Enoch Primordial by Brian Godawa: a Review

Brian Godawa is an accomplished screenwriter and author. In addition to books on film and worldview, and the role of mythology, he has written several series of novels in the fantasy genre. One such series is The Chronicles of the Nephilim. Enoch Primordial is the second of this series.

Like the rest of the series, Enoch Primordial combines the biblical narratives of Genesis with apocryphal and pseudoepigrahic literature (non-canonical ancient Near Eastern documents) along with his fertile imagination to craft a compelling story that fills the gaps in the biblical narrative in a creative way. Godawa makes no claims that these events actually occurred. Rather, the story is a vehicle for communicating his worldview.

Some of my favorite parts include the pathos of Adam and Eve living hundreds of years with a memory of the close fellowship they once had with God. (That’s a long time to live with regret.) There is also the incorporation of the words of contemporary political figures in the mouths of villains. This may make some uncomfortable, as though Godawa was demonizing his political opponents. However, on the Christian worldview, our enemies are not human. If the ideas of our opponents are evil, it is right to attribute a spiritual source.

Enoch Primordial is an entertaining, enlightening read.

Mining For God: a Review and Response

Last July, I was contacted by Brandon McGuire telling me about his new film. I ordered a copy and watched it to see how good a resource it would be for my Ratio Christi chapter or any other apologetics classes I teach. The problem I had when I watched it is that having recently completed a Masters Degree in Christian Apologetics, the material in the movie was too familiar. I wasn’t sure if it was too technical for a lay audience, or interesting enough. (Even your favorite song gets old after a while.) So I asked one of my Sunday School students to watch it with her family and let me know if it was helpful. She and her husband have several unbelieving children and relatives whom they invited to see it as well. Her nephew, an atheist, wrote the following review. I thought it was so even-handed and well written that I would share it here, with a few comments at the end.

 

“MINING FOR GOD” Documentary Review by John Regina

 

While being the first documentary of this sort that I have watched (at least in recent years), I found myself quite familiar with a good portion of the information and opinions presented, in particular the apologetics that were interspersed throughout. I rather enjoyed the seemingly random interviews conducted in public with (“non-expert”) Americans mainly during the first ten minutes of the film, and in relatively short order was under the impression that one of the film’s primary objectives is an attempt to clarify what it means to be a practicing Christian, as opposed to the many Americans that select their religious and/or spiritual beliefs a la carte (the term “cafeteria style” is used in the film) or have a misapprehension or otherwise vague interpretation of Christianity. I would have liked to see more of these interviews, or at least a more thorough investigation of the “70%” of Americans cited by the film that identify as being Christian.

Directly following the interviews the film’s narrative veers sharply into apologetics, sometimes for the better and other times not. I would consider the information presented in the film to be an entry-level, beginners’ introduction to Christian apologetics, because it covers much ground, including a cursory (although not detailed nor expansive) examination of most of the core claims that I am aware of. I felt that some arguments, as with some of the commentators, were more convincing than others. For instance, I felt that the ‘cosmological, “first cause” argument’ (for God) was summarized brilliantly, mainly by William Lane Craig- although he failed to address the opposing problem of  “infinite regression” often cited by skeptics. However, I did not like the manner in which the “teleological argument (or hypothesis of intelligent design)” was presented, due to the Creationist/anti-evolution viewpoint that was briefly expounded upon (by the commentator Donald Williams). I feel that the “argument from morality” was perhaps the strongest, most persuasive argument for the existence of God that was presented, but am also of the opinion that too much time was devoted to the sub-topic of personal sin. Lastly, I found the viewpoints expressed within a couple parts of the film relating to pluralism to be intolerant and at odds with American culture. After all, our country was primarily founded on secular values, and however Christian our nation may be, we should hold firm to our established right to religious freedom, even in rhetoric.  Overall I found the film to be informative, well put together and great as an introduction to apologetics.

 

Response

I really appreciate the tone of this review. I would just like to respond to a few things the author says. In response to the cosmological argument, Regina says “… he failed to address the opposing problem of  “infinite regression” often cited by skeptics.” Note that in the argument from first cause, the first premise is “Whatever begins to exist has a cause.” God, by definition, never “begins” to exist. For God to begin to exist, he would have to have a cause, which is greater than him. However, if there were anything greater than God, than IT would be God. As Regina noted, the film is a beginners introduction to apologetics. The discussion on the impossibility of actual infinites can be technical, and making it accessible would be lengthy. I discussion of this can be found here.

Regina thought too much of the discussion of the moral argument focused on personal sin. But the whole point of noting the existence of objective morality is that personal sin is a real problem, for which Christ is a real solution.

Finally, Regina seems to conflate the ideas of religious pluralism with civic pluralism. Religious pluralism is the claim that all religions are equally true and valid. However, logically the only way this could be true is if they are all false, since they make contradictory truth claims. Christianity claims to accurately describe reality. If it does, then religions that contradict Christianity are necessarily false inasmuch as they contradict it. Likewise, if any religion that contradicts Christianity accurately describes reality, then Christianity is false. Civic pluralism, on the other hand, is the view that each citizen has the right to believe what he wants without fear of government interference. Christianity is only “intolerant” in the way the word has been redefined to mean disagreement. That it is at odds with American culture, well so what? As for religious freedom, that too is a Christian idea. We share the Gospel with people. We do not try to force it on them. As to the “secular” values that America was founded on, even letting the claim pass, the values America was founded upon result from the impact Christianity has had on Western Civilization. More on that can be found in Glenn Sunshine’s fine book Why You Think the Way You Do, a review of which can be found here.

Once again I want to say how much I appreciate the thought Regina put into his review. Too often reviews of films like this from an opposing view tend to come from trolls. (I know, we have our share too.)

God’s Not Dead… But the Movie Franchise?

 

This past weekend I saw the new movie God’s Not Dead 2. My expectations were tempered by having seen the first movie. For those who may not have seen it, the original God’s Not Dead was the story of a Christian college student who found himself having to chose between writing “God is dead” for a Philosophy grade, or go head-to-head with his atheist professor defending God’s existence. In that movie, the apologetic elements were a natural part of the central story of the movie. While the film suffered many of the problems common to “faith” films, such as the excessively happy endings with few loose ends, (what my pastor aptly called a “Hallmark-y” quality) it at least portrayed the value of apologetics for strengthening the faith of believers and giving non-believers something to think about. It was a decent storyline with a combination of fine performances and clichéd subplots. The sequel was another matter.

In GND2, a high school history teacher is disciplined and sued for quoting Jesus’ words in the context of a discussion of nonviolent protests such as that of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. The first crack in the plausibility of this was the reaction of the teacher, played by Melissa Joan Hart. You are a history teacher answering a student’s question about Jesus’ influence on Ghandi and King, and when you are asked to defend your actions, your first reaction is “But, that is what I believe.” Really? It took half the trial for you to realize, “Hey, wait! I was teaching history, quoting Jesus as a historical figure.” And then it becomes necessary to have Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace testify that Jesus is a real historical figure? I’m a huge fan of both of these men, but I couldn’t help but feel like their parts in the movie were forced.

Then (spoiler alert) when the verdict is announced, the group of Christians praying in front of the courthouse starts chanting, “God’s not dead, he’s fully alive.” Really? I like the Newsboys, but their appearance in the movie was almost as contrived as putting Stobel and Wallace on the stand in the trial.

Joining the list of disjointed subplots was a meeting of local clergy chaired by the late Fred Thompson announcing that the local prosecutor was subpoenaing their sermon notes, a subplot that went undeveloped in the rest of the movie beyond a threat by the prosecutor directed at the lone pastor who refused. Was this a case of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks,” or the premise for a GND 3?

Lest you think I found nothing good in this movie, let me say what I liked. There was a character in the first movie, a left-wing blogger who was diagnosed with cancer. She (along with almost everyone else in the first movie) became a Christian. In the sequel, she discovers she has been healed. While this is an uplifting (if predictable) part of the story, I appreciate that the Hallmark factor was dialed back, and she was portrayed as struggling with doubts about her faith right after the healing. This was one of the most realistic things in the movie. Additionally, the main character retells how she heard God speak to her. I hear many people claim this, saying God told them a, b, or c, and you are left to think, ”Okay, I guess.” There is nothing in the alleged message that can be tested, and they show not miraculous power to attest it. I will not engage in a debate over whether God gives personal messages to individuals (he certainly can if he wishes.) It is not at all clear, however that Scripture teaches that we can expect him to. However, when asked what God told her, she said, “Who do you say I am?” This is a direct quote of Jesus from Matthew 16:15. The Bible clearly teaches that God will “bring to remembrance all I have taught you.” I admit some would question how I am using that quote, but the point is, it is entirely reasonable to think the Holy Spirit will bring to mind passages from what God has already said.

God’s Not Dead 2 looks and feels like it was made in the Bible Belt, for the Bible Belt. However, many of us, including me, live up here in the plumber’s butt crack sticking up over the Bible Belt. We long for the day when a movie is made that presents the Christian worldview that is not cheesy and heavy-handed, and does not rely on clichés of the Christian subculture.

Proverbs 16:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” This proverb uses the incongruity of gold rings and pig’s snouts to make a point. I am not comparing the movie to a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. However, the incongruity of fine individual performances with a disjointed story line seem just as stark.

 

The Crusades: Just War or Just War? An Afterthought

How then should we understand the Crusades?

Jesus commands his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) At no point does Jesus ever command us to promote the Gospel by force of arms. The Crusades were called and executed in the context of 700 years of conflation between ecclesiastical and political power. The Christian faith, which began as the faith of individuals who came to the faith and joined a community in the face of resistance from the governing authorities, had been reinvented as a community whose membership was mandatory, even on pain of death. In this context, and in the absence of access to the Scriptures by common people, it is not hard to imagine how people who cared deeply about such things as relics and holy places could be motivated to endure great hardship to carry the fight to Palestine. Such people, lacking sound leadership, could even be persuaded to commit heinous acts and think they were rendering service to God. All this is a valid criticism of Christendom, if by this you mean the church/state body that led much of medieval Europe. To use the crusades as a critique of Biblical Christianity is to attack a straw man.

The Crusades: Just War or Just War? Part 2

Happy New Year!

In my last post, I began to lay out the historical background for and description of the Crusades. This is a continuation of the same.

Although there has been a popular misconception of how tolerant Muslims are of people of other faiths living within conquered territories. As Stark describes it:

In principle, as “People of the Book,” Jews and Christians were supposed to be tolerated and permitted to follow their faiths. But only under quite repressive conditions: death was (and remains) the fate of anyone who converted to either faith. Nor could any new churches or synagogues be built. Jews and Christians also were prohibited from praying or reading their scriptures aloud—not even in their homes or in churches or synagogues—lest Muslims accidentally hear them.[1]

 

This is in addition to they way Jews and Christians were treated as second-class citizens. Nevertheless, these conditions were tolerable compared to what came with Seljuk Turk conquest.

While the cries of “God wills it!” may have been a response to the reports of what was happening in Palestine, the call for the First Crusade were not. Pope Gregory VII planned to call for the crusade in order to assist the Byzantine Emperor with the defense of Constantinople and the recovery of Byzantine territory from the Seljuk Turks. Byzantines had good reason to fear conquest by the Turks. In 1064 the Turks laid siege to the Armenian capital, Ani. Hoping to spare the inhabitants, the city surrendered. Stark relates the account of “an Arab historian Sibt ibn al-Gawzi (d. 1256), who claimed to be quoting an eyewitness: ‘The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it…The dead bodies were so many that they blocked all the streets.’”[2] Likely aware of these events, those who heard of the Turks treatment of holy sites and pilgrims in Palestine would have been credible. Rather than a “mandate to destroy the infidel in the Holy Land,” the First Crusade was a call to repel a vicious invader from the Byzantine Empire, and to liberate Jerusalem from an oppressive conqueror.

Haught’s article continues,

Gathering crusaders in Germany first fell upon “the infidel among us,” Jews in the Rhine valley, thousands of whom were dragged from their homes or hiding places and hacked to death or burned alive. Then the religious legions plundered their way 2,000 miles to Jerusalem, where they killed virtually every inhabitant, “purifying” the symbolic city. Cleric Raymond of Aguilers wrote: “In the temple of Solomon, one rode in blood up to the knees and even to the horses’ bridles, by the just and marvelous judgment of God.[3]

 

Madden relates the Rhine Valley incidents:

The most infamous of the anti-Jewish crusade leaders was Count Emicho of Leiningen. On a rather pronounced detour, he and his followers marched down the Rhine plundering and massacring Jews in the cities of Speyer, Worms, Mainz, Trier, and Cologne. Some local bishops did their best to protect the Jews, but many were killed all the same. In Mainz, Emicho’s men stormed the palace of the bishop, where the Jews had taken refuge.[4]

 

On these accounts, it would seem that the crusader armies went on an anti-Semitic rampage on the way to Palestine, which met with token resistance from local bishops. What really happened, however, is that three small groups of Germanic knights began to attack Jews. Principal among these was Emicho of Leiningen. In each of the cities mentioned in Madden’s account, the local bishop tried to shelter the Jews with mixed results. Volkmar and Gottshalk committed similar attacks. All three groups were destroyed when they tried to repeat this pattern in Hungary.[5]

As for the “religious legions plunder(ing) their way 2,000 miles to Jerusalem,” they must have been incredibly inept at plundering. As Stark tells us, “Large numbers of the poor noncombatants with the crusaders actually starved to death.”[6] (This incident was in the context of the siege of Antioch.)

Haught’s complaint that the crusaders “killed virtually every inhabitant, ‘purifying’ the symbolic city” needs to be examined in its historic context. As Stark explains

…the commonly applied “rule of war” concerning siege warfare was that if a city did not surrender before forcing the attackers to take the city by storm (which inevitably caused a very high rate of casualties in the besieging force), the inhabitants could expect to be massacred as an example to others in the future.[7]

Stark also argues that “no sensible person will believe Raymond of Aguilers’s report that “men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.” In fairness, however, it does seem odd for a churchman to exult in bloodshed like this. In a similar, Haught claims, “As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux declared in launching the Second Crusade: ‘The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself is glorified.’”[8] This case is a mixture of fact and fiction. Bernard did not say this in relation to the Second Crusade, but he did say it. Such a statement is incompatible with Christianity. Ezekiel 33:11 says “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

In spite of the documented rationale for the Crusades, which was one of defense of territory and the protection of pilgrims, there is still a popular notion that it was a war of one religion against another. I have argued above that this was the case for the Muslim, but it is not clear this was the case for Christianity. This is not to say there were no Christians who joined the crusades in order to fight Islam. There may have been an anti-Muslim attitude among a majority of crusaders. The goal of the crusades, however, was not the defeat of Islam, but the liberation of Christian territories. Nevertheless, Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells argue:

The crusade was, at least at its inception, the war of Christendom against the Muslims. With the Crusades, the Christian attitude toward the Muslims began to differ from Christian attitudes toward other known peoples. What distinguished the Christian attitude toward the Muslims was its fundamentally antagonistic nature.[9]

It is ironic to note that no mention is made here of the jihad that had been waged by various Muslim groups since Mohammed, particularly the invasions which the crusades were called to repel. That being said, it is popular in today’s culture to read any critique of a system, such as Islam, as an “attack” on the adherents. (Unless of course the system is Christianity, in which case it is fair game.) In his treatise On War Against the Turk, Luther is quite clear in his comments that it is Islam that the Christian ought to oppose in his disposition, and the invading Turk that must be opposed militarily.

[1] Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: the Case for the Crusades, Reprint ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 39.

 

[2] Ibid., 104

[3] Haught.

 

[4] Madden, 18.

 

[5] Stark, 138

[6] Stark, 159-160.

 

[7] Ibid., 168

 

[8] Haught.

[9] Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells, The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 206.

The Crusades: Just War or Just War? Part 1

Since Islam has been in the news lately and comparisons made between ISIS and the Crusades, I thought it might be helpful to offer some historical background here. In this post and the next one, I will present a paper I wrote in graduate school.

Background

The crusades were a series of campaigns launched against enemies of Christendom between 1095 and 1291.[1] They have been used as rationale for everything from skepticism and rejection of the gospel to the September 11 attacks. Accounts of the crusades from the period and since tend to either vilify or glorify them, with little in between. Critics often cite the crusades as evidence of the evil of Christianity. Crusades are seen as wars of colonialism against a peaceful Islamic civilization minding its own business until those mean, nasty Christians came to steal, kill and destroy. But is this an accurate picture? How did Muslims come to occupy Palestine, North Africa, Spain, and Anatolia? Did they come on bicycles wearing white shirts and ties, two at a time, bringing their message and winning converts? Did they win over the people through a series of camp meetings that led the masses to repent and accept Allah as their God and Mohammed as His prophet?

Like every war fought in history, the crusades had heroes, villains, beneficiaries and victims. In this paper, I will seek to set the record straight where the crusades are used to discredit Christianity. This is not, however, a defense of Christendom.

The structure of this paper will be to take criticisms offered and respond to them, whether by refutation, or concession where the criticisms are valid.

The Crusades

James Haught, in an article first published in Penthouse magazine, wrote, “The First Crusade was launched in 1095 with the battle cry “Deus Vult” (God wills it), a mandate to destroy infidels in the Holy Land.” [2] One would think from this statement that whoever called for the crusades just arbitrarily decided to tell Christians that they should go and “destroy infidels in the Holy Land,” who are simply minding their own business, because “God wills it.” Reality, as is often the case, is more complicated.

For Muslims, war was part and parcel with Islam, claims by George W. Bush that Islam is a “religion of peace” notwithstanding. Madden explains:

Traditional Islamic thought divided the world into two spheres, the Dar al-Islam (“Abode of Islam”) and the Dar al-Harb (“Abode of War”). The Dar al-Islam consisted of all of those lands directly ruled by Muslims and subject to Islamic law. Dar al-Harb, which included the Christian world, was the place in which Muslims were enjoined to wage jihad against unbelievers, capturing their lands and subjecting their peoples.[3]

Consequently, Muslims did not come to control the Holy Land, or Egypt, or Syria, or Persia through immigration, or friendship evangelism. They had conquered these lands by military force. This does not necessarily justify the first crusade, but the historic context needs to be considered as we evaluate it. Even at this point no call went out to expel the Muslim. Muslim treatment of Christians in the conquered territories did not seem to warrant such a response. It should also be noted that the cries of “God wills it!” came from those who answered the call, not those who issued it. It was a response to the reports of what was happening to the churches and pilgrims in the Holy Land.

In my next post, I will explain what changed and how it led to the first Crusade.

[1] Thomas F. Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades, Updated ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005), xvii.

[2] James Haught, “Holy Horrors,” The Secular Web, entry posted 1997, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/james_haught/holy.html (accessed December 6, 2012).

 

[3] Madden, 3.

Balancing Safety with Security: Another Perspective

There has been a lot of discussion about the Syrian refugees and whether Christians should support allowing them to come to the U.S. Many of the concerns raised stem from the possibility that there may be terrorists mixed in, and the idea that Christians are underrepresented among them. (Jonathan Witt addresses this here.) Unfortunately all of the focus seems to be on these two issues. Maybe there is a third issue we are overlooking to our shame.

Syria is a Muslim nation, and under the best of circumstances, it is hostile to Christian missionary work. Add to that the current civil war, and you have a recipe for near certain martyrdom for any Christian who wants to go there to bring the Gospel. In this, I am reminded of a story I heard Ravi Zacharias tell about a man named Sami Dagher. As I recall, Sami Dagher was in Lebenon when Syria invaded in 1976. Dagher told Zacharias that he was complaining in his prayers about the Syrian occupation, when he felt God telling him that he had always complained that he could not bring the Gospel into Syria, and now he sent him 25000 Syrians and he was still complaining. (Paraphrased from memory. I could not find a link on the rzim.org site. I am sure I heard in in a  Let My People Think podcast.)

The point is, we can point out how the Muslim nations in the region are not welcoming any refugees if we want, but none of us are planning any missions trips to Syria any time soon. What we have is an opportunity to share the love of Christ with these refugees in a place where they can safely receive it. (I know there are still hazards from within their community.) Is that safe? Maybe not, but we are not called to be safe, we are called to be faithful. We can push for due diligence with respect to vetting the refugees, but they will probably come, and we need to be prepared to welcome them.