Sacred Texts After the Apocalypse

Today, I’ve finished teaching the third in a three-year cycle of classes for a Doctor of Ministry cohort for Fuller Theological Seminary. This year’s subject matter was Fiction, Film, and Christian Spirituality. I presented the following lecture on on of my favorite novels, and one of my least favorite films.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (hereafter CL) is a masterwork of science fiction, standing among the most renowned novels in that genre.[1] The same cannot be said of the 2010 Denzel Washington vehicle, The Book of Eli (BE). While both deal with themes of religion and text in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic America, the former does so deftly and the latter, well, less so.

Miller was a tortured genius. In the 1950s, after serving in World War II, he wrote three dozen short stories for popular science fiction magazines. Three of those, he heavily revised and published, together, as CL in 1959. He never published another word in his lifetime. Always odd, and likely suffering from PTSD, he grew increasingly reclusive in his later years, ultimately taking his own life in 1996 at age 72.

CL’s themes are many and scintillating. Not only did Miller’s own experience in WWII and the bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino affect him, so did his work as an electrical engineer and, most significantly, his conversion to Roman Catholicism after the war.

The first theme to investigate is technology. At first blush, it would seem that CL, like any post-nuclear-apocalypse story, takes a dim view of technology. But Miller is no technophobe. Here, for example, is how David M. Samuelson compares him to the greatest Christian science fiction writer of the 20th century[2]:

In CL, technology and religion run parallel, as Samuelson notes. But Miller seems less than “technophilic.” Instead, it seems that both technology and religion generate ambivalent feelings for him. On the one hand, the rise of technology destroyed much of civilization, on the other hand, the Simpletons who destroyed almost all human knowledge in the Simplification are clearly portrayed in a bad light. In the middle section of the book, “Fiat Lux,” the (re)invention of the lightbulb is a significant advance, even if it is seen dubiously by some of the more skeptical monks of the order.

[Read more…]

Cornhole Extravaganza

Two years ago, my Fuller Seminary D.Min. cohort made mincemeat of a motley collection of bums from the Claremont School of Theology, taking the Seminary Cornhole Championship. Now Tripp Fuller and his team from CST has challenged us to a rematch, which will commence on a gorgeous rooftop in Malibu, California on Tuesday night. Being that cornhole is the ultimate spectator sport, and that you’ll get to see me throw bags with Barry Taylor, you should think about attending. $15 gets you entrance and beer, and to be in the audience for a taping of Homebrewed Christianity. There are only 50 tickets available. Hope to see you there.


Fiction, Film, and Christian Spirituality

That’s the topic of our gathering next month, when I meet with nine of my favorite people in the world — the students in my D.Min. cohort at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’m co-teaching with my seminary classmate and long-time friend, Craig Detweiler, and thanks to him, we’re meeting on the stunningly beautiful campus of Pepperdine University.

We’ve got 10 topics, and each topic includes a novel (with one exception) and a film. Novels and films were nominated by the students, then Craig and I made the final list. Each student is presenting a paper on one topic, and a response to a classmate on another topic. Plus, we’ve got guest speakers, field trips, and more lined up.

Here’s the list: [Read more…]

Evolution vs. Creation: I’m Over It

Last week, I attended and participated in a conference at Fuller Seminary called “Talk of God, Talk of Science.” I’m always happy to return to Fuller, and I was warmly received, particularly by president-elect, Mark Labberton. Fuller’s a good place, people. Believe me.

Anyhoo, the background of the conference is that it was supported and underwritten by the Templeton Foundation, particularly the Scientists in Congregations Project. By a show of hands, it seemed that over 1/3 of the attendees were part of that project. Everyone at this conference was a fan of science. Everyone wants faith and science to embrace and make whoopee. That was the de facto assumption in the room.

What I found most interesting about the talks that I heard was that they all dealt with one particular issue in the science and religion world: evolution and creation. That was the case study around which the talks that I heard revolved (I probably heard 2/3’s of the plenary talks at the conference).

I sat on a panel on Friday evening, and, when asked about my experience of science in the church, observed what I’d seen that day. And then I said, “No one under 40 gives a crap about creationism. Only Baby Boomers care about that.”

[Read more…]