Questing for God in Land of Faerie

Questing for God in Land of Faerie January 23, 2013

Fare Forward, a new Christian magazine has just released its third issue.  Some articles are available to subscribers only, but my review of Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm is up today as one of the preview articles.  Check out my essay on learning moral law on the wrong side of the wardrobe, and check out the other topics in the issue to see if you’d like to subscribe.  Here’s a teaser quote from my review:

[W]hy does God feel so far from the magical world? Fairy tales are, after all, not anarchic; there is a strong moral component to many stories (the virtuous third son succeeds where his vice-ridden broth­ers have failed; secret sins are revealed gro­tesquely). In addition to law, there is some kind of law keeper, since justice is never more than a few pages away. Even as the physics of fairyland are alien and unpredictable, the just outcome is sure.

It sounds quotidian and dull to say you must not be cruel to the three old men because their human nature demands respect (and your own hu­manity demands you not deliberately coarsen it). It is more romantic to say that you must not be cruel to the three old men you meet in the wood because they may cause toads to fall from your mouth. In fairy tales, the natural law is enmeshed with the supernatural, which makes it just eldritch enough to be compelling again.

…In the stories of the Brothers Grimm, the protagonists start in the world of magic. But, as readers, we are much more like Alice or the Pevensie children. We fall through a portal and must eventually return home, a little wiser for our journey. The fairy gold traditionally turns back into mulch and leaves, so what are we to carry back with us?

If Fare Forward didn’t title book reviews by book title, I probably would have spent a good long while trying to pull an article title out of “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods.  Or maybe “Giants in the Sky”

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  • Camassia

    I guess the collection didn’t include the Grimm tales where St. Peter, the Virgin Mary and Satan appear as major characters. I especially like the one where somebody fulfills a quest to get three hairs from Satan by getting in cahoots with his grandmother (didn’t you know Satan has a grandmother?), who obtains them while grooming him for lice, which is apparently a regular thing that she does.

  • Mike

    “The longest way round is the shortest way home.” Isn’t this what GKC said was the logic of elf land?

    • leahlibresco

      I quote from that section in the full article.

  • This is something C.S. Lewis thought about a lot. In Pilgrim’s Regress, he talks about enchantment and morality as two faces of the same destination, but one where you walk in opposite directions to get there.

  • B. Durbin

    I’m in a production of Into the Woods which is opening in a week and a half. Jack the Giant-Killer is one of the tougher characters of fairy tales because in all of the traditional versions, he’s on “the wrong side” according to modern sensibilities (as opposed to the Viking traditions the tale originally came from.) I do love how ITW explores the moral implications of its fairy tales.

    • leahlibresco

      Awesome! Break a leg!

  • brand

    A very different article,God and fairy tales,I never thought about the combination.Just lately I stumbled on this great video where Christian scholar Michael Licona,Phd,gives a lecture in youtube on “Defending the Gospels as Historical”.It gives alot of very new information I never knew,it’s fascinating.Check it out:

    • Seriously? That’s supposed to be convincing.

      Michael Licona is in the business of making Evangelical Christians feel better about their faith-based opinions. The neo-fundamentalist Evangelical takes incredibly seriously the reality of those supernatural tales found in the New Testament. But they aren’t equipped to deal with the skepticism which purports to show that their beliefs in the miraculous happenings of the New Testament are so fantastical that they are not worthy of belief. Extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence. By consistent standards of evidence for reality, the credal attributes of the Savior of the World simply are not empirically reliable.

      One could, for example, take all fairy tales, myths, and stories at face value and decide they were true. An accept all-comers approach would at least be honest. Accept the Illiad and the Odyssey as truthful in all their mythological glory replete with supernatural portents and gods acting among humanity. The Christian, however, does not do this. The Christian, in fact, essentially dismisses every other tale that is not the New Testament that claims supernatural or mythological features as either apocryphal or unbelievable.

      Atheists often point out that religious people disbelieve the testimony of other religions in reasonable ways. Would Michael Licona, Phd defend the Qu’ran as being as accurate as the New Testament? I think we all know what the answer is.

      • Mike

        I don’t think the NT is written like a myth. It reads more like a newspaper report than a science fiction novel or fantasy adventure. I guess, if I were making up a story about a guy who was going to rise from the dead I’d set aside the dreary stuff about women and wells and running out of wine at parties and make him stronger than a hunderd men and faster than a cheetah or able to fly or something like that. What I mean is, the NT is actually quite lite on the stuff that legends are made of, isn’t it? If you were to read it without any prior knowledge of anything related to Christianity you’d probably think it was an interesting story but most likely come away thinking it was really weird and not very entertaining (in the sense that myths are really extraordinary and grand). See, I guess, that’s my point: unless it actually happened, there’s no way to reconcile the history of the emergence of the early Church with the strength of the narrative.

        • Come now! What newspaper editor do you know who wouldn’t fire a newspaper reporter who breathlessly reported on a magical, virgin-birthed, miraculously-healing, feeding-of-5000, calming-of-storms, transfiguring, resurrecting, ascending-into-heaven God Man? Apart from the weirder tabloid papers at the supermarket checkout line, you’ll be extremely hard-pressed to find such fantasy in print media.

          But even if we follow your claim that most of the Gospel accounts are mundane, exactly what kind of argument are you trying to make at the end? Do you really think it reasonable to conclude from two propositions: 1) your preferred religion exists and 2) the ministry stories that form its gospel are unremarkable that THEREFORE this necessitates an actual occurrence of the claimed magical aspects of the gospel? A Muslim could easily say the same thing about the Qu’ran, if that’s our preferred tack. The emergence of Islam as a global system cannot be reconciled on the basis of the literary strength of that book of poetry, no matter how beautiful it sounds in Arabic.

          • Mike

            But it can on the strenght of Muhammed’s army, no?

          • Just as on the strength of the army of Constantine was Christianity made successful? If the military successes was much more rapidly secured by Muhammed than in the comparable history of Christian military success, is it because Muhammed’s faith was proportionally closer to the One that was True?

      • Well, fairy tales (at least, in the “folk tale” genre such as Grimms) do not purport to be accounts of historical events. Or, at least, nobody I’m aware of is arguing that they be regarded as historical accounts.

        The Illiad certainly is a kind of historical account, but it is a poetic dramatization, and so is no more accurate than any other historical fiction. Christians in the Roman Empire explored different ways of understanding this and other classical mythology. Nobody doubted the basic events of the Trojan War. Few claimed that there were no supernatural forces involved in that or in other Greek/Roman legends and myths. There was much dispute over the nature of the Greek/Roman gods, and the relation to the Judeo/Christian understanding of the spiritual world. Still, they considered these stories and documents worth engaging on their own terms.

        Likewise with the Qu’ran. I’m not familiar with all the Christian critiques of the Qu’ran or the history of those critiques; but I do know that Christians have always taken the Qu’ran at face value, as a document supposedly dictated to a prophet, and judged whether this could be trustworthy based on the evidence and arguments available to them.

        Indeed, Christians even looked at their own writings this way. Several books of the New Testament (e.g., Revelation, Hebrews, James, some of the letters ascribed to Paul) were the subject of extensive argument before they were accepted as “inspired by God,” and others (The Shepherd of Hermas, for example,) were used as scripture for a time, or in some places, but after much argument were rejected – based largely on their lack of direct connection to the historical events. From the beginning, the Gospels were looked at and presented as eyewitness accounts, or accounts gathered from eyewitnesses; and while some accepted and others rejected them, nobody denied that they were attempts to record accurately historical events.

        In short, it is a simple category error to class Christian scriptures with most other myth or folk stories. Whether they are true or not, myth and folk tale is the wrong genre for them.

        • Who are you to say what fairy tales do or do not purport with regards to history? Are the Huldufolk of Iceland not to be considered. If you aren’t aware of this argument, perhaps you should listen more closely to what Christians and skeptics alike characterize as “superstition”.

          I think you are entirely missing the point here. You are arguing for a *uniqueness* with regards to the Gospels which is unwarranted on a straightforward literary analysis. Stubbornly insisting that the New Testament is not mythology is just stamping feet. And, in fact, C. S. Lewis would take issue with your attempt to remove the enchantment from the account. Denying the obvious parallels between mythology and the Gospel accounts does you no favors, even if you believe the account is 100% true to life.

          I think you make my point for me when you rightly indicate that the supernatural elements of the Illiad are dismissed essentially out-of-hand and the activities of the gods and goddesses therein presented are seen as by you and your comrades-in-faith as being unworthy of belief. I wish that you would use that same sharp level of criticism and apply it to the “eyewitness” accounts associated with the Gospels (perhaps you could even do it in the manner of Tommy Jefferson, for example). The story of Schliemann’s discovery of Troy is evidence that the Illiad has a certain level of faithful accounting of certain past events, in spite of those “Illiad Myth” folks who thought the entire thing was made up. However, we don’t take the existence of Troy to mean that Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena really were the active instigators of the conflict. If you can separate the plausible stuff in the Illiad from the implausible, why is it hard for you to do that with similarly implausible material in the New Testament?

          • Mike

            Chill out.

          • I feel pretty chill, thanks Mike.

          • Mike

            Sorry I didn’t mean that. It’s just your tone. I think you’re looking for a quick fix but maybe you’ve got to slow down a bit and remember that there is always just enough evidence to believe and to not. The choice is yours, but eternity depends on it so choose wisely.

          • I apologize for my tone if it seems harsh or snarky. I truly do wonder at faith.

            I disagree with your assessment that the evidence is balanced right between believing and not believing. For example, saying something like: “There is just enough evidence to believe that Jesus was born a virgin or not,” is simply incorrect. The weight of the evidence is that a human virgin cannot give birth; that’s what makes it a miracle, after all. The point is for you that there is a *leap of faith* into “with God, all things are possible” arguments that strains the credulity of us who are requesting empirical evidence before making a declaration about what “really happened”. Something simple like a measurement would suffice. Necessarily, this is not extant for virgin birth claims. We can go down the line for the rest of the fundamental Christian conceits as well.

            Your final claim that “eternity” depends on “my choice” is unimpressive to me since there is no evidence to that effect.

            I’m not trying to be argumentative here, I’m just pointing out how strained your insistence looks to those who are empirically minded like myself.

          • Mike

            I hear you. And I used to agree with you, in fact I still do. Let me explain. I totally agree that you need empirical proof but where we part ways is I not longer believe that you need empirical (repetable etc.) proof for things that are essentially not empirically testable.
            Do you know the analogy (is it an analogy actually? maybe there’s a better word to describe it, but anyways) about the chemist who can tell you what elements comprise the cake that your aunt just baked, the physicist who can tell you the forces that keep it together etc. etc. ? So the point is that unless your aunt tells you why she made it you will never know no matter how much info. you are able to gather from the scientists. Ok so that’s like life. Science or empiricism is 100% good and I totally agree with it but it has it limits. So I don’t think that the, what’s it called, the fact that the strong and weak forces are just so calibrated as to make matter possible is proof of a god I just think that it points more in the direction of intelligence than in the direction of mindlessness processes.

            Ok, now say that intelligence is an alien from another planet. Ok, I am still with you. But then if you concede that there is some intelligence behind the order you fall into a bunch of other questions about existence and morality. I could go on. But I am sure you’ve heard this before.

            I used to be a lapsed Catholic cultural lefty atheist. But it came down to among other things something sort of as simple as this: did Hitler get away with it? And I couldn’t bring myself to construct a world in which he does.

            Remember, we both find ourselves in what we both agree is something like the most fantastic library building you could ever imagine, full of the most amazing complexity and information and laws and reactions etc. etc. its just that I then I conclude intelligence you conclude just a fluke.

          • Nice to see some thoughtfulness and explanation for how you got yourself to “faith”.

            The “cake” argument is not one that really compels one toward belief in higher purposes if you think about it carefully. Being a baker myself, it always amazes me how empirical food preparation is. Cause and effect is paramount in the production of a cake. Cakes are made because they are calorically dense foods to which we as humans are attracted and through careful process of mostly trial-and-error over generations, we have come up with a production method which yields an item that hits all the high notes of our desirable-foodstuff detection system. It is a biological game we are playing when we make cake, and our evolutionarily predisposition towards its consumption means that human beings making cake to be eaten is unsurprising (surprising would be human beings making cardboard to be eaten). I find this explanation to be delightful and satisfying, but I get the impression that the “analogously faithful” find it to be depressing: they want something MORE. They say that the “final cause” of the cake is “a birthday” and “material cause” is just the ingredients. They say the accidents of the cake miss the substance, and so on.

            But “birthday” explanation is just as amenable to empirical review as the “material cause”. Cake is a complicated bit of food technology that cannot be employed on a regular basis outside of factory efficiencies, so in a purely economic sense there is an expectation that this is not going to be a commonplace food. If one looks at the production of cakes on large and small scales, one finds patterns that are empirically relevant. The cultural “meaning” associated with a “birthday” is arbitrary (going around the Sun once is only approximately measured due to those pesky leap years, doncha know?), but it is obviously a societally beneficial endeavor to have reifying rituals that support those who are members of the society. Entire discourses on “birthday culture” are found in social science literature which routinize our understanding of how this analogy to the “final cause” came to be. Suddenly, we aren’t looking at something magical anymore but a predictable empirical fact: birthday cakes are an interesting feature of our society.

            One might choose to “enchant” this whole process and imbue more “meaning” into the final cause by ascribing a teleology to the cake and a kind of divinity to your aunt, but this is rather like putting carts before horses. Cake production is a desirable outcome: the post facto explanation is “birthday”. We, as humans, are inclined to believe in actualization and free will, it seems to be a trait that is evolutionarily favorable, so this puts us in the amusing state of thinking that we are not subject to these empirically observable rules that govern our behavior. But if these rules didn’t govern our behavior, then advertisers would be out of a job, economics wouldn’t work, and you actually would have a case for claiming that there were aspects to reality which were not amenable to empirical analysis. As it is, there isn’t evidence to that effect. When we sharpen our senses and put our minds to it, we can discover the rules that can predict with uncanny accuracy and precision when your aunt will bake cake (though investing in this kind of research is prohibitive and will likely not be done). This is an uncomfortable state of affairs for those who are convinced that through their own free will they can change the outcomes of social arrangements. Think Nate Silver and the naysayers in the last election.

            If I refuse to imbue a “formal cause” meaning into your aunt baking a cake, how can I follow your teleology for the universe as a whole? I can’t!

            So then you ask, “Did Hitler get away with it?” You are proposing, it seems, that your offended sense of justice demands supernatural dispensation. But step back a bit from your emotions and consider that humans have been working out issues associated with justice for generations and the problem appears as intractable as ever. Society seems very chaotic in the true sense of the term. There are instances when the stability that we would hope would be a hallmark of social arrangements simply is not there and we run off the rails. But this is a societal problem: not a supernatural one. The problem of justice (or the lack thereof) in our world is akin to a complicated bug in a large computer program. If you want to fix it, then you’re going to have to come to terms with the mess that is society — a mess that churns along without any evidence of outside intervention or supernatural guiding.

            I am not in a “library” here in this world. I am in a world: a world that is complicated because it is large. Intelligence, inasmuch as one can argue that it exists, is only part of the world as it is mapped to human and biologically similar organism’s endeavors. Mapping this kind of property of a biological organism to reality *writ large* is anthropomorphism. It’s fallacious.

          • Mike

            I see what you mean. Ok, what I am saying is that the bit about it being your bday is the bit that you can never deduce empirically. But it nevertheless exists, it is concrete in a non-concrete way but it is nevertheless there. Information appears to be something not material. I’ve heard this is what physicists are beginning to come to agreement on. But that aside. Say you start with no purpose to any of this besides temporal. Well ok that’s a good logical conclusion but so is I think the conclusion that whatever is “out there” and ps remember Christians never mean a flying spagheti monster within the universe we mean a god outside everything, there is something at least. I mean there is just too much suffering too much injustice too much violence for it to amount to nothing.

            As for the Hitler question. Again say I am totally wrong, at least I get the pleasure of thinking he’ll get his. And say you’re right there is nothing, wouldn’t you at least like there to be some justice for his victims?

          • You say that you can’t deduce (induce?) my birthday empirically, but I’m saying that you actually can do it! I think that the Nate Silver example is the relevant case history for such an activity. Given the proper data collection and rigorous methodology, the arbitrary “birthday” social construct is something that can be determined down to predicting when it will occur and to whom it is associated.

            If you want to know how physicists deal with information, read up on information theory. Suffice to say, information is a very real and empirically realizable thing. It doesn’t map one-to-one on everything you might consider “information”, but we can take each argument in turn. There is an argument to be made for physical “information” being the “real” stuff just as I might make the argument for physical “energy” or physical “force” being the “real” stuff. (Sorry, New Agers!)

            I am a little surprised you think that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is within our universe. Whoever taught you those apologetics? Was it those crazed fundamentalist FSMers again? No, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is wholly “out there”, independent of our universe, just like the Christian God.

            Your last bits of argumentation to me are part of the issue I take with atheists who are atheists on the basis of throwing up their hands at the Problem of Evil. C. S. Lewis, himself fairly lacking in empirical sensibility, came to a similar conclusion as you did for reasons that are understandable if you simply dismiss careful observation and investigation of the real world and stick to fantastic mythologizing. The thing is, the “Problem of Evil” depends heavily on how you define “evil” and “problem” and really is a function of the peculiar features attributed to God by Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism. Religions that take a different tack with respect to the supernatural are not so troubled by such trilemmas. Max Weber did a great service to us all by showing that there was not one but three consistent religious solutions to this problem: dualism, incompassability, and karma, portions of one or all of which you are probably adopting. Note that these are *supernatural* solutions, and the appeal of using them to solve “the problem” is that the problem itself can be solved mystically. Thus, there is a sort of anti-empirical consistency to both your and Lewis’ adoption of the problem as a rationale for belief.

            That’s why your satisfaction that Hitler is getting his own is sad to me. I feel sorry for you feeling that way in the same way that I feel sorry for a child who takes solace in the notion that a beloved pet will be seen again in heaven. We have to deal with the fact that the universe is not set-up to simply allow for the best of all possible worlds and the best of all possible outcomes. Religious folk say “God works in mysterious ways — and I’ll tell you what some of them are when you’re up to it”, but the empiricist just says that reality sucks. If this is too troubling to you so that you must become a theist then I contend that what you are doing is essentially clutching a security blanket. There’s nothing wrong with that and I honestly don’t mean to be condescending in describing it that way, though I acknowledge such connotations cannot be helped. To be sure, I think security blankets are reasonable responses to the intense horror that can spawn from reality. However, security blankets will *not* protect you from real dangers. In the end, they are imbued with magical powers only in your imagination.

          • Mike

            Ok so not for your bday but say just because she loves you ok?

            Hmm. Ok, so let’s say that it is just a security blanket. So? Seriously, I mean so what. If nothing else exists then it must not exist for both of us no? So then ok well I’ll go on doing and thinking and preaching or whatever I do and you’ll gone on doing what you do. BUT I suspect that I’ll end up and ppl like me will end up happier, more fulfilled, less anxious, we’ll feel more purposful and feel like we’re on the side of the big ole’ god guy in the sky and go to our deaths with less fear, no? I am kind of not joking. I mean almost all secular studies of religious activity indicate they are good for you.

            I guess my point is either way I still win. If the cynic in you is correct, I win bc I get to believe in heaven and if I am right I get to face judgement and a chance to be reconciled to my maker.

          • But you can measure whether or not Auntie loves you as well! It’s perhaps not a very edifying activity, but it amenable to empirical investigation based on a human social interaction. Given the model for love, we can determine whether or not the cake was made to support this social bond.

            The final point about being happy with your security blanket is similar to the placebo effect: it only has the positive benefit up until the point you know it is a lie.

          • To be clear, once you stop relying on placebos, you can begin the hard but rewarding task of looking for ways to improve your life without them. If you look at the studies that look at people who make intentional decisions to not be religious (atheists by conviction rather than by laziness or isolation) you find that there are no drawbacks. Most atheists of that sort are better educated, better adjusted, and so on. This is a correlation rather than a causation, to be sure, but it is indicative to me that there is more than one way to find fulfillment in this world. I certainly feel happy.

          • Mike

            🙂 I hear you. I’ve lived it I think I know what you mean when you say convicted atheists live a rewarding life. But it still seems like a trade off I’d rather not make. Not BTW that I think Christianity is not real or whatever I was just LARPing I guess. Anyway all the best.

          • It’s fascinating to me that it’s a trade-off you’d rather not make, yet at one time you apparently self-identified as someone convinced that there was no God. Having never gone through that ideological route myself, it is an amusing to imagine what it must be like. Maybe you were a miserable atheist and are now a happy Christian? I get the strong impression that this is generally the story for those who are in your shoes.

            I have a friend who struggles with depression and desperately wants to be religious but cannot figure out how to suspend her own lifelong disbelief. She thinks she would be happier being religious, and, not wishing to see her suffer, I would be thrilled if she found some way to make it work if it somehow relieved her suffering. But, for whatever reason, she can’t figure out how to do it.

            In this way, it seems very likely to me that the functionalist view of religion might be the most honest way to explain its continued persistence and provenance.

      • brand

        Hello there,
        You haven’t heard all there is to hear.First of all have you ever heard of the HISTORICAL METHOD?Maybe not,but it is a method all historians use to determine what is true or probably true based on certain criteria,like multiple attestation,early attestation,criterion of embarassment,criterion of coherence,and of dissimilarity,etc.

        1.There are about 20-25 incidents in the 4 gospels that are contrary to having propaganda value for the Christian movement:like that Jesus’ family thought he was crazy,that John-Baptist had doubts Jesus was the Messiah,that Jesus called Peter Satan,etc,You are maybe unfamiliar with all this.

        2.At the same time the 4 gospels say Jesus did real miracles.For you that is propaganda,inventions.

        3.But then WHY include propaganda and at the SAME TIME embarassing material unless the writers were in fact sincere and saying what they thought was the truth?

        • It is a bit peculiar that you are bastardizing Will Durant’s pop-history “criterion of embarrassment” to try to argue your way to authenticity. This “HISTORICAL METHOD” you cite is adopted pseudo-academically by Evangelical Christian apologists such as those of whom you seem to be a fan. Go ahead, reference a serious publication by a historiographer who describes the “HISTORICAL METHOD” as you imagine it. I won’t hold my breath.

          Moreover, the criterion of embarrassment is not a convincing argument to establish a conviction of authenticity. If I tell you an embarrassing story about myself, does that mean that everything I say otherwise is 100% reliable? Anyway,the gospels are a kind of religious exegesis of oral histories and folklore surrounding the early cult of Christianity. I expect there to be an admixture of mythology, oral tradition, folklore, aphorisms, parables, etc. Lo and behold….

          Try not to just parrot what your favorite preachers say. Think for yourself, brand.

          • brand

            Have you read about NT scholars and their use of the historical method.I have read the ideas of the Jesus Seminar.In fact virtually all NT scholars accept that the historical Jesus said the “this generation” prophecy based on the criterion of embarassment.Now using internal evidence in the gospels themselves one can easily see that the Synoptics were written as follows:Mark in 50 AD,and Luke-Acts and Matthew from before 62 AD,since they don’t mention the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD,the death of James,half-brother of Jesus in 62 AD,the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in 64 AD.In fact Acts ends with Paul still alive.

            That internal evidence makes the writers of the gospels to be contemporaries of the apostles.

          • None of what you write about authorship speaks to the basic point that there is no reason to take the tales of the supernatural contained in the Gospels as serious evidence of actual occurrences. Even if the writer was a contemporary of the person of Jesus himself, that does not mean the writing is accurate to the point of being believable in every details, which is essentially what you have to argue as an orthodox Christian who accepts the canon.

      • Mike

        Well I wasn’t convinced he didn’t exist, I just didn’t think about him very much at all. The problem for me began when I did start. For me it has never been and still isn’t emotional. Emotionally it’s alot easier for me to LARP being an atheist. Atheism is very liberating in that sense – you can do whatever you want sort of. It’s the intellectual hurdle that I can’t jump. Whenever I start analyzing some aspect of reality the concept of a Christian God appears like the most compelling answer. So ya it’s weird for me it’s the logical arguments and the pointers in nature that continue to bring me back God.
        I think there is a correlation between mental health and religion. Alot of people I’ve known who’ve had mental health problems have been atheists – and sorry to say but militant angry atheists.

        • Really? When you start analyzing Newtonian mechanics the concept of a Christian God appears like the most compelling answer?

  • Mike

    PS I think there might be something wrong with their site. When I click on your piece all I get is a big blank grey background with no words. It might be my browser but I don’t think so.

    • Mike

      Ya, it’s my browser.

  • Darren

    An interesting observation that I had never noticed.
    Growing up, God was so much a part of the real world, perhaps this was why I never questioned God not appearing in fairy tales?
    Or is it selection bias? The fairy tales starring the pagan gods were shelved in mythology, while the fairy tales starring God where shelved under Apocrypha, local legends, lives of the saints, parables, or whatever the appropriate word is for where Christians stash their clearly fantastical yet entertaining and/or instructive tales… The stories that are left are the non-denominational Grimms and Aesops…

  • grok87

    “Why does God feel so far from the magical world?”

    It’s a good question- I think it gets to the pagan/christian conflict as christianity spread. Tolkien took a more low key approach whereby christianity shines through LOTR rather than being made explicit. Some interesting thoughts here (not all of which i agree with)
    Lewis in Narnia makes christianity more explicit and that seems to work for a while, but, at least for me, didn’t work so well toward the end of the series.
    Often fantasy novelists seem to skip the notion of religion altogether which I think makes their worlds more unrealistic than they need to be. Game of Thrones is a good example of a series where there is lots of religion (old gods/new gods)

  • brand

    A bit more about the Gospels.We have Richard Burridge’s “What are the Gospels?”.He was a classicist scholar who set out to prove the gospels were not biographies.He compared all the biographies of Antiquitys that we possess,I think about 8-10,written before Jesus and after him. and to his surprise he found out that the gospels have the characteristics of biographies of Antiquity.So yes,the 4 gospels are biographies of Jesus.The authors who wrote them intended them to be taken as history.

    Licona is a real scholar,this is what he has written on the subject:

    “Richard Burridge’s book “What are the Gospels?” is the definitive work on the subject of Gospel genre. Craig Keener has also written on the subject and is an authority. See his recent book “The Historical Jesus of the Gospels” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010, pp. 71-84) for an abbreviated treatment. Burridge and Keener are correct that ancient biography allowed great flexibility. Thus, I stand by my statement that the Gospels could contain legend. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that they do or that the Gospels are historically unreliable as sources about Jesus. For ancient biographers took liberties to varying degrees. For example, Aristobolus invented stories about Alexander the Great and was chided for doing so. On the other hand, the Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus are more careful and provide far more accurate reports of their subjects. Plutarch, who wrote very close to the time the Gospels were written, is noticeably more accurate when he writes about subjects who lived closer to his own time. This is because he had better sources.

    The canonical Gospels were written within 35-65 years of the events they purport to describe. This is very close compared to what we have for others of that period. For example, Caesar Augustus is regarded as the greatest of the Roman emperors and was reigning when Jesus was born. Historians rely on six primary sources for the life of Augustus. One is a short funerary inscription written at the time of Augustus’ death. The other five were written 90-200 years later. Thus, when we consider that this is what historians have to work with for the greatest of the Roman emperors, four biographies of Jesus written within 35-65 years of Jesus’ life is excellent by historical standards!

    How much liberty did the Gospel authors take with their stories about Jesus? This is something I’ve been studying over the past three years. I have much more work to do. But I can say that we can actually measure them to an extent by how they retell stories reported by Mark, (possibly) Q, and, Paul in a few instances. Although they take some liberties, they are minor. They do not appear to invent stories; at least it cannot be demonstrated they did. Keener has been studying this a lot longer than I. He says the Gospel authors appear to be among the more accurate of ancient historians (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume One, Peabody, MA, 2003, pp. 31-32).”

    • If they did not appear to invent stories, did they complete the gynecological examination on Mary to determine she was a virgin? Were they collecting empirical evidence to back up their fantastical claims? Much literature including biographies of the era included mythological, fantasy, imaginative, and supernatural elements as a matter of course. Do you think that the simple fact that such stuff is included in a biography makes it true? Do you that Vespasian was a god on the basis of the surviving biographies that include certain embarrassing details (for example, his inability to control the philosopher critic Priscus) while also purporting to show Vespasian with supernatural powers including the ability to heal the sick?

      • brand

        The difference is that in the OT it is said that the Messiah’s name would be Joshua,that is to say Jesus.And it also says the Messiah would be called Yahweh Tsidkenu(in Jeremiah)”Yahweh is our salvation” and that means he would be Yahweh,God.

        • *blink*

          So you’re saying that the reason that the magical stories about Jesus are true is because in the Old Testament there is reference to a particular first name (which was relatively common) associated with a Messiah [citation needed]? Therefore the Gospel stories are true and the stories about Vespasian are false?

          How are you comfortable at all with such a weird argument?