I’m speaking at an online apologetics conference

Do you like to go to conferences–say, a big conference on apologetics–but don’t have the time or the money to take off and fly somewhere for several days?  But why should anyone have to travel for a conference, what with online technology?

I’m going to be giving a lecture on Christianity & Comedy at an online apologetics conference to be held April 19-21.  The overall topic will focus on “Literary Apologetics,” the use of stories (including literature, films, music, and other expressions) to convey the truth of the Christian faith.  The conference is being put on by Athanatos Christian Ministries, an apologetics organization led by Anthony Horvath (a Lutheran teacher and a former student of mine!).

You can sign up for the conference here.   The following are the speakers and the topics.  Go here for a schedule of the actual times.  (Mine will be at 9:00 a.m. Central on Friday, April 20.)  Notice that most of the conference is for paid registrants (a mere $30) but that the sessions on the 19th are free.

Athanatos Christian Ministry’s Third Annual

Online Apologetics Conference

2012 Theme:

Using Story to Defend, Promote, Explain, and Transmit the Faith


Dale Ahlquist

President of the American Chesterton Society

 Other Speakers:

Dr. Gene Edward Veith | Dave Sterrett | Paul Hughes | Dr. Holly Ordway | Anthony Horvath | Brian Auten  | Stephen Bedard | Glenn Jones | James D. Agresti | Mikel Del Rosario | Mark Riser | Tom Gilson | Joseph Keysor | Bruce Hennigan, M.D. | Dr. Ryan MacPherson | Paul Nowak

An apologetics conference held… entirely online! (Click here to see what a session is like)

April 19th,  20th, and 21st, 2012.

Access on April 19th is FREE!

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ALL SESSIONS RECORDED – Make up sessions you missed at your convenience. All conference registrants receive free access to these archives. Information on purchasing archive access coming soon!

2012 Conference Goals:

  • Build off of visions of ACM’s previous conferences, encouraging Christians to defend the faith through the arts.
  • Call attention to the power of Story and Narrative in the formation of world views.
  • Argue that the Gospel Story is superior to all of them, if only because it is the Truth.
  • Encourage Christians to use video, movies, literature, and music to mount a defense of Christianity in general and the Biblical model for the family in particular.
  • Connect Christian artists with each other and with those who can help propel them to success.
  • Remind Christians that they each have a responsibility to be ready to give a defense in their own lives.
  • Raise awareness of the fact that competing ‘stories’ are promoting beliefs and values that must be critically analyzed, not just mindlessly absorbed.

Conference Framework

ACM’s 2012 conference will be a little different than previous years.  The main part of the conference (being held on the 20th and 21st), the plenaries, will present a number of short stories that have some bearing on the Christian worldview.  Each presenter will take one of those stories, digest it, and apply it to contemporary issues in apologetics.   The stories and presenters will be announced in due time.

On the 19th, credible apologists will be invited to present on the topic of their choice (subject to ACM approval).   Up to 20 presenters are expected, and the topics will vary.  Note:  all presentations on the 19th will be open to the public!  Only the sessions on the 20th and 21st require paid registration.

Friday-Saturday (Apr. 20-21st, paid registrants only)



  • Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Author, “Christianity and Comedy”
  • Dave Sterrett, Author and Apologist, Spokesperson for “I am Second“, “Using Story for Christ:  Reflections on ‘I am Second.’”
  • Paul Hughes, Author and Apologist, “Tim Gautreaux and the Apologetics of Real Life” and “5 by Flannery [O’Connor].”
  • Dr. Holly Ordway, “Finding God in Fairy Tales” (Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel) and “The Importance of Excellence in Christian Fiction: A Lesson from CS Lewis”
  • Jason Jones, MovietoMovement, producer of movie Bella, “Topic TBA”
  • Anthony Horvath, Athanatos Christian Ministries, “An Analysis of ‘The Birthmark’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne” and “How 3 Stories Got Under the Skin of PZ Myers and the New Atheists.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author. “Speculative Fiction and Apologetics.”
  • Paul Nowak, author.  “It’s the Fight that Matters” [based on Chuck Palahniuk’s original short story “Fight Club” (later a novel and movie by the same title)].

Guest Lectures (Thursday, Apr. 19th – Free Access)

  • Brian Auten, Apologetics315, “Avoiding Apologetics Pitfalls”
  • Glenn Jones, apologist. “Reading Genesis as History: Implications for Science and the Age of the Universe.”
  • James D. Agresti, author of Rational Conclusions.  “Cosmology, the science of the origin and development of the universe.”
  • Stephen Bedard, author and apologist, “Reading the New Testament in Context.”
  • Mikel Del Rosario, apologist, “Defending the Resurrection in Everyday Conversations.”
  • Mark Riser, apologist.  “Why I Am An Old-Earth Creationist: A Personal Journey”
  • Tom Gilson, apologist.  “How Arrogant Are We, Anyway?’
  • Joseph Keysor, author. “Hitler, the Bible, and the Holocaust.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author.  ” CSI: Golgotha”
  • Dr. Ryan MacPherson, author.  “The Culture of Life: The Redemptive Power of Conversion Narratives”

E-books are increasing reading

E-books and e-readers are increasing the amount of reading that is going on.  People who get a Kindle are reading more than they used to, including reading books that aren’t electronic.

A fifth of American adults have read an electronic version of a book in the last year, a trend that is fueling a renewed love of reading, according to a new survey.

The portion of e-book readers among all American adults has increased to 21 percent from 17 percent between December and February, due in large part to a boom in tablet and e-reader sales this past holiday season.

All those devices are turning some consumers into super readers, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. E-book readers plowed through an average of 24 titles in the past year, compared with an average of 15 for readers of physical books.

“Those who have taken the plunge into reading e-books stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers . . . They are avid readers of books in all formats,” said Lee Rainie, director of research at Pew.

Curiously, e-reading somehow sparks a love of books in any format. Even as e-readers are downloading books on computers, tablets and smartphones, they are also checking out more books at libraries and buying more at bookstores and online. About nine in 10 e-book readers said they have also read printed books in the past year, Pew reported in its survey of about 3,000 people 16 and older.

via Survey finds e-readers are spurring consumers of books in all formats – The Washington Post.

I find that happening with me.  I read a lot, of course, as a literature teacher and someone who wants to keep up with things.  But ever since my wife gave me a Kindle–which as an old-school print guy I was skeptical of at first– I find myself reading much more for fun (bringing back pleasures that got me into the literature profession in the first place).  I can crank up the type-size so that I can read on the treadmill (which re-enforces that good habit I’m trying to cultivate) and instead of aimless surfing on the computer or watching television, I am now reading novels. Also books don’t cost as much when you download them, further liberating my reading impulses.

What I’m enjoying is not novels of ambitious literary merit–that’s more like work–but books that give me an interesting imaginative experience.  They have to be well-written with a certain measure of complexity, otherwise they can’t hold my attention, so genre fiction and bestseller fare doesn’t always do it for me.  But I’ve found some gems that I think I’ll be blogging about.

By the way, with my Kindle I’ve signed up for Amazon Prime, giving me the ability to “check out” books from Amazon’s virtual library for free.  Unfortunately, the pickings seem pretty slim.  I did find a couple of excellent reads:  Moneyball and Hunger Games.   (More on the latter later.)  If anyone has found other good books in that library–ones that meet my criteria–I’d be glad to learn about them.

Anyway, if you have broken down and bought an e-reader, has this “kindled” your reading?

That eye-on-the-object look

W. H. Auden–another major poet who converted to Christianity–has written perceptively about vocation.  This is from his poem entitled “Sext,” part of his Horae Canonicae, poems on the canonical hours on Good Friday.  (It gets a little obscure towards the end, but he is referring to the medieval guilds, praying to the patrons of their particular crafts, each of which was thought of as a “mystery.”  The last stanza ties to the hour (“noon,” which is when “Sext” was prayed) and to the death of Christ.

You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.

To ignore the appetitive goddesses,
to desert the formidable shrines

of Rhea, Aphrodite, Demeter, Diana,
to pray insted to St Phocas,

St Barbara, San Saturnino,
or whoever one’s patron is,

that one may be worthy of their mystery,
what a prodigious step to have taken.

There should be monuments, there should be odes,
to the nameless heroes who took it first,

to the first flaker of flints
who forgot his dinner,

the first collector of sea-shells
to remain celibate.

Where should we be but for them?
Feral still, un-housetrained, still

wandering through forests without
a consonant to our names,

slaves of Dame Kind, lacking
all notion of a city

and, at this noon, for this death,
there would be no agents.

via theskelfs: SEXT – one of WH Auden’s Horae Canonicae.

HT:  Laura via Comment magazine

Lying to tell the truth?

Mike Daisey has been performing a one-man-show entitled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” in which he exposes the unsafe working condition in Apple factories in China.  NPR picked up the story and interviewed Daisey on “This American Life” about what he found out during a visit to one of these Chinese factories.  It turned out that Daisey made up the more dramatic details.  When this information came out, NPR retracted the interview.

Consider this defense of Daisey from tech reporter Joshua Topolsky:

Mike Daisey was lying.

No, he didn’t lie about all of it. He did go to southern China and meet with workers from Foxconn. He was there, all right, but he wasn’t honest about what he’d seen. There were no underage workers he’d spoken with, there was no man with a maimed hand. In one passage of his show, ­Daisey talks about workers who had been poisoned by a gas called n-hexane. That part was true — there had been workers poisoned by this gas at an Apple contractor somewhere in China. But Daisey never spoke to them. Like many of the most upsetting moments in his show, Daisey simply fabricated the encounter.

The lies were so clear and so egregious that after learning the truth, “This American Life” issued a retraction of its report by way of a new show — a show in which host Ira Glass confronted Daisey over the deception.

It’s an uncomfortable listen. As Daisey is called out by Glass, you can hear the hesitation, the panic, and the fear in his voice. He doesn’t offer much in the way of excuses. The main point he drives home is that he felt it was necessary to embellish his story in order to retain the “truth” of the message of his show. He lied to tell the truth, basically.

In some immediate way, this defense rings true. There are many documented cases of worker mistreatment and injuries in Foxconn factories. There have been reports of underage workers. There have been suicides. Some of the most important and honest revelations of these issues have come from Apple itself, which issues a supplier responsibility statement every year detailing both the improvements and problems it’s having with international partners.

But until the radio broadcast Daisey took part in — and many of the follow-up interviews he gave — this problem was never discussed in a such a big, public way. Daisey’s lies inspired honest questions about the gadgets in our pockets. Did he betray the trust of the public and journalists by lying? The answer to this question is easy: Yes. But were the lies necessary?

We have a tendency to tune out the things we don’t like hearing. That is doubly true when money is involved. I’m not suggesting that we didn’t listen when Apple issued its report, and that we didn’t pay attention when the Times published its findings. What I’m saying is that sad songs have a way of sticking with us long after we’ve heard them — and Daisey found a way to tell the sad, human part of this story. To make it catchy enough to stick, even if it was a lie.

via Why Mike Daisey had to lie to tell the truth about Apple – The Washington Post.

So in order to expose abuse of workers he had to make up cases of the abuse of workers.  In order to tell the truth, he had to lie.   Does this make any sense?

It’s true that fiction can tell the truth–a novel can express truths about the human heart, even though its incidents never happened–but, as Sir Philip Sydney has shown, fiction isn’t a lie because it presents itself as imaginary.  A lie, on the other hand, presents itself as truth.  Which is what Mike Daisey did.

Edgar Rice Burroughs & his failed movie

I mentioned to our daughter that we were going to the movies this weekend.  “What are you going to see,” she asked, “Hunger Games?”  No, I told her, we are going to see a movie of an equivalent wildly popular young adult book from back when your mother and I were young adults:  John Carter [of Mars]!

We needed to see it quick because I had heard that it is slated to lose $200 million, making it the biggest bomb of all time.  So it probably isn’t going to be in the theaters for much longer.  But we had been looking forward to this movie for a long time, so we weren’t going to let its failure stop us!

When I was a kid–not a young adult at all, just young–it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who transitioned me from comic books to reading actual novels.  Comic books seized my imagination, in stark contrast to the “See Spot Run” books we had to read in school, but when I somewhat randomly picked up a Tarzan book, I found that reading a novel is a lot better than comic books, movies, and TV shows.  While I was reading about Tarzan and that lost city with the dinosaurs and La performing human sacrifices and the whole thing, I found myself completely immersed in the story.   The other media kept me at arms-length from the action.  But the book worked on my mind and on my imagination, giving me a vicarious experience like nothing else I had found.  My love of reading came to life, and it led me to where I am today, as a literature professor.

Now when I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I see his faults, and I eventually grew in my taste.  But I feel I owe him something, at least going to the movie someone finally made of his John Carter tales.  I never got into that particular series myself, but my wife did, liking them better than Tarzan, and I respect her judgment as a science fiction fan.

The movie got distinctly mixed reviews–Rotten Tomatoes scores it as receiving 51% “rotten,” which means that 49% of the critics scored it as “ripe”–with audiences generally liking it more than the critics did.  I’m not sure what could have helped its reception.  Just calling it “John Carter” and leaving out the “of Mars” part couldn’t have helped.  Young adults today probably think, wasn’t he a president?  And, yes, a lot of this sort of thing has been seen before, even though Burroughs did it before anyone else did.

We thought the movie was pretty good, actually.  The story by today’s standards was convoluted–a number of critics complained they couldn’t understand it–and over-the-top and without a shred of irony.  But it reminded me of the fun I used to have at the B-movies growing up.  Yes, it was too expensive to make, with special effects required in nearly every frame, but we got a kick out of it.

Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me

St. Patrick’s Day is Saturday–a day to honor all missionaries, including the missionaries to the European tribes (like St. Patrick to the Irish, St. Boniface to the Germans, St. Augustine to the English, etc.).  (Those of us of European descent need to remember that our ancestors too were tribal pagan peoples who were brought to faith through missionaries.)

To mark the day and what St. Patrick taught, I offer you a poem/hymn/prayer attributed to him, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”  (Some people question the attribution, saying it was written in the 9th century, not the 5th, when St. Patrick was alive.  But the form of the work reflects a Druid incantation for protection, and I’m pretty sure the Druids were gone by the 9th century, whereas they were the ones St. Patrick converted.)

At any rate, this is a wonderful meditation.  (The link will play the haunting melody that hymnwriters have given it.)

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

via St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

HT:  Zach Simmons