The Relevance of Creation Talks

I am more absent from the blog as of late (and for the coming weeks) as I am video directing an educational DVD series on the side. The topic is Creation with a Christian worldview, and Gary Bates of Creation Ministries International is the speaker. Here’s some previews of the production (these clips are still in the works):

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Interpretation Continued: Objectifying Morality in Fiction

Building on a proper understanding of the genres of fiction, and a thorough appreciation for the whole of stories and there individual scenes, let us look now at the culmination of morality in fictional works to interpret the intent — message/meaning, if you will — of a story.

Morality is one of the stickiest issues for religious people to cypher whether a story is a good one to read or watch. We get lost in the minutiae wondering about the suitable age range for audiences; whether the story is “Christian” enough; whether the villain’s worldview overwhelms that of the hero’s; we total up the number of expletives in the first act; we count the number of square inches on our TVs that are covered in a splash of blood in a bit of violence…. Continue reading

Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Harry Potter series of books is completed. When the series was hot discussion in years past, little did people know where the series was headed. I’ve heard fans and those disenchanted of the stories amongst Christians. Obviously, a story relating a system of magic is not one to be taken likely for Believers. Magic in the real world is supernatural. Real world magic is either spiritually good or evil. Real world magic is usually engrossed in some form of religious worship — and not worship to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Literal vs. Fictional Magic
In fiction, magic usually takes on fictional characteristics that are inconsistent with real-world magic. While there are stories that relate ideals of magicians, wizards, and witches to be true and good, a many “hocus pocus” stories don’t want to be all that literal. Is Harry Potter attempting to be literal magic or fanciful? Is Harry Potter propose that magic is truly an acceptable, universal, truthful, and positive force of the “real” world?
It doesn’t seem so, based on the telling of the first installment, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” A lot of imagination and creative ingenuity tell a fantasy of a young boy called to a specialized school of magic in a dimension set apart from the world of non-magical people. Most of the magicians in the story are fictitious, and their magical methodology is non-descript. The teachers of magic at this fictional school say that there is a good magic and an evil magic. The evil use of magic is usually called “the dark side of magic.”
Sound similar to another popular fantasy? In relation to how the magic all works in the Potter book, it frequently reminded me of the force in Star Wars. Do Christians everywhere have a moral problem with the force?
Yes. Christians should understand that the supernatural in the real-world is what the Bible describes. There is not an abstract force governing the destinies of man and alien throughout the galaxy. Darth Vader is a fantasy character. So is the evil wizard Voldemort of the Harry Potter fables. If Christians are struggling with what is real and what is fictional when they hear/see these stories, they have major struggles with discernment and probably shouldn’t enjoy such stories. If you have sense and know where to draw a mental line between just good imagination and reality, I don’t think that the fictitious laws of morality and magic should hinder one’s understanding of the real world.
What’s to Like About the Story?
Harry Potter is an intricate story well-told. It’s good youth fiction that adults may enjoy to read as well. The distinctions between right and wrong are mostly consistent with those of the real world (magical or no magical forces). Several mysteries are introduced in this first book and just enough of them are answered (and some unanswered) to keep people entertained and interested in continuing the rest of the series. The characters have good dynamics (relationships). Side characters that appear to have little relevance in the beginning have significant developments of their own throughout and to the very end of the book (before the end of the story, you realize just how important seemingly insignificant characters are).
Harry is tested many times over with making simple, yet difficult, ethical decisions. Faced with bullies, family, peers, trolls, and magic itself, Harry must practice discernment to make the wisest choices in his unusual circumstances. Harry doesn’t always make the right ethical choices, but given his developments we see Harry learns from some of his mistakes; making progress towards maturity in his early youth (I think Harry is supposed to be eleven in this book).
Adults in the school that are meant to be role-models have high expectations of their youthful students. While not all children are positive examples to other students, all children are expected to practice self-control and face their academic and social challenges responsibly. It would seem (because it is implied) that the children are not only taught magic but given a moral standard of the right and wrong use of it — quite a feet for this alternative school to pull off.
What’s Not to Like About the Story?
Given this is a magical, fanciful world of magic, some times I would like to know what’s at the foundation of the magical universe and what governs it. It’s not clear that the world Potter lives in does or does not have God, or a force, or something that defines absolutes. Absolutes are all throughout the story, but you’re left to assume their meaning to life without knowing why there is meaning — there just is.
At times, legendary icons of magic history are mentioned from history. Most of these people named are real-world men and women of history (some aren’t) and in all their cases they really weren’t good examples of moral upstanding. One magician mentioned as a “great from the past” is Agrippa — Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (c. 63 BC-12 BC) [ADD LINK]. If the Agrippa mentioned is the Agrippa of Rome, you can see why conservative and Christian families would object to uplifting such a foe as a positive role-model of times past. Agrippa may not be one of the more notorious historical figures, but there’s little saintly about him either. I’ll also note that it is clever in the story to mention real-world historical people because it returns interest to the real-world and history, but it is misguided at the same time in this book (in my opinion).
In “The Wizard of Oz,” it’s stated very clearly that “there are good witches and there are bad witches….” This statement does not make up for the fact that it isn’t true in the real-world, but it does make it clear that Oz is very different from the real-world. In this story, witches and wizards are just professions, as it were, and it is the individual witch and wizard that is judged on their own merits as good or evil. This is basically the same scenario as in Oz, but it isn’t as clear an explanation. Very young children might not pick up on this position in the story, and thusly respond more open-mindedly to witchcraft in the real-world.
What About the Movie?
After I finished the book I saw the film. Here’s what I think: it’s consistent with the book, but not as well-told or thorough. The book is rushed at moments in the film. Relationships of characters, places, events are not explained, so you are left assuming a great deal more from the film. In favor of the movie, there are excellent elements of cinematography, special effects, and soundtrack. I could tell a lot of effort was put into the film to drive the audience’s interest back to the books.
Conclusion
It’s not a story to be taken lightly. There are good reasons readers should gird their minds when reading the book, but no reason why the story cannot be enjoyable, insightful, and scrutinized by readers. More story-telling like that in the story of “The Sorcerer’s Stone” could lead to some very positive reinforcement of good, clean values and beliefs.

sorcerers_stoneThe Harry Potter series of books is completed. When the series was hot discussion in years past, little did people know where the series was headed. I’ve heard very opposite opinions about the stories amongst Christians; whether it be for good or evil for readers. Obviously, a story relating a system of magic is not one to be taken lightly for Believers. Magic in the real world is supernatural. Real world magic is either spiritually good or evil. Real world magic is usually engrossed in some form of religious worship — and not worship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Continue reading

The Arts Have Purpose

Does all art have a purpose?

Does all art have a purpose?

You can’t make art up for the sake of being art that doesn’t have a meaning to the art you create. Many intelligent and prolific artisans think you can, but if you examine the examples around you you’ll find man is a lier if he believes he can create anything without a purpose. Whether you are a student of the arts, a hobbyist, or a professional designer of some sort, you make your piece of art for a specific audience with the express purpose of some message — even if the message is as sad and contradictory as “this piece of art has no message.” Even if you don’t take your art seriously, you’re at least creating it to humor one’s self (this is a purpose also). Continue reading

Defining Morality in Art

Most of my readers know that I am a Christian, and I like to think about the ramifications of Biblical worldview in the arts. It’s not easy to compete with the various worldviews in art and culture since what’s culturally acceptable is so influential. Popularity usually supersedes morality for patrons of the arts. If the majority of people enjoy something  good or bad, the negative peer pressure throughout culture will excuse anyone to enjoy the morally bankrupt movies, books, music . . . and so forth. Continue reading

Secular And Sacred Culture

Most people in western culture, consciously or passively, consider art to fit in one of two categories: secular and/or sacred arts. Few people know how to define these categories. Churches usually don’t educate their flocks on the arts, but along the way—going to church, Sunday school, Bible studies, etc.—members of the flock get an indirect idea of what religious art is, and what it is not. The rest of the culture wants to put sacred art into a box that they can tuck away from their lives. Only on the rare Christmas or Easter church services they attend do they enjoy religious icons, decor, or other religious artistic works. Continue reading

Why Is There Good? What If I Like the Answer?

I want to give you with a twist on my last post that will, as best as one can, clinch the debate over whether God is real and whether God is the one described in the Bible. I don’t mean to trivialize or over simply the issue, so with all due seriousness I’ve been studying and thinking long and hard to find the most valid evidence to support the biblical faith.

As I was saying in my last post, “Why is There Evil? What If I Don’t Like the Answer?” you can’t choose the absolutes in your life. The weather is going to bring rain or shine whether you consent or not. People in general have grown accustom to whatever the weather brings, but when you’re present and eternal perceived freedoms are at stake you may argue with a higher power telling you to be consistent with a specific paradigm other than the one that naturally suits you. I know this will test your unbelief if you’re not a Christian, and when it does I ask you to ponder the matter, research it, and come to an educated conclusion of your own. Please don’t react to what I have to say if you haven’t really anything to support a counter-argument.

First, I want you to read for your consideration these words from the arch-atheist Friedrich Nietzsche:

When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God has truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.[1]

Morality is Inescapable
So here is what I want you to consider. You ask Christians “why would a good God let evil happen?” Let me ask you: if there is no God, and if He is not calling all the shots, than how do you know what good and evil are? Think about it. I trust you have some morals you judge the world by—what’s right and what’s wrong (what’s good and what’s bad). If you have a moral compass telling you that stealing is wrong, how do you know stealing is wrong? By what authority do you validate that stealing is wrong?

In law, and with all higher powers, you have to have a basis for facts. A fact may be that the government says stealing is illegal. That’s one reason you know that stealing is wrong. But if the government didn’t regulate theft, would it still be wrong? What if other countries say it is but other countries say it is not? Is the ultimate authority the law of the land you stand on? Does it change depending on the land you stand on? What about land where law has not been defined? What gave man the authority over other men to decide what’s good to do and what’s not good to do?

You say you are grieved that some tragedy has happened to you and/or a close friend and loved one. That loss has made you have doubts. Maybe you’re stubborn on the issue because you just can’t accept the mysteries of a higher power that would allow evil in this world. So, rather than accept a real and powerful God that controls everything, you take God out of the picture. What do you have left? Man is the highest authority? Why does man have any authority over the universe, let alone this planet? If man says something is good for this world, like feeding the hungry or saving wildlife, how can he prove that it is a good thing without religion? Is it written in your biological gene pool? Scientists don’t seem to think so. But if so, why is it written deep within your physical heart in the first place? What decides what’s morally right and wrong apart from Someone more powerful than a man?

If you want to use evolution, you can’t make a case for Christian morality (i.e. we should love our fellow man, give to the poor, care for the young and elderly, etc.). This subject has already been deliberated by many a smart man all the way back to Darwin. In a natural “the-answer-for-everything-is-science” world, where mankind’s purpose is dictated by our genetic code, you have a naturalistic barbarian world. You may think that murder is wrong—got some inherent evil to it that’s a crime or sin against humanity. But that’s not a universal understanding among men. Many people would take advantage of murder if they could get away with it. Many people commit murder anyway because they justify it. These people excuse the murder by committing murder. If there’s supposed to be a universal moral ethical code in the evolution of all living kind, why doesn’t the murderer have the same moral code you have? While we’re at it, what about the animal kingdom? It’s not called a ‘dog-eat-dog-world’ for no reason. Many a Darwinist, evolutionist, atheist will tell you that there’s no place for morality in their worldview, and they would be consistent with their anti-God perspective saying so.

I don’t think morality is avoidable in the real world, and you don’t have morality without God—more specifically, Judeo-Christian ethic—to define it. Every man has a conscience because God put it there (whether the conscience is ignored or obeyed). It’s why we grieve when injustice happens! It’s why we are excited to see good things happen. It is why we value peace and prosperity, and don’t enjoy self-annihilation, war, and destruction (when consistent with the God-given pursuit of good will). You have an appreciation for right and wrong because God gave you spiritual characteristics like His own. Your spirit knows that most every action taken in this world has a moral right or wrong implication.

Faith is Inescapable Too
No matter what you believe about the meaning of life, the creation of the world, the explanation for good and evil, you have faith in what you believe. History has shown that no man from his own human potential has been able to satisfy the skeptic of any worldview. Ultimately, you have to believe in something without 100% undeniable evidence whether you believe in science, Christianity, or another religion. You believe their is oxygen in the room, that your heart doesn’t stop beating till the day you die… that your car works—you’re not sure how, but you believe it does… somehow. You can’t explain it. Faith is believing in the “how” that you cannot explain.

The Bible talks about faith a lot. God says it’s not easy to believe for some, and for others, like children, it comes almost naturally. Faith is one of the greatest commendable qualities a person can have. Faith is like courage; it takes determined spiritual effort to overcome what you don’t know, trust, or have confidence in. Faith goes hand in hand with the qualities of hope, love, wisdom, courage, and joy.

So for all the evidence one can muster, believing in what you will not see till after you die takes guts. That’s something God wants you to demonstrate in life. If your will can muster faith, God will help you with your unbelief. I know because this is the testimony of every Christian. So consider what it is you believe right now, and ask yourself if you think it really makes sense to believe in that over the most profound, logical, noble, consistent, civilized God of known belief.

Endnote:
1. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols,” The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 515–6.