I once gave an entire talk on the nature of beauty. I finished and immediately a hand went into the air. “What,” the mother said, “do you think of Harry Potter?”
In certain contexts answering that question at all will swamp whatever people have heard up to that point. I explained this and passed on answering the question. The next time I was invited to that group someone asked if I was going to give the “Harry Potter talk” again.
Not talking about Harry Potter evidently overwhelmed what I actually said. The sensible conclusion is that my talk was underwhelming and that Pottermania was at that time overwhelming, but there are books where that is not so.
Books are what they are.
I will never forget the student who complained about reading 1984 and brought me copies of every page with sex. It was the first time I had thought of 1984 as a steamy book. For that (too old for that nonsense) student, the sex overwhelmed everything else.
Just as bad as this is the person who complains that the course does not contain what they would have preferred. Once in teaching the philosophy of sex, I was asked when we would watch some movies and why we talked so much about love. This person wanted a different course: fine, but odd given the syllabus and course description.
I can only imagine some reviewer giving Hamlet a hard time because Shakespeare refused to discuss some burning issue of the day and kept his main character nattering endlessly about being and not-being.
To have a text is to have limits: the text is about something, has an end, and the author chooses his topics. So it is with all books— do not read War and Peace looking for the next Harry Potter—but then do not get disappointed with That Hideous Strength if it lacks the madness of James Joyce.
This brings me to a question from my patient reader M* who asks:
49. Is there anything written in the Bible that you believe contains knowledge or facts that someone from that era could not have known? For instance, I know that circumcision is arguably a good medical practice, but it was not commanded by God for that reason. Is there something else the Bible says to do for the reason it says to do it that would have been outside the knowledge of that writer?
To any player of Sid Meier’s Civilization series, the answer is obvious: monotheism.
We take monotheism for granted or misunderstand it, so we forget how hard the concept was to learn. If you are going to invent gods, you tend to act like Stan Lee in the 1960’s. You think of a human and you give them some extraordinary power. Hulk is full of Achilles-like rage, but strong. The gods of Homer and of paganism are hopped up humans.
The message of the Bible is that God is not just a hopped up god.
God needed to get through to people that He was not just another god. Doltish atheists (nothing like M*) will suggest that atheists have just gone one god further than Christians. We don’t believe in Zeus, Thor, or Odin, so now we should just go “all the way” and get rid of the god of the Hebrews.
The lesson of monotheism is hard. Modern atheists do not get it.
God is not Superman, Captain Marvel with even more powers. He is totally other. He is the ground of being, almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing. He cannot really be given a name. God can reveal Himself, but any language we have about Him is only a piece of the action.
If Thor existed, you could get to know Thor’s essence. God is unknowable.
Humans are an image of God. Superheroes and gods, on the other hand, are an image of humans.
We find this hard. The Hebrews wanted God to be their God, on team Hebrew and only on team Hebrew. They hoped God would make a home in Jerusalem and the Temple of God would keep them safe.
God loved His chosen people, but refused to be limited by them, by the Temple, or even by winning. When I was a kid, we played the “versus game.” Superman vs Flash: who is faster? Captain America vs Ironman: who would win? This was fun, but God does not play the versus game. He is willing to let the gods of Babylon beat His “team,” because God cares more for eternity than He cares about now.
This is sensible!
The Bible unlocked monotheism for most of us. That’s enough.
God sent Moses, prophets, sages, and kings to pound in the message of monotheism: God is one. He concentrated on one people group and they struggled to learn. Finally, in exile, defeated, under tyrants, they got it. God is one. Thank God.
As a result, modern science, civilization, and much we take for granted could be born. The one Creator God was (by nature) rational and good so we could count on His creating via law-like rules. We could think God’s thoughts after He thought them and not go mad!
Of course, having scarcely gotten the point across, God is one, and having modern critics who still confuse gods and God, the Bible is then asked what else did you do?
The Bible is about God: not science, history, math, you, me, or Harry Potter.
*M is a non-Christian that sent me 55 questions earlier this year. He has asked that I not reveal his or her name. I will write as if “he” is a male, but this is for convenience. I do not know if I will get to all his questions. I try to limit my answers to hundreds and not thousands of words. Here are questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 44, 46, 47, 49, 53, 54, and 55.
This post was edited by Rachel Motte.