Dostoyevsky’s Demons

I am a huge fan of Dostoyevsky’s two great novels – The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment.  Though it is always tempting to reread such books, I decided it was time to move on to some of Dostoyevsky’s lesser-known work.  It seems his “tier-two” works are Demons (also known as The Possessed) and The Idiot.  Both classics in their own right, though slightly not to the level of the two biggies.

As I worked my way through Demons, I could see why.  It took me an incredibly long time to get into this book.  The story seemed to meander in ways the other two did not.  The “introduction” of the plot takes up nearly 3/10 of the whole thing!  There were times I became frustrated, wondering when the story would get off the ground.

Once all the characters were introduced, the book begins to pick up steam.  The more I managed to read, the more I wanted to read.  There seemed to be a lot more characters than in the other Dostoyevsky books I’ve read, but as I got to know them I wanted to know them more: the cold Stavrogin, the rational and suicidal Kirillov, the near-insane Stephan and all the rest.  Actually, the more I read the less I wanted to get to know them as they mostly appear to be despicable people, especially Verkhovensky.  That’s one of the great things about Dostoyevsky, he brings the cruelty and gruesomeness of human nature out into the open.  There are some comical moments in there, especially when the secret group meets to plot their revolution and they can’t get anything done, perhaps showing Dostoyevsky’s view of such organizations.

I would recommend a few things, if you try to read this book.  First, read Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov first to get a taste for Dostoyevsky.  Second, stick with it.  Third, find a copy of “Stavrogin’s Confession” online to read.  This chapter was censored when the book was originally published and is quite amazing, disturbing and thought-provoking.  Overall, it is a great novel.  Not Dostoyevsky’s best, but his second best is still pretty amazing.

How My Daughter’s Fall On Her Head Made Me Think About the Gun Debate

On Sunday Junia was playing in the yard.  Emily was right there with her, keeping an eye on her, playing with her.  Nevertheless, Junia tripped when she was running and fell onto a rock.  She had to go to the emergency room to get the large cut on her head (any cut on your two year old’s head is large, from your perspective as a parent).

It happens to every parent.  Kids fall.  They get cut and bruised.

You could be talking to your neighbor over the fence.  

Or you could be answering the text from your mom about coming to visit this weekend.  

Maybe you are yelling at the dog to stop barking.  

Or maybe you are marching behind your daughter, singing “ants go marching”.  

No matter what you are doing, there is a chance your child may trip and fall.

When this happened to Junia on Sunday, it forced us to think.  What can we do to prevent it from happening again?  I realize there is nothing Emily or I can do to ensure it will never happen again.  Also, in this case it did not happen because either of us were being neglectful.  Nevertheless, the fact that it happens forces you, as a parent, to think of other scenarios that may happen.  Those other scenarios are hypothetical, but possible enough to take into consideration.

Maybe tomorrow Junia and I will be playing outside, if it is a nice day.  I’ll feel my phone vibrate in my pocket as one of my students texts me to ask about the trip to Shady Maple on Saturday.  I could reply now, taking my attention of Junia.  But it is not urgent, so instead I could wait until we are inside.  

Thinking about Junia falling on Sunday reminded me of the news yesterday about the Senate and gun legislation.  I’ve seen many posts on Facebook, along with lots of news articles about it.  One thing I’ve heard many who oppose the legislation say is that this legislation, specifically requiring background checks, would not have prevented the Newton shooting.

My question is, so what?

In the same way that Junia falling makes me think of other potential scenarios where she may fall, so a school shooting forces us, as a country, to think of other possible scenarios where a shooting may occur.  We realize that just as there is no way to ensure Junia will never fall again, so there is probably no way to ensure a school shooting will never, ever happen again.  But just because there was nothing we could do to stop Junia’s fall this time does not mean we do not think about the possibility that she could hurt herself if we are neglecting her.  Ever since she fell we’ve been a little more cautious, stayed a little closer to her, kept a closer eye on her.  Junia falling, for whatever reasons, makes us work hard to ensure her safety as best we can.  In the same way, just because the proposed legislation would not have prevented a particular shooting does not mean we ought not do all we can to prevent future shootings, including ones in hypothetical scenarios.

Before anyone jumps on me for wading into such an issue, I will add that I think doing all we can to prevent future shootings includes increased security at schools.  I thought it was odd that once the president of the NRA suggested armed security guards in every school, all those who oppose the NRA (those on the left, that is) mocked this idea.  But what’s wrong with having trained professionals protecting schools?  Trained professionals protect our President’s kids.  Like in most cases of politics, I suspect both sides of the divide have some good ideas.  Unfortunately, compromise for the common good appears unlikely in our country.

I will also add that I am not saying the proposed legislation was a good idea.  Honestly, I have no clue.  I am simply pointing out that the “this legislation would not have prevented that crime” argument is, to me, flawed.  It also seems like a short-sighted argument to make, because what if the next shooting could have been prevented by this legislation?  You are providing support for the legislation if ever a case comes up that it would have prevented.

At any rate, I’ll pray for peace and safety in our country.  I’ll do all I can to keep my family safe because it really seems to me that this is all any person can do.

The Silence is Broken, Now What Do We Do?

I want to do all I can to work for justice in the world.

On this blog, I’ve written frequently about the evil of human trafficking.  It is an evil I never heard about growing up.  Over the past years more and more people have become aware of it, which is a good thing.  Ending slavery in the world is a good goal to strive for.

I want to work to end slavery not because it is the cool thing to do right now, but because it is the right thing to do.

I may never have heard about human trafficking growing up, but I did hear about the evil of aborting living babies in the womb.  To this day I continue to be pro-life, believing the unborn have rights that ought to be recognized.

That said, I do not write blog posts about it like I do about human trafficking.

I realize that if I claim to be a follower of Jesus and I claim to care about helping the least of these, the weak and the oppressed, this help cannot be limited to one particular issue or group.  If I care about girls being forced into prostitution who are raped over and over again each night, I need to care for unborn girls.  Likewise, if I care for unborn children my care should not stop when they are born but should flow into care that they receive adequate and affordable health care, good living conditions and so on.

I write this today because a friend of mine asked if I was being silent about the Kermit Gosnell case.  A lot of people, the vast majority of the media, have been silent about it.  This silence motivated the writing of this article, “Philadelphia Abortion Clinic Horror” in the USA Today.  Many of my friends have posted this article on Facebook today.  I found one article,  from Slate titled “Kermit Gosnell: The Alleged Mass-Murderer and the Bored Media,” that was a sort of response, agreeing that the media has been too silent.

It is a horror.  This man should spend the rest of his life behind bars.

I want to do all I can to work for justice in the world…and so often I feel helpless.

Whether it is world poverty, human trafficking, abortion or something else, I feel helpless.  What can I do?  Is there something more I can do than just post a Facebook status or vote once every few years?  Donating money to worthy organizations is good, but almost too easy.

The silence may have been broken, but what do I do now?  Do I continue with my life, feeling a sense of satisfaction that I posted something on social media?  Is that what it means to work for justice in the 21st century? Or is there something more?

Exposing Myths About Christianity – Review

The subtitle of this book is “A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends.”  Thus Russell has set quite a task for himself in claiming to provide answers to nearly 150 myths about Christianity.  He does provide answers, mostly quite good ones in my opinion (of course, I am just as biased as anyone).  I think this book is most useful as a reference.  It would come in handy as a sort of apologetics dictionary, something to consult when a question is asked and you want help with a quick answer.  The negative in this is that many of the answers come across overly simplified.  Plus, there is no assumption that the reader will read through this from beginning to end, so if you do be prepared for a whole lot of repetition.  As someone who read straight through, this became tedious at times.

The 145 lies and legends are divided up into eight sections:

1. Christianity is dying out.  Think Christianity is old and boring?  This is the section for you.

2. Christianity is destructive.  Was Hitler a Christian?  Are Christians all crazy fanatics?  Read here to find out.

3. Christianity is stupid.  This is where you find a lot of science.  Did medieval Christians believe the world was flat? Does science contradict faith?

4. Jesus and the Bible have been shown to be false.  Did you read the Da Vinci Code? Bart Ehrman’s bestsellers?  This section answers questions from that realm.

5. Christian Beliefs have been shown to be wrong.  This may sound a lot like section four, but there the focus was on history, here it is more on theology.  Do Christians believe in three gods?  Does evil disprove Christianity?

6. Miracles are impossible.  This section is on miracles, obviously.

7. Worldviews can’t be evaluated.  I am not sure how this section is different from some others.  The first question is “no one believes in God anymore.”  Wouldn’t that fit into the first section?

8. What’s New is True.  Like the last section, this seems to catch a few that didn’t fit elsewhere and a few others that could have fit elsewhere.

Overall this is a helpful book.  It is probably not good for it to be your only apologetics resource, but it would certainly be useful for any Christian with questions.

Besides the repetition there were a few other things that bothered me about the book.  I realize that in a book answering 145 legends and lies there is going to be some oversimplification.  Another thing that bothered me was that I found myself confused at times with what exactly the “myth”, “legend” or “lie” was?  For example, one chapter was titled “Christians believe in hell.”  This is clearly not a myth, lie or legend.  Russell shows that Christians do indeed believe in hell.  So what was the myth or lie here?   This occurred a few times.  I was trying to explain how the book worked to my wife and she looked at the chapter titled, “Christianity has repented for its sins against others.”  Does this mean it is a myth that Christians have repented?  Or is it a myth that Christianity has sinned against others?

Finally, Russell’s use of footnotes nearly drove me insane!  For example, at one point he was talking about how secular thought has replaced a future kingdom of God with the belief in progress.  Near the end of this discussion was a footnote, which I clicked on, thinking I’d find a quote from a secular writer.  Instead there was a listing of a book.  Not even a page or section of a book, though this occurred other times, but a whole book.  This is not to dispute the point he made in my example, it is a basic truth of the difference between secularism and faith.  I just want some meat in the footnotes, at least explanations in a bit more depth of what he is saying in the text along with a brief summary of the book’s argument which he is citing.  Further, I am more skeptical when a secondary source is quoted in regards to proving a point.  If I wanted to check this, I’d have to find the source he quotes and then in that book find the primary source it quotes.

In another chapter he seeks to refute the myth that Hitler was a Christian.  He presents a good argument, including a quote from Hitler.  Yet if you follow the link for the Hitler quote, you find not the time and place when Hitler said it, but a book by a Christian author in response to the new atheism.  Again, a primary source is needed here, not a secondary one.

Maybe that’s just the nature of a reference book.  Which is what this book really is, in the end.  And it is quite a good one which I wouldn’t be surprised if I consult many times in the future.  Check it out, even if you don’t read through the whole thing.

Persecuted Christians and Other Things That Sadden Me (Recent Reads)

A Few Things I’ve Read Recently…

Pray for our Christians brothers and sisters in Iraq, and the Middle East: Irag’s Imperiled Christians.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about human trafficking and I volunteer with a local group that is working against it here in my hometown.  On that note, I truly appreciate what Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary, writes on it here:

We can keep rescuing children from slavery for forever. But if we never address the growing appetite for these kids, it will never end. When we talk about how the people buying sex in India and Asia are often times carrying passports from the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain, we must be willing to admit that they’re living in our neighborhoods, working in our offices and, yes, sitting in our churches. With extraordinary Grace, we need to talk about our own sexual brokenness, we need to invite healing, we need to pray for redemption, and we need to bravely call for justice.
Rachel Held Evans shows why the whole idea, put forward by a popular pastor, that a woman can teach a man through a book since in that medium he cannot see her, and thus basically forget she is a woman, is dehumanizing and absurd:

Ironically, Piper’s primary measure of appropriateness is whether a man feels threatened by a woman’s teaching. This is something you will hear from time to time from this camp: when in doubt, it all comes down to the degree to which a man senses he is maintaining his authority. As long as the men still feel in control, some degree of teaching from women may be permissible.

But what about men like my husband, or my pastor, or Scot, who are not threatened by the intelligent, thoughtful contributions of women in leadership?  What about men who enjoy and appreciate partnerships with women and whose sense of calling and security is not dependent upon my subjugation? Why enforce these roles onto them?

Finally, I was incredibly saddened to hear about the suicide of Rick Warren’s son.  A lot has been written by many people, and while most have laid aside any theological disagreements they have with Rick to join in his grieving, a few people on the net have posted words that are just completely mean-spirited.  Of the many good that has been written in support, I found this to be one of the best.

The Truth is Out There – On Watching Every Episode of the X-Files

When we got Netflix about five years ago I was excited that I could now stream every episode of The X-Files.  I had enjoyed the show when I was in high school and I began re-watching it with pleasure.  It took me years, but a few days ago I finished the final episode.

I learned a few things as I watched.  First, I was surprised by how many episodes I had not watched before.  The first couple seasons were mostly all new to me.  Since I had not started watching till season three, I had only caught a couple of these on rerun.  In the same way, I had only seen a few episodes from the final two seasons.  Why did I stop watching?  If I recall, it was a combination of being in college with lots of other things to do and with getting frustrated that the story never reached a conclusion.

That leads me into the second thing, for as great as the X-Files was, I couldn’t help but wonder what might have been.  It was a show that kept the viewer perpetually frustrated.  There would be an episode that revealed a good bit of the alien mythology, opening up new questions demanding an answer…followed by six episodes totally unrelated to the central story.  The show ended with Mulder and Scully on the run and a date for an alien invasion…which only leaves me saying, what happened next?

The X-Files had two sorts of episodes.  There were the ones related to the alien mythology.  These were the ones that form the backbone narrative of the series.  Then there were the monster-of-the-week episodes.  These were stand alone episodes that covered other sorts of paranormal from crazy religious fanatics to ghosts to scary monsters.  A lot of these episodes were great, some were pretty bad.

It makes me wonder what sort of series The X-Files would be if it debuted today.  Shows like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad only have about 10-13 episodes each season.  The X-Files always had over twenty.  These shows today center on one and only one story throughout each season.  Thus, there are no monster-of-the-week episodes in Walking Dead (there are monsters every week, the walkers!  And the Governor, that guys a jerk!).  Did the X-Files trade quality for quantity?

Would these popular shows today be as popular if they had more episodes each season?  I imagine so, though I imagine it would be harder to produce 22 quality episodes then it would to produce 13.  I would love to see The X-Files produce a 13 episode season focused only on one story-arc, picking up where the series left off.  They could cast the kid who plays Joffrey (scum bag) as the villain.

Overall, it was fun reliving my younger days with Mulder, Scully, the Cigarette Smoking Man, the Lone Gunmen, Skinner and even Dogget and Reyes.  Maybe I’ll watch it again in twenty years.