Friday, March 16, 2018

Treating the Divine in Science Fiction - Sightings (Ada Palmer)

As a Star Trek fan, I have witnessed the discomfort of that series with the divine. Religion is present, but in in affirming the pluralistic nature of the universe, there is an attempt to explain the supposedly miraculous scientifically. Only on Deep Space 9, does the spiritual play a significant role. I haven't read/watched schience fiction as widely as some, and I can find it difficult to separate sci-fi from fantasy (Star Trek versus Star Wars), but I find this to be an intriguing conversation. With that in mind, I invite you to read this post by University of Chicago history professor and sci-fi writer Ada Palmer. I would be interested in hearing how others enter into the conversation about science and theology in terms of science fiction. 

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Treating the Divine in Science Fiction
By ADA PALMER   March 15, 2018
Babylon 5 (Warner Bros.)
Editor's Note: This is the fourth and final installment in our series on religion and science fiction. Be sure to read the first three issues in this series: Audrey Thompson's "'Cross'-examining the Biblical Witness in War for the Planet of the Apes" (October 19, 2017), Emanuelle Burton's "Deus ex Machina" (November 9, 2017), and Rebecca Raphael's "Parable of the Times" (January 24, 2018).
This column contains some spoilers for Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Babylon 5 (1993-1998), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996), and Too Like the Lightning (2016).

Treating the divine in science fiction presents a subtle writing challenge, often invisible to those who haven’t considered the question from a writer’s perspective. Using religious imagery, comparison, or metaphor is easy: from surrounding Superman with Christological imagery in Man of Steel (2013) to Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film Ghost in the Shell quoting “through a glass darkly” in order to encourage viewers to take a providential and eschatological view as we watch the advent of purely digital life born from the manmade sea of information. But fiction can also deal with the divine directly—actual miracles, actual gods, actual intervention—and this, counterintuitively, is where the freedom of science fiction to invent fantastic technologies and improbable lifeforms makes the writer’s job harder.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Finding the Center

When I set up this blog, I engaged in more political speech than I have lately. In large part that is because our political discourse has gotten so course and divisive that I find it difficult to enter the conversations. I don't mind a good argument, but when the debate leads to demonizing others, I can't enter in. But I feel the need to say something, especially on the heels of yesterday's student demonstrations and Tuesday's special election. The student demonstrations give me hope, but I fear that other forces will seek to domesticate their voices. Nonetheless, there is hope in their message.

Here is where I stand at this moment. I believe in the American system of governance. It is not perfect, but it has stood the test of time and severe challenges. I believe the system is currently facing a time of testing. I pray that it will hold, though partisans left and right have stretched the bonds of our system to an almost breaking point. I will confess that my political instincts and partisan registry is that of a left of center Democrat. I have been of this persuasion since my seminary days, though I grew up in what I perceived was a moderate Republican household in a state that tended to produce moderate to liberal Republicans like Mark Hatfield and Tom McCall. I long for the days when the two parties were not so sharply divided, even as I pursue positions that will be construed as liberal or progressive. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Down and Out in Catholic Ireland - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Irish and Catholic Priest seem to go together so naturally. It almost seems as if a priest should be Irish, and for decades Ireland exported priests to the United States. That may be coming to a close as Ireland becomes increasingly secular and it produces fewer and fewer priests. Of course, Protestants face our own struggles with few congregations who can support full time clergy, and a decreasing number of candidates for those positions. In this episode of Sightings, Martin Marty takes a look at the situation in Ireland, with thoughts about America as well. I invite you to read and consider the message.

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Down and Out in Catholic Ireland
By MARTIN E. MARTY   March 12, 2018
St. Patrick's College, Maynooth | Photo Credit: William Murphy/Flickr (cc)
I used to teach with or alongside Emmet Larkin, University of Chicago expert on the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, motivated in part to understand Chicago Catholicism, which still numbers a couple hundred thousand people. Larkin wrote much and tutored me as I attempted to learn about, e.g., the Catholic seminary in Maynooth, north of Dublin, the largest seminary in Christendom at the time. How is it doing now?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Covenant of the Heart - Lectionary Reflection for Lent 5B (Jeremiah 31)

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
                Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant that God will make with Israel and Judah. It won’t be a covenant written on stone. It will be a covenant written on the heart. Christians have embraced Jeremiah’s message of the New Covenant, believing that this promise was fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Paul’s account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (the earliest version of that institution), we hear Jesus declare: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25; see Lk. 22:20).  In the Book of Hebrews, which interprets the ministry of Jesus in the light of Jewish precedent, we see several references to the New Covenant, with the emphasis being on the way in which this new covenant replaces the earlier covenant. So, consider this word: “For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.  Where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established” (Heb. 9:15-16). It is this reference in 1 Corinthians and the accompanying references in Hebrews that lead to the labeling of the Christian-specific portion of the Bible as the “New Testament.” It is within the pages of the Christian portion of the Bible, that Christians have seen themselves encountering the one who writes the new covenant on hearts rather than stone.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Bible in a Disenchanted Age (R.W.L. Moberly) -- Review

THE BIBLE IN ADISENCHANTED AGE: The Enduring Possibility of Christian Faith. By R.W.L. Moberly. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. Xvi + 217 pages.

How should we read the Bible? While it is an ancient book, it is also foundational to the belief systems of two religions and influencing a third. This collection of writings which call Scripture emerged in what we might call an enchanted age, but we read it today in the context of a disenchanted age. Questions are constantly raised about its historicity, reliability, and authority. Millions continue to regard it highly, but how should it be read? Should we read the Bible as we would any other book? If we do, what should be the basis of that reading? What kind of book is it? After all, we apply different rules to fiction and nonfiction genres.  Standing in the midst of this discussion is whether we can hear a word from God emerging from the pages of this ancient book. As a preacher, I have an interest in the way we answer these questions, because each week I stand in a pulpit and base my message in what I read in that book.

R.W. L. Moberly, professor of theology and biblical interpretation at Durham University in Britain, takes up these questions. While affirming the premise that we should read the Bible as we read other books, he asks a further question that too often we neglect to pursue. That question is, if the Bible is read like other books, on what basis do we privilege it?