Earlier this year
One of the topics is war and guns, and the essay by Ben Witherington starts off with a paragraph describing the movie Hacksaw Ridge, the true story about a conscientious objector in WWII who single-handedly saved 75 wounded soldiers, and whose courage under fire emboldened his former detractors (who had already left him behind on the battlefield) to go back and win the battle. So I looked, and sure enough the library had it. It's an awesome flick. My views about war are similar to Desmond Doss in the movie, but none of my peers were volunteering to go to VietNam. Fortunately God gave me a job at a DoD (government) research lab, so my insignificant contribution to the war effort was not in uniform. I learned a lot at that job, including, as the Personnel Director there told me (with a straight face, I was so astonished I remember his exact words) "Civil Service performs a valuable social function; it provides employment for people who would otherwise be unemployable." I could see it was true! When they closed the lab a few years later and offered to move me to another government lab in Washington, I declined.
The second movie in the same library haul was Dark City. Most of it made no sense at all to me, but it became pretty obvious that this was "spec-fic" (previously known as fantasy, where the author/screenwriter abandons the laws of physics to see what they can do with it), but it was my Day of Rest, so I slogged through it until near the end I realized this particular flick is portraying the Lie of Satan in the Garden, "You shall be as God." This is fiction, so the Good Guy has more psychic energy than the Bad Guy and overcomes him by pure will power. That happens in real life too, but the only Person with that kind of power is God Himself, and God can do it more subtly than having a knife turn around in mid-air and head back to kill its sender. God speaks "and there was light," but this guy only thinks hard about it and the sun rises over the eponymous and previously dark city. In the separate "Making Of" documentary (one of the extras on the DVD) the screenwriter/director talked a lot about what he was hoping for in this flick, and how some of the test viewers were confused by it so he went back to the producers to shoot some connecting material. It was still confusing. A second screenwriter brought in (so he said) to make it less wierd, called it a "pastiche" (I think a more modern term is "mash-up") of "post-modern, fantasy and noir." Visually it was very noir (the French word means "black") like Batman flicks, but at least the Batman story makes some sense. The essence of post-modernism is the abandonment of objective reality, everything is whatever you imagine it to be. Nobody really believes that, but it sounds good when you are arguing against Biblical morality (see my essay "Moral Absolutes").
I mention this because the guy went on to say "Technology has accelerated
social change and the pace of modern life is beyond that of the ordinary
individual to cope with," and "People now are alienated in a way that for
centuries they weren't [able to be]," resulting in a "dialectical confrontation
of the recent past with the here and now [that is] new in human experience."
I thought it remarkable that his guy was saying 12 years ago the same thing
I observed this year concerning the fixation on what I call "steam
punk and broadswords." There is a certain satisfaction with discovering
that what I invented without any help (except of course from God) is also
being accepted by smart people (or at least elites such as artists and
I wouldn't mention this book except what they did with Christianity. Half, maybe most sci-fi writers make no mention of religion; and most of the rest make it clear that the author considers all religion to be a fraud that science has defeated (except some are honest enough to admit that it still lingers). A few are more tolerant, and the religious professionals in their stories -- almost always Roman Catholic -- are honest people presented in a positive light, while making it clear that the main character(s) share the author's personal unbelief. This one is in that last category.
It's too bad really, that these writers have not taken the time to understand why Christianity is different from the other religions. In this case it could have prevented the embarassment in their treatment of the aliens. The essence of the Christian faith is that God became human to deal with the fallen human condition. It makes no sense at all if wicked aliens with no knowledge of Jesus exist as in this story. I think if we ever found such people, somebody created by God and fallen into sin, but with no Redeemer -- who? Jesus? -- or else evolved sentient beings (as in this story) "red in tooth and claw" (those words were not used, but the aliens were both dishonest and warlike), then the entire premise of Christianity falls apart. But this is fiction, and the religious implications were subtle and deferred to later in the book, so most of my reading was unhindered by it. Certainly not like some of the atheistic crud I've seen.
Another flaw in the education of most sci-fi writers -- John Ringo and David Drake were notable exceptions -- is the total absence of understanding how soldiers (the military in general, in this case the navy) think. Here our hero, the captain of a Navy starship, gets all blubbery worrying about his inevitable court-marshall because his commanding admiral destroyed the ship after it became infested with aliens. The commanding officer is responsible for that. Maybe the captain on watch should have prevented the infestation, but that comes out in the court, and he has not lost his career if he did the Right Thing. Non-military people don't understand that. At least in this story the authors had something else they wanted the hero to do, so they whitewashed the court-marshall and quickly moved him into the next phase of his career. Maybe all the whiney inner turmoil was to make the whitewash more surprising (novelists consider it their God-given duty to jerk the readers around), but it didn't work. It just wasn't real. Fortunately, it didn't last very long.
I thought it interesting that in 1974, before there even was such a
thing as a personal computer, the authors are predicting ubiquitous cell
phones, only they were called "pocket computers" which connected to the
network. None of that existed in 1974. The science in this older novel
is credible. FTL (faster than light) travel is deemed possible only because
of wormholes (they didn't call it that) connecting the stars, but you had
to hunt around to find it. The force fields that protected starships in
battle, and also when the wormhole to a red giant star actually ended inside
the star's photoshpere, were a little less credible, but they put some
effort into dealing credibly with the energy the field absorbed in use.
The last time I had reason to buy something from a remote vendor, I formed the opinion that Amazon was the easiest to do that on. That may still be true in today's abusive electronic wasteland, but Amazon is nowhere as easy to do it on as it was back then. The last time I ordered a book, I found it in Google, selected it in Amazon (whatever it was I wanted) with a click, put in my name and address, clicked on the button to call in my credit card # -- because I'm a computer professional with experience hacking these things, I know better than to expose my credit card # to the internet -- called it in, and I was done.
This time it was necessary to click past a zillion popups that kept hiding what I was trying to look at, and then it wanted me to "log in". I never did see a way to phone in the card number. I gave up. Then my niece (I guess she buys a lot of stuff online, but like me she does not want to use her credit card online) told me to buy an Amazon card at Safeway (or the local post office). I hate creating online accounts, they always want a password: I cannot remember passwords, I can't even remember where I wrote them down, and I never want to do anything online that should need a password. I hate passwords, they are sooo 19th-century (see my essay "Retro Romance"). Next time I need to order something from Amazon, I'll probably just open another account. If they will let me. These robot ordering systems are so abusive.
When I got to the place to pay for the purchase, I couldn't find a place to put in the number printed on the card. I tried it in the obvious place, and it said it was invalid. Brand new today. Eventually I guessed that the number visible on the card was not what they wanted, I was supposed to somehow extract the card from inside its cardboard mailer and peel off a little strip of plastic and use the uncovered letters+digits code. It took that and told me the balance is $0.00 -- WHOA, I paid $100 for this card, and the product I bought was only $13 and something, and I have $0 left? You learn to expect stuff like this from Unixies.
Like I said, Amazon of today is nothing like Amazon back when they weren't a monopoly. Wasn't it Avis who said "When you're #2 you try harder." Oh well.
At least they did one thing right: Unlike prepaid bank cards, there
is no expiration date and no fees, neither up-front, nor per month. Unfortunately,
Obama's Federal Reserve guy has artificially depressed the value of held
money -- after I pay for the card, they have my money to do whatever they
want with it (including use it to make more money) -- which destroys the
incentive for frugality and deferred gratification, as does also high inflation
rates (another benefit of Obamanomics, not yet kicked in). In Biblical
terms the suppressed interest rate amounts to "unequal weights" which God
(many times) said He hates, because it makes the poor and disempowered
pay higher prices than the rich. That's Obamanomics for you: tax the poor
and coddle the rich. The banks (aka the rich) make it up in added fees;
Amazon makes it up in the exclusivity of the card (only good in their website),
which at least is what you bought the card for. Now that Google is no longer
in their original "Don't be evil"
mode, Amazon has a good shot at replacing them. That would be a good thing
(if they choose to do it).
This one seems to be the "best" of 1977. The first one is by Harlan Ellison. I've never read anything of his that I liked. Or even tolerated. I don't know why I bothered to finish it -- maybe it's because the previous library sci-fi was such a dud, I didn't even get a quarter of the way in. The second story in this collection is a guy writing as female first-person. You wouldn't know it -- I didn't know it for several pages (maybe a quarter of the way in) -- because his female thinks like a guy. I should have skipped this one too.
The third story has an author with a vaguely feminine name, but the editor's intro carefully did not use any pronouns (see my comments on female archeologists last week), and claimed it was only a pen name (and mentioned another very masculine "James"), but no guy writes like that, nevermind that she made her first-person lead into a guy. Most of the story revolves around "femicide," the wholesale slaughter of women around the world. It's a very feminazi theme, too much for me. Skipping right along... The next one was a male first-person with a male author, but it wallowed in inner turmoil, which is the staple of chick-lit.
I just now finished the fifth and longest story. The two authors -- we are told almost nothing about the guy, but the woman is an actress and (so the editor supposes) also a dancer. The first-person lead is a guy, but not your average macho go fast, make loud noises and break things guy, he's a dancer turned videographer, a classic effeminate enterprise. It was all about dancing. Now me, I love to watch people do what they are good at, there's a certain poetry about it. I might even find it interesting to watch a skilled painter do his thing, even if the result is abominably ugly (which most modern art is). When I was teaching at Kansas State, they brought in performing artists from time to time, and I once went to the ballet. I probably wouldn't do it again, but I might have understood it better after reading this story. Or not. The story makes it clear that the dancers see their art as a form of communication. When I read about Christian paint artists, they say the same thing. And then I look at their paintings, and it says nothing at all to me but noise and ugliness. That's not what the artists themselves claim.
The interesting thing about human language -- and let's be charitable and agree that paint on a canvas or the leaps and twirls of a dancer are also somehow the words of a language intended to communicate something intelligible -- all human language attaches meaning (semantics) to arbitrary symbols, and then uses structural rules (syntax) to limit how you can put these symbols together, but the result is that anything that can be said, can be said in pretty much any language, not always with the same ease or expressiveness, but it is possible. That is true also of artificial languages like mathematics and computer programming languages. Most Americans speak only American English, and maybe one or two technical dialects for their work, so they have no concept of the arbitrariness of the vocabulary and syntax of language.
I once heard a joke, I think it was at an international standards committee meeting attended by delegates from a variety of countries, but computer programming was invented by, and is still dominated by Americans and Brits, so we all spoke English in the meetings. Anyway the joke has it that a Brit and a German and a Spaniard or Argentine and maybe a Frenchman were sitting around the table in a restaurant (not unlike our own experience between sessions), and the Brit picks up a fork and waves it around, and says "You guys are all confused. You see this fork? In Spanish you call it a 'tenedor' and the French a "forchette" and you Germans call it a "Gabel" but in English we call it a "fork" because that's what it is!" Of course the linguistic point of the joke is that it is a "tenedor" to the Spanish speaker and to the German it is a "Gabel." The choice of symbols is completely arbitrary, but once we assign a meaning to the symbol, it becomes very hard for us to separate in our minds the name from the object named. Except those of us lucky enough to learn more than one language before age 12, because we very clearly understand the arbitrariness of it all.
So when the artist or critic says "this painting speaks of anguish of soul," and I look at it and it's just ragged blobs of gray paint, what has happened is that they have agreed between themselves that this kind of blob is about grief, and that kind of blob or color is something else, and the rest of us, they could be speaking Swahili or Chinese for all we know. But the Brits call it a "fork" because that's what it is. So the heroine, the dancer in this story, her dance
had something to say to utterly alien creatures, of man and his nature, ... and the meaning of those great loops and whirls slowly became clear ... For her dance spoke of nothing more and nothing less than the tragedy of being alive, and being human. It spoke, most eloquently, of pain. It spoke, most knowingly, of despair... It spoke of fear, and of hunger, and, most clearly, of the basic loneliness and alienation of the human animal. It described the universe through the eyes of man. [p.165]
To aliens? I'm human, and I have experienced (and therefore understand) pain and despair and tragedy, but I cannot see those concepts in dance. I can't even see them in blobs of paint on a canvas. How could an alien being without even a body see that in the "great loops and whirls" of a human in a space suit? Not all of us see in the universe "loneliness and alienation." To some of us, "the Heavens declare the glory of God," and this God is with us, the "Word made flesh." I think that makes us more human, not less.
Like C.S.Lewis' space trilogy, this is only mediocre sci-fi. Lewis did great theology, and this story is a wonderful insight into the nature of dance as seen by dancers, but it's not very good science. The heroine's first dance in space was mostly in the artificial gravity of a "Ring" space station, with temporary incursions of weightlessness when the videographer "had the Ring's spin killed... Restore gravity within a minute or so..." presumably by restarting the spin? The enormous acceleration required to stop and then start back up the spin on a space station a hundred yards or more in diameter, would be felt not as zero gravity, but by a huge 2G slamming sideways into the wall, followed by being thrown back to the opposite wall a minute later -- if the stresses didn't destroy the structure of the space station. Our dancer might be able to "whirl" in space on her own center of gravity by applying sideways force from thrusters on her hands, but "great loops" would require huge amounts of energy in the absence of a stiff gravitational force to loop around. In normal gravity dancers and gymnasts can toss their bodies into the air along a parabolic arch, but to do a full "loop" needs acceleration toward the center of the loop -- usually a guy pulling in on the (less heavy female) dancer as she goes over and around him; a single dancer cannot do that, not on earth, and certainly not in space, not without a huge rocket pushing the straight line of normal Newtonian motion into a circle. So much for the "sci-" part of sci-fi.
The final take-away from this story is the utter despair of the human condition apart from God:
And the new dance said, This is what it means to be human: to see the essential and existential futility of all action, all striving -- and to act, to strive. This is what it means to be human: to reach forever beyond your grasp...
I couldn't live that way. I don't have to live that way. I don't know anybody who does. No wonder Vox Dei said the only rational atheists are sociopaths or suicides.
It wasn't a fun read, not like reading a good sci-fi (that is, where
the science mostly works, like Jurassic
Park, or where they bring in some other field that I know and they
get it mostly right, like "Story of Your
Life" a couple years ago) but I don't regret the time spent in it,
as I regret what I spent in the other stories in this volume.
Today I'm thinking about the Scriptures called in to support T=Total Depravity. I never met anybody who really believes in total depravity, or they'd never ride an airplane or elevator or train designed and built by non-elect (non-Christian) engineers and manufacturers, nor eat anything they bought in a market. So already we have a fudge, just to survive in today's technical world.
I'm readingthe Psalms, rather more slowly than I used to when I did it in English, so I have time to think about what the guy is saying (and sometimes time to forget the whole theme). We tend to think of the Psalms as everyman prayers -- except of course the imprecatory Psalms (IPs), because calling down God's Wrath on sinners seems so "Old Testament" and not "loving" like we suppose the God of the New Testament to be. Me, I find no such difference, God is God, and there are times when the IPs make a lot of sense as prayers of anguish. Not so often for me here in the USA, but not never (see "Persecution" last month).
The Psalms are a mixed bag. The Calvinists love Psalms 32 and 51, along with Romans 7 they vindicate their notion of Total Depravity, which I usually hear expressed as "Ineradicable depravity" as if even God's grace cannot remove it except by lying through His teeth. Nobody ever says it that way, but they live like it, and as my mother often told me, "Actions speak louder than words."
The problem I see is that for every Psalm where the Psalmist says "I
am wicked" (let's call them "baddies") there's another where the Psalmist
says "I am good" (let's call them "goodies"). In fact there are more of
the goodies than there are of the baddies, any way you want to count them.
I can imagine some righteous Calvinist insisting that the goodies are about
God's imputed grace, while the baddies are about our intrinsic nature,
but you cannot get there by a consistent text-driven hermeneutic. If you
want to claim that Scripture is the authority, then you must let Scripture
tell us what it means, not the other way around. If we interpret literally
the verses we like, and figuratively the verses we do not like, then we
have set ourselves up in judgment over Scripture. I can't do that and still
say with a straight face "Jesus is LORD." It can't
So I am forced to conclude that Jesus really does mean what he said all through the Gospels, that you get to Heaven by obeying God's commands. Yes, we failed and still fail (occasionally) and God's mercy is great, but forgiveness only wipes away the karma of past failures; you still need to do the good things Jesus said you need to do, specifically the First Great Commandment (God is God and He gets to tell me what to do, and I must do it), and the Second (which we all understand as the Golden Rule). If you don't want to do those things now, what makes you think you will enjoy it in Heaven? There you must do it, or it wouldn't be Heaven for the rest of us.
The actor was not a big guy, but dressed as a woman, he looked oversize. His voice was too deep for a woman. Every cell in his body -- like those of the character he played -- had a Y chromosome, the mark of maleness. But he (or at least the guy he played) decided that God had made a mistake. He was wrong, we are the ones who make mistakes, not God. The doctor fixed him up -- sort of: he still had to take continuous drugs to nullify what his God-given body kept on trying to do. The movie did not say anything about it, but my thought was that the doctor cannot make him a real woman with ovaries and a functioning womb and able to bear her own children. Later I found a website that called it "tragic" and which said the guy-pretending-to-be-woman (they used a female pronoun) died after an operation to transplant a uterus failed. They now have drugs to overcome the God-given organ rejection, for people still trying to play God. But it's not real. Whose ovaries did they use? She is the real (biological) mother.
The real tragedy is not that the operation failed, but that there are
"doctors" willing to profit from destroying people who need nothing more
than to recognize that we all have problems, and the greatest thing we
can do is to use our difficulties to make the world a better place. This
guy's focus was only on himself. This movie approved his behavior, but
could not hide his selfishness and the hurt he caused doing so. Real women
think differently from men, and this flick accurately (but perhaps unintentionally)
showed the difference.
Everything else -- including a news item "Exhibit Watch" which this month features "Queens of Egypt" and the regular "Who did...?" puzzle (which also features an obscure woman) and the regular "Cartoon Caption Contest, which seeks humorous captions for a cartoon based on a Biblical text, both this month's results and next month's prompt being women (Jael in Judges 4:21, and Delilah), nevermind that none of the winners were women this month (women average about 30% of the three winners each month, slightly less than one third). The back page usually steps away from the Biblical arena, and this month it features a "distinctive" Greek pot, so because it shows women as well as men, in particular a woman potter, which suggests (but the unattributed item didn't say so, probably because it cannot be justified on the facts) that the potter who made it was female -- everything else, including both regular guest columns "Biblical Views" and "Archaeological Views" and nine regular articles, is female authorship. So we have ample opportunity to put my hypothesis (selection by quota leads to lower quality) to the test.
The "Archaeological Views" column was a rehash of the editorial, a common theme among women authors in whatever field, "Why so few women?" Having already read the superior editorial, I didn't bother to read her whine also, but only to skim it and see that it was in fact the same old same-old.
Only women write about women in the Bible, so the first of the nine articles in this issue was no surprise. While it may exceed the quality of other such (female-authored) pieces about women in the Bible, it certainly does not stand on its own scholarly feet in BAR: she makes several references to other "scholars" to support her opinions, but never tells us who they are, the way most of the scholarly articles in BAR (previously) did. Most of her footnote space simply lists the names of women on her research staff, without reference to what they did to earn their place there.
The next article could have been written by a man, and indeed the name of the author is not obviously female (but her picture in the author list at the back clearly is).
The third article is about baby burials. I guess there's a place for the topic somewhere in archeological studies, but its focus seems to be the kind of thing women care about more than men. The article seemed to imply (and the pictures and captions much more clearly said) that several ceramic vessels were included in the jars with the child, but two of the container jars in these pictures clearly had necks far too small for these smaller vessels to be inserted, let alone a whole baby body. I read the article carefully to see how she answered this question, and she did not even address it. I would expect the ordinary (standard scholarly) peer-review process to turn up problems like this and get them fixed before publication. She had only two references to other scholars in her footnotes.
The fourth article is primarily about a single "Song of Liberation" reconstructed from several fragments of tablets apparently recovered from the Ebla hoard, and was a fascinating read -- until I got to a linguistic remark I could verify, where she claimed a relationship between the key Akkadian word anduraru and several other languages, one of them being Hebrew "deror, meaning 'debt amnesty'," which seemed credible, until I looked the word up in my dictionary. It doesn't mean that at all in the Hebrew Bible. In fact the word does not appear in that form in the Hebrew Bible, but in its various other forms it means "sparrow" or "flow freely" or "liberty" according to the Davidson lexicon I use most often in my own Hebrew studies. One of the criteria in my rather robust "BS Detector" is that a person who has lied to you once will lie to you again, and you should not trust anything they say. Her only footnote is a reference to her own paper on the same topic.
So far, we have three articles out of four showing the inferior scholastic quality we might expect from women chosen for their gender rather than their scholarship. And this is in the same issue where the editor proudly announces that "They are excellent scholars!" Perhaps he determines that from the fact that they are all linked to an academic institution somewhere, without regard to the fact that only one of the ten women listed is a full professor, and the first two (co-authors of the piece about women in the Bible) are not even at the entry-level "Assistant Professor" rank which normally requires a doctorate (half of them are mid-level associates).
I will probably get around to reading the rest of the issue, but it's
not the page-turner BAR used to be.
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