything we hear or read in the news!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Book Review: The Logic of Real Arguments

Most books that teach the principles of evaluating arguments do so with examples that are very short. But, in real life, arguments that we are interested in often occur in sustained texts such as books, journal articles, or speeches. A few books I have read do include some sample longer arguments. But, essentially, short arguments are used for teaching purposes. Alec Fisher's excellent book, The Logic of Real Arguments stands out from the rest of the crowd because the author specifically deals with real arguments that have actually appeared in speeches or long writing. Real arguments are notoriously difficult to identify and evaluate. Fisher's book is a wonderful resource for dealing with this issue. The first two chapters introduce a general method of argument analysis. The remainder of the book's chapters (except for Chapter 11) are devoted to Fisher actually identifying, analysing, and evaluating real, long arguments in great detail using his approach. The examples cover the natural world, society, policy, and philosophy. The final two chapters deal with evaluating 'scientific' arguments and the philosophical assumptions underlying Fisher's method. There is an appendix introducing elementary formal logic and section of exercises for the reader. It's a meaty book and one which bears careful study. Fisher's writing is clear, precise, and his method provides an approach to argument analysis that can be learned by anyone without knowing formal logic. In particular, it will be very useful to students across a range of disciplines including philosophy, law, and the social sciences because it introduces an approach that deals with the sort of arguments they are likely to come across in their studies. Highly recommended! Related Links

AiG: Distortions, Errors, and Lies - TheologyWeb Campus

Here is a post on the TheologyWeb Campus which describes alleged distortions, errors, and lies used by Answers in Genesis in its anti-evolution campaign. You can check it out for yourself and decide whether the allegations are true or not. Whatever you conclude, it is a good warning that we need to think critically when reading arguments for or against any view.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The truth status of doctrines

It is important to consider the two types of argument identified in logic when we think about doctrine: 1) deductive 2) inductive. All arguments have a conclusion supported by one or more premises intended to support the conclusion (otherwise it wouldn't be an argument -- it would be some other sort of communication). In a deductive argument, the premises are considered to provide conclusive support for a conclusion. In other words, if the premises are true then the conclusion, by necessity, follows. If the premises are, in fact, true, then we can be confident that the conclusion is true. In an inductive argument, the premises, although true, do not lead to the conclusion by necessity. In other words, the conclusion is a matter of probability. Let me give a couple of simple examples: 1) This argument is deductive:
  1. All humans are intelligent.
  2. Steve is a human.
  3. Therefore, Steve is intelligent.

If we assume that the two premises are true (some might dispute #1 or, in my case, #2) then the conclusion must follow from the premises. In other words, if the premises are true then it is impossible for the conclusion to be false.

2) This argument is inductive:

  1. Most humans are intelligent.
  2. Steve is a human.
  3. Therefore, Steve is intelligent.

Even if we assume that the premises are true, the conclusion that Steve is intelligent does not necessarily follow. The first premise leaves open the possibility that some humans are not intelligent. The fact that most humans are intelligent means that it is highly probable that Steve is intelligent, but it doesn't necessarily follow that he is. He could be in the minority of humans who are unintelligent. More correctly stated, the argument should be:

  1. Most humans are intelligent.
  2. Steve is a human.
  3. Therefore, Steve is probably intelligent.

In inductive arguments, there is always a degree of uncertainty regarding the conclusion.

Now, here is the question to consider. A doctrine is a statement of a conclusion. For example, the doctrinal statement that 'Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine' is a conclusion based on a whole range of evidence and reasoning. In other words, this doctrinal statement has been arrived at as the result of argument. But what type of argument is it? Deductive or inductive?

If the statement that "Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine" is the result of a valid deductive argument then we can evaluate the conclusion as being absolutely certain. If, however, the statement is the result of an inductive argument, then we can only evaluate the conclusion in terms of how probable it is true. Most doctrinal statements are the result of inductive arguments and, therefore, can only be held to be true in a probabilistic sense. This is why there are so many variations in belief and why it is so difficult to persuade others of what we, ourselves, may believe to be true.

The issue of induction also requires intellectual humility on our part when we make doctrinal claims. If most doctrinal statements are the result of inductive arguments, then it is always possible that we may have it wrong. We always need to be open to the possibility that new evidence might come along that will require a modification in our conclusions (doctrines).

Intellectual humility is one of the key traits of a critical thinker. Paul & Elder (2002) define intellectual humility

as having a consciousness of the limits of one's knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one's native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively. This entails being aware of one's biases, one's prejudices, the limitation of one's viewpoint, and the extent of one's ignorance. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one's beliefs.' (p. 22)

Each of the biasing factors identified in the above definition leads to the probability that most of our thinking is inductive. It is very rare to find a deductive argument for the most significant issues we consider. Knowing the difference between a deductive argument and an inductive argument keeps us humble about what we know and keeps us inquiring to further refine what we believe.


Paul, R & Elder, L (2002), Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life, Financial Times/Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Does a doctrine have to be logical to be true?

I have recently seen it stated that a doctrine does not have to be logical to be true. That would mean that a doctrine can be true even though it is illogical. I'm interested in teasing apart what this might mean. What would a doctrine look like if it was illogical? First, we need to define the term "logical". I understand the term "logical" to mean 'conforming to or consistent with the rules of logic'. That's really helpful! What does it mean for something to conform to or be consistent with the rules of logic? Logic is defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica Dictionary as 'a science that deals with the rules and tests of sound thinking and proof by reasoning.' According to this definition, the heart of logic is 'sound thinking'. The rules and tests of logic are rules and tests that tell us whether or not our thinking is sound or not. For something to be illogical, then, it would mean that something fails one or more rules or tests for sound thinking. Applied to a doctrine: to say that a doctrine might be true but illogical is to say that a doctrine might be true but fail one or more rules for sound thinking. If a doctrine can be true but fail one or more rules for sound thinking, then any doctrine stated in any way could be true. It would mean that sound thinking is not a reliable way to test the truth of a doctrine. But what else is there? If we give up the requirement of sound thinking for a doctrine to be true, then we collapse into complete relativism without the ability to discern between doctrinal assertions. Therefore, I conclude that a doctrine must be logical to be true.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Movie Review: Good Night, and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck is essential viewing given the circumstances we find ourselves in 2005. In February 1950, Senator Joseph R McCarthy publicly charged that 205 Communists had infiltrated the State Department. McCarthy became the chairman of the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate and began a witch hunt for anyone who had any affiliation, however tenuous, with Communism. He was never able to produce any evidence of his claims but, using very clever rhetoric and arguments, he drove the nation into a state of fear and conformity with some people being persecuted and driven out of their jobs. This cultural milieu in the US became known as the period of McCarthyism. Good Night, and Good Luck tells the story of Edward Murrow (David Strathairn), a journalist for CBS television who teamed up with his producer, Fred Friendly (George Clooney), who, together, decided to expose McCarthy to the American public. George Clooney, the director of the film, has taken a courageous route with Good Night, and Good Luck. The script is spare and presents the viewer with an almost-documentary narrative of the events the movie covers. The entire movie is filmed in black-and-white so that original footage could be seamlessy integrated. Clooney never sensationalises but lets the power of the narrative work for itself. The acting is understated with close-up shots of the characters providing nonverbal clues of the emotions running below the surface and intense dramatic tension. David Strathairn is fantastic as Edward Murrow and George Clooney provides solid support as Fred Friendly. My one criticism of the movie is that it doesn't provide enough of the actual footage of McCarthy himself and his interrogation of innocent people. I fear that, for those who know little of the detail of McCarthyism, it might not have the same potency as for those who do. I would recommend doing a bit of research before seeing the movie (see the Related Links below). Good Night, and Good Luck never draws any explicit morals from its directly presented narrative. But the parallels with modern society, particulary in the US and for us here in Australia, are so obvious they don't need to be made explicit. The culture of fear that has crept into our lives surrounding global terrorism and some of the laws that are being introduced to deal with it bear serious thinking about in the light of the events of the McCarthy era. It is essential that issues such as free speech, the freedom of the press, honesty and integrity in reporting, and the balancing of civil liberties with the need for protection be carefully discussed and examined (check out The New McCarthyism article). Good Night, and Good Luck is a timely movie that does what good cinema should do -- make us think -- and think again -- about the way fear and conformity can paralyse a nation. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'The biggest little movie of the year - and one of the best ever about the news media.' - Jack Mathews/New York Daily News Negative Review 'The film adopts, somewhat insidiously, the myth that life was simpler back in 1953 and '54, and it offers Murrow as a lesson for today.' - Jonathan Rosenbaum/Chicago Reader Content Warning mild thematic elements and brief language (and tons of smoking!) Related Links

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Do Movies Cause Smoking? (Reason Online)

Jacob Sullum's article in Reason is a good example of thinking critically about claims -- in this case, the claim that smoking in movies encourages smoking in viewers. Read the article here.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Evolution victory

You can read a summary of the judge's finding on Intelligent Design here in this article from GeoTimes. Essentially, the judge said that Intelligent Design theory may be true -- but it is not science, it is religion:

To preserve the separation of church and state, Dover Area School District teachers may not "disparage the scientific theory of evolution" and also may not "refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID," Jones wrote in his decision. "We find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science."

Dover Intelligent Design Case Finding against ID

The judge presiding over the Dover court case on whether or not Intelligent Design should be considered a scientifict theory and taught in public schools alongside evolution has handed down his finding - that Intelligent Design is not scientific and should not be taught in public schools as an alternative scientific theory to evolutionary theory. You can read the 139-page judgment here.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Book Review: The Sins of Scripture

You don't often hear the word 'sin' applied to the Bible, but that is just what Bishop John Shelby Spong does with his new book entitled The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. The subtitle of Spong's book identifies his purpose in this provocative analysis of a number of passages of Scripture that Spong believes have led to various sins against people and the environment. Spong argues that, if the Bible is understood literally and given authority as the "Word of God" it inevitably leads to sexism, homophobia, child abuse, anti-semitism, dogmatic exclusivism, overpopulation, and a number of other environmental sins. Spong devotes separate chapters to these sins and explores the passages of Scripture that have often been used to justify them. For example, in his section on "The Bible and Women" he explores the the role that Genesis 2:18-23, 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, Leviticus 12:2, 5; 15:19-24 and similar passages have played in the oppression of women and the Christian church's well-entrenched attitude that women are inferior to men. He has an intriguing theory that, at the heart of sexism, is the male cultural fear of menstruation that began in Old Testament times. And Spong's discussion of anti-Semitism is very interesting. The Sins of Scripture provides a great deal that Christians need to consider and a good deal of Spong's analysis makes sense. There is no doubt that Scripture has been misread, misinterpreted, and abused by individuals and groups. However, Spong doesn't primarily appeal to these reasons for the "sins of Scripture". Instead, he argues that these "terrible texts" should be understood to be completely wrong - reflecting an ancient worldview that was misinformed about the truth. And herein lies the problem with Spong's book. On pages 176-177 of the book, Spong describes his overall agenda for Christianity - 'a true reformation' that will radically alter its fundamental nature by deconstructing it. Here is his vision for Christianity in his own words:

The deconstruction [of Christianity] begins with the dismissal of the story with which the Bible opens. It has already moved from being thought of as literal history to being viewed as interpretive myth. The next step is to dismiss it as not even an accurate interpreter of life. It is a bad myth, a false myth, a misleading myth. There never was a time, either literally or metaphorically, when there was a perfect and finished creation. That biblical idea is simply wrong. It is not even symbolically valid. It is an inaccurate idea that has helped to set the stage for the development of a guilt-producing, dependency-seeking neurotic religion. Nothing more! Whatever else we know about creation, we are now certain that it is an ongoing, evolving and sill-incomplete process. A further insight follows quickly from this: we can no longer properly conceive of God as resting from the divine labors of creation and pronouncing good all that God has made.

Since there was no perfect beginning, no Garden of Eden and no first man and woman who walked with God in perfect communion, there can also be no fall into sin and thus no act of disobedience that destroyed the perfection of God's world. These details cannot be true even as symbols. They constitute, rather, an inaccurate perception of human origins. We were created neither in the original goodness that Matthew Fox has proclaimed, nor in the original sin that has been established as the primary understanding of human life inside which the Christians have traditionally told their story, at least from Augustine on. Since these understandings are basic to the whole superstructure of Christian creeds, doctrine, dogma and theology, this realization means that they will all eventually come crashing down... Our humanity is not flawed by some real or mythical act of disobedience that resulted in our expulsion from some fanciful Garden of Eden. It is rather distorted by the unfinished nature of our humanity. The fact is we do not yet know what it means to be human, since that is a status we have not fully achieved. What human life needs, therefore, is to be called and empowered to enter a new being. We do not need some divine rescue accomplished by an invasive deity to lift us from a fall that never happened and to restore us to a status we have never possessed. The idea that Jesus had to pay the price of our sinfulness is an idea that is bankrupt. When that idea collapses, so do all of those violent, controlling and guilt-producing tactics that are so deeply part of traditional Christianity.

You get the idea... Spong wants to radically change the essential nature of Christianity. He wants to throw everything out and build a new religion from the ground up and call it Christianity. This overall agenda, which is evident in most of the books that Spong authors, overshadows his interpretation of the "terrible texts" he considers. Whereas other authors (not all) assume the inspiration and authority of the biblical text and demonstrate a similar conclusion to Spong's (that the Bible has often been used for evil throughout Christian history) they do so by pointing to the readers' misunderstandings, misapplications, and distortions of Scripture and the way that a correct reading of the text removes the justification for many of these "sins of Scripture". The fact that Spong wants to rip the heart out of Christianity means that many Christians will not even read his book. So he essentially ends up "preaching to the converted" - those that already believe what Spong does about Christianity. The very people who need to consider the sinful use made of Scripture - in particular, those who engage in a fundamentalist, literalistic reading of the text without considering issues such as cultural context - are the ones who will reject the good aspects of Spong's argument! For example, one of the reviewers on bought the book but decided, without finishing it, that it was a waste of money and "not for true Christians.' And Spong's poorly justified claims that Paul was gay and Jesus was married, for example, will turn many Christians away. There is no doubt that Spong's Sins of Scripture is a provocative read that has much of relevance to say to contemporary Christianity. However, his solution to the "sins of Scripture" is to change the essential nature of Christianity instead of changing the way that Christians read the text by promoting a more rigorous hermeneutic. Getting rid of Christianity as it now is may be one solution, but it is not going to be the solution for the majority of Christians. So Spong's book will essentially be one which highlights the problems but doesn't offer a practical solution. Another problem with The Sins of Scripture is that the other aim Spong had in mind is not adequately achieved. The subtitle of the book indicates that the author wants to "reveal the God of love". Spong deals with this in a somewhat cursory fashion and even suggests, at one point, that an in-depth treatment of the God of love will need to wait for another book. I have heard Spong speak on a number of occasions. His "mantra", which appears on p. 25 of this book, is that '[w]e are to build a world in which every person can live more fully, love more wastefully and be all that God intends for each person to be.' There is nothing wrong with these biblical aims for humanity. The problem with Spong's approach is that, despite his mention of God, he is looking for the human race to pull itself up by its bootstraps as it continues to evolve toward whatever we discover is actual human nature. So Spong wants to discard the biblical understanding of human nature on the presumption that we know better than the biblical authors, implement his own process for change, and hope we evolve to the place where 'we will oppose everything that diminishes the life of a single human being, whether it is race, ethnicity, tribe, gender, sexual orientation or religion itself.' The very best of Christianity has demonstrated that genuine equality is at the heart of the Christian gospel. It has also acknowledged the "sins of Scripture" outlined by Spong. But, in my view, Christians must reject Spong's solution to the problem and, rather than discard the inspiration and authority of Scripture, we must draw a sharp distinction between Scripture and our interpretation of Scripture (something fundamentalism fails to do and, ironically, Spong also fails to do). By humbly acknowledging the fact that Christianity has often perpetrated great evil on others by its misreading of Scripture and by ruthlessly returning to the heart of the gospel - God's persistent love of God's creation - change will certainly take place. To do that, however, humanity needs the God of Scripture who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-wise to empower humanity to achieve God's vision of a redeemed creation. So read Spong's book. Just make sure you grab on to the baby as it flies past you with the bath water that Spong wants to discard. Related Links

Monday, December 19, 2005

Book Review: Personality Types

There are many personality typing models around. You may have heard, for example, of the Meyers-Briggs personality types. Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson's book Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery introduces the Enneagram. The word ennea is the Greek word for nine. The term enneagram, then, means 'diagram of nine'. The Enneagram identifies nine main personality types. Once you have identified which type best describes you it is given a number and can be located on the enneagram (pictured below). Each personality type can range from healthy to unhealthy and Riso and Hudson provide detailed personality profiles for each type and subtype from healthy to unhealthy. Each personality type is connected by a line to two other personality types. Travelling in one direction represented by a line leads to disintegration of the personality and travelling in the other direction leads to integration. For example, if you were a Type 7 you would be connected to Type 5 (a Type 7's direction of disintegration) in one direction and Type 1 (a Type 7's direction of integration) in the other direction. According to Riso and Hudson, each type of personality has a particular Basic Fear that needs to be dealt with. For example, Type 2 has a basic fear 'of being unwanted and unworthy of being loved'. This basic fear leads to a basic desire 'to be loved unconditionally'. The Type 2 person has a choice to either give in to their basic fear and spiral towards more unhealthy ways of satisfying the basic desire or can resist their natural impulse and move toward self-actualisation by letting 'go of their identification with a particular self-image' that leads them to believe 'that they are not allowed to take care of themselves and their own needs.' A similar process occurs for each of the nine personality types. The Enneagram is a very complex model of personality and is unrelenting in its honesty about the human condition and what needs to be done to move toward psychological health. It is richly dynamic and avoids over-simplification of personality and its challenges. It not only suggests one's personality type but indicates the direction one needs to go to grow and mature. No brief description can do the Enneagram justice. Riso and Hudson do an excellent job of explaining the model and have contributed a number of unique insights to the model. Included in their discussion is a survey of the origins of the enneagram symbol which is shrouded in considerable mystery, and the process of the development of the contemporary personality types. The Enneagram is not without controversy. It is primarily based on clinical observation by those who practice it and there is considerable variation amongst writers regarding the detail of the model. Almost no formal empirical research has been carried out on it. One study has been done in collaboration with the authors of this book which claims that the personality types are 'real and objective'. Robert Carroll suggests that the Enneagram is similar to astrology in its vagueness and flexible application by the imagination. According to the Wikipedia article on the Enneagram, the 'The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Roman Catholic Church has ... expressed concerns about the Enneagram when used in a religious context because it is claimed that it "introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith".' Other Christians have also raised concerns over the Enneagram believing that it has its roots in occultism and tends toward New Age ideology. Riso and Hudson attempt to deal with some of these issues in the discussion of the Enneagram's history and development. Others, for example, Clarence Thomson, suggest that criticisms of the Enneagram are based on incorrect information, old information, or misunderstanding. So, what are we to make of it? I still don't know enough about the model to say. Because it is controversial and there are so many opinions about it, I think it is important to approach the Enneagram with caution, healthy skepticism and consideration of different points of view. If you wish to read an authoritative source on the Enneagram to help you make up your mind, then Riso and Hudson's book is a good place to start. Just make sure it is not the only source of information you rely on in making your decision. More information is provided in the Related Links section below. Finally, Evan Howard gives what may be the best advice on spiritual formation:

If we in spiritual formation intend to lead people into ever-increasing unity and conformity with the living God revealed in Jesus Christ, we are at our best and generally safest when we lead Christians with teaching and practices that are distinctive to the Christian tradition: Christian spiritual formation...

The blessings of spirituality have arrived, and resources to pursue the spiritual life abound. But therein lies a caution. When we are more interested in the fascinating resources than in pursuing relationship with God, when we use the right words to avoid the real Spirit, or when we pursue the experience of God more than the God of the experience, we are not yet practicing Christian spiritual formation.

Related Links

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Theology Unplugged (

You've never heard radio like this before! The excellent website are now producing podcasts on theology. You can download these to your computer, your iPod or MP3 player, burn them to CD, and listen to them whenever or wherever you want to! Their aim is to take theology off the top shelf and make it available to everyone. Check it out here!

God on the Internet (First Things)

Johnathon V Last, the online editor of the Weekly Standard, has written an interesting article about God on the Internet. Almost every imaginable belief is promoted online but, as Last concludes,

... even at its best, the Internet is a weakening of reality, and with its consumer satisfactions, politicizing impulses, and substitutions for the body, it constantly lures us up into thinner and thinner air. Isn’t religion supposed to enrich the world around us instead? Shut off your computer. Take a deep breath. Go to church.

You can read the whole article here.

Key concepts: Internet, church, blog, priest, communities

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of C S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It fulfilled every expectation I had. The story is well-known. Four children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are evacuated from World War II London as German bombs fall on the city. In the country house they find themselves in they play various games to fight the boredom that comes with the wet weather. One of those games is hide-and-seek. Lucy hides in a wardrobe in an otherwise empty room and, to her surprise, discovers it is the entrance to another world -- Narnia. Narnia is in the grip of a winter that has lasted more than a hundred years due to the evil rule of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton). The four children are drawn into the battle to overcome the White Witch's rule with the assistance of a powerful lion, Aslan. Everything about The Chronicle of Narnia is as it should be. The casting is excellent. Tilda Swinton is magnificent as the White Witch, never overplaying the part and portraying the simmering evil underneath a benign exterior. The children are brilliant. The cinematography is superb and the special effects are completely seamless and never overpower the narrative itself. Nothing is simplistic in this movie and yet the story is a simple one. Mark Adamson, who has previously brought us Shrek and Shrek 2 has directed The Chronicles with intelligence, wit, and power. C S Lewis's fantasy is a genuine masterpiece and has been translated to the silver screen in a way which respects and faithfully portrays his original work. The Chronicles of Narnia is unashamedly Christian and is a rich allegory of the death and resurrection of Christ and what it means for a world shot through with evil. But even those who do not know the underlying meaning of the allegory will appreciate one of the best fantasies ever written along with the subtle principles of loyalty, sacrifice, grace, justice, and redemption. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a deeply moving experience that must not be missed. It leaves certain other popular movies featuring a magical hero in the shade. My Rating: ***** (out of 5) Positive Review 'A movie of intelligence and power, of beauty, universality and largeness of spirit.' - Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle Negative Review 'The movie is a leaden, slow-moving beast.' - Peter Debruge/Premiere Content Warning Battle sequences and frightening moments Related Links

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Using Our 'Enemies' for Better Bible Study

I have had a little essay accepted by Logos Bible Software which has been posted on their website. It's called Using Our 'Enemies' for Better Bible Study. You can read it here.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Book Review: Evil

Diane Bell's Evil tackles a most significant set of evils in our society but does so in a way which undermines its authenticity. Evil is set in a north-eastern United States Jesuit liberal arts college where the newly appointed Professor Dee P Scrutari, an expert in anthropology (I understand Bell is actually an anthropologist), turns her gaze on the tribe of male staff at the school. Professor Scrutari becomes interested in the previous occupant of her office but can't get a straight answer from anyone about what happened to her. She decides to find out the truth and joins with a team of marginalised colleagues - a liberation theology nun, a gay priest, and a Jew - to uncover the evil that stalks the religious studies department. The themes that the author explores are absolutely essential for Christians, in particular, to come to grips with. The evils uncovered as the plot develops have often been swept under the carpet by the institutional church and they need to be exposed to the light of day. Two things, however, undermined the power of the book for me. Firstly, Bell has chosen to use names for the characters which are plays on words and point to the character of the person. It is possible that the novel, as a whole, is meant to be humorous - a sort of parody - but, in my opinion, this undermines the reader's ability to genuinely engage with the characters and what is happening as the story unfolds. Secondly, the dialogues between characters is often unnatural. As I was reading the conversations I couldn't believe that the characters would actually construct their conversations the way they did. They sounded as though the characters were reading something rather than talking in a normal conversational style. This led to a feeling of inauthenticity as though the conversations were contrived and an opportunity to "preach" to or "teach" the reader. Overall, Bell seemed unable to decide whether the narrative would be serious or parody. This made the story difficult to engage with on an emotional level due to the incongruity between narrative and theoretical explanations given by characters. There were times, too, when I couldn't accept the amount the narrator seemed to know about some of the details. In my opinion, the narrative would have worked better if it had been written in the first person. Despite the deficiencies, however, Evil is worth reading for the criticism it makes of the way institutional religion has often covered, and even promoted, immorality under a veneer of righteousness.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The latest adventures of Harry Potter have hit our screens in a longer, darker plot that doesn't quite hit the mark. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Harry finds himself as an underaged competitor in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament where the participants are required to risk life and limb to become the champion. But things get complicated because you-know-who is back! Goblet of Fire is entertaining and the magic effects are stunning and seamless. Harry and his friends are older and they have to deal with the normal issues that confront teenagers - self identity, hormones, and conflict. But, for me, the movie ultimately lacked adequate substance. There are hints of important issues being dealt with, but there seems to be an over-emphasis on wowing us with special effects than any deep exploration of the characters internal struggles. The most significant line in the movie is Dumbledore's warning that the time is coming when choices will need to be made between what is right and what is easy. The teenagers are maturing as actors and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and the rest of the team put in fine performances consistent with there development. Harry's confrontation with Voldemort is a highlight of the movie and, of the three challenges, the most moving is the one involving the Black Lake. There is no doubt that, in Goblet of Fire, we see the most sophisticated production yet and morality becomes more complex than in previous episodes. I was hoping, though, that the highest classification for any movie in the series might have been for the thematic content rather than for the scariness of the effects. A warning: this is most definitely not a kids movie. The higher classification is well deserved. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Positive Review 'The best one yet.' - Kirk Honeycutt/The Hollywood Reporter Negative Review 'Terrific effects and considerable charm, but, once again, you can't help wishing the filmmakers had been bolder with the adaptation.' - Empire/Angie Errigo Content Warning Sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images