The Demons That Possess Us

Vasily-Perov-Dostoyevsky-3When I graduated from Seattle Pacific’s MFA program, I was sorely disappointed to hear Greg Wolfe announce The Brothers Karamazov as the next common reading selection. Upon returning home from my final residency at Whidbey Island, I pulled Dostoyevsky’s great novel down from the shelf as my first post-graduation self-assigned reading. It was such a decrepit old copy that it fell apart as I read, grew smaller as glue gave out and pages fell away—a visual gauge of my progress. When I finished, I had to go out and buy a new copy for my bookshelf.

So I was delighted last month when, over brioche, fresh fruit, and coffee, the summer reading group I attend settled on The Brothers Karamazov for next summer. Though my teaching load is heavy, I have decided to read my way back through all my Dostoyevsky in preparation for our summer with Brothers. I have returned to Brothers and Crime and Punishment several times over the years, and I often teach Notes from the Underground in spring semester, so I’ve decided to start with Dostoyevsky’s books I’ve only read once.

When I was a young man in my last year of seminary, I read Dostoyevsky for the first time. As many do, I started with Crime and Punishment; as maybe not so many do, I went on a Dostoyevsky bender that lasted through his novels and notebooks, to criticism and biographies. This eventually spread to Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pasternak, and then on to the likes of Berdyaev, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Unamuno, Camus. Dostoyevsky diverted me down a whole new stream of literature that I’ve been riding for the past two decades. [Read more...]

The Creationist Crisis Reprise

Sevbible2eral months ago I blogged about the Ken Ham Bill Nye debate at Liberty University. I hadn’t given the two much thought since then until last week when they both rose back into the media. My son’s Popular Science magazine arrived with Nye on the front, his fists wrapped like a boxer’s, and the title of the article about him: Nerd Fight! The same day, Ham hit the news as a butt of jokes for blogging that intelligent alien life cannot exist because, “the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation… To suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong.”

What struck me about the Ham kerfuffle is how this arises from the same place that his strict stance on young earth creationism does. At its core, this is not about the science; it is about hermeneutics.

[Read more...]

Righteous Minds Left and Right

religionpolitics__432x324The orthodontist’s new office has a waiting room tricked out with video games—even a genuine old tabletop Mrs. Pac-Man. Grace and I were racing cars—and she was winning by more than a lap—when the woman in purple scrubs called her name.

“Hey Grace,” she drawled, as Grace approached her. She had frosty blond hair and friendly blue eyes, and cool running shoes under those purple scrubs, rocking the hip-grandma look. She swung her arm in a wide come-on wave and said, “You’re coming too, Mom and Dad.”

Later, when Gracie’s mother complimented her on how easy she makes her job look, she said, “I’ve been doing this for forty-five years.” She joked and teased in just the right ways to put Grace at ease as she lay back and opened her mouth for the light stretching on its long arm toward her.

After the orthodontist examined her and discussed the braces—and oral surgery—our hip grandma was back with the pricing sheet. She was just as good at this part, had the numbers written neatly, the math done, clear and simple. She said, “You have good insurance. Insurance usually doesn’t cover this much.” [Read more...]

God, Guilt, and Aronofsky’s Noah, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the film Noah and the believing soul’s ambivalence to God. Today I want to quickly note that in his book God, Guilt and Death, Merold Westphal describes how there is actually ambivalence to God on the part of the unbelieving soul as well.

“I don’t believe,” the unbeliever says with real reason—she doesn’t see enough evidence to believe, or the problem of evil and the unearned suffering of children make an all-good and all-powerful god, to her view, untenable—“but wouldn’t it be great if I could believe, if there were a God to give ultimate meaning to existence.”

This category does not apply to Aronofsky’s Noah. There are no unbelievers in this film as far as I could tell. The villainous Tubal-Cain was just as devout a believer as Noah was. As a matter of fact, he embodies one aspect of the believing soul’s ambivalence to God: resentment.

According to Westphal, resentment toward the Holy niggles at the mind of even the most devout believer. He observes that Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing is not a prescription for doing things right, but a meditation on the fundamental double-mindedness in even the most pious soul. [Read more...]

God, Guilt, and Aronofsky’s Noah, Part 1

As it has become too expensive for our family of five to go to the theater together often, we usually wait to see movies until they reach the dollar theater here in town. This means that we usually do not see a movie until the flurry of reviews has passed. Not many people were still writing about Darren Aronofsky’s Noah when we saw it a couple of weeks ago. I come late to the conversation, but I still want to share some thoughts on the film.

I do not want to weigh in on the controversy surrounding it. Having grown up in a church in which every new artistic or pop-culture offering was a cause for protest—Jesus Christ Superstar, Smurfs, He Man, The Lion King, Teletubbies—I had little trouble ignoring those rants. I did join one discussion with a boycotter who countered my suggestion that he take Aronofsky at his word when he says he wanted the movie to be a midrash with a remark about “adult diaper rash.” I was reminded why I try to stay out of discussions with certain of my Facebook friends.

Since there was no worry about spoilers, I read the reviews. A concise observation by Matt Zoller Seitz gave support to what I suspected: “This is…an immense, weird, ungainly, often laughably overwrought and silly movie, an amalgamation of elements from various literary and cinematic forebears.” After seeing the movie, I disagree. Overwrought maybe. Laughable and silly? No. [Read more...]