Not the British actor, by the way, but the British historian. I have no idea what Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man thinks about ethics and/or religion. But writer Tom Holland describes his epiphany in a recent article in The New Statesman:
The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable….
Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.
The Monday Morning Theologian has the honors this month. So go over to J. K. Turner’s blog for all the best of biblioblogging for the month of August.
Over at JesusCreed, Jonathan Storment has written an intriguing review of Reviving Old Scratch by Richard Beck. This is a book about spiritual warfare—but Storment urges us not to roll our eyes just yet.
I want you to know this isn’t like the other spiritual warfare books out there. It is written specifically for the kinds of Christians who stopped believing in the Devil/Demons a long time ago, by someone who went down that same road.
The best way I could summarize Beck’s work is that he quotes the Canadian Philosopher Charles Taylor, lots of Scripture, lots of theologians, and talks often about Scooby Doo.
After providing some necessary philosophical background based on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Storment sums up Beck’s train of thought with these words:
…Scooby Doo is a perfect example of what it looks like to live in a disenchantedabout every Scooby Doo episode you’ve ever seen. It starts out with an enchanted world. They’re in some haunted mansion, chasing down a ghost or goblin of some kind. All of them are terrified because they are vulnerable to the spiritual forces of the universe and at some point Shaggy runs away screaming and Scooby says “ruhroh.”
But then the turn comes. And the ghost trips over some chair or accidentally overplays its hand, and these detective kids suddenly realize that this isn’t a ghost at all.
Then there is the great unmasking, where they pull back the disguise and sure enough…there are no demons in the world, this is just Old Mr. Dickerson, the greedy banker trying to get rich.
When the downward pressure of skepticism win and the enchanted world is emptied out, all that is left is the flat, horizontal drama of human action and interaction. This is the trajectory of a Scooby-Doo episode, the journey to discover that, in the end, there are no ghosts or gods or devils. In the final analysis, at the end of the thirty-minute adventure, there are only human beings.
Which sounds fine to a lot of progressive Christians. We really want to focus on human beings, we want Christianity to be good for human beings, we love humanity…until we don’t.
And here is Beck’s sweet spot, because I know him well, I really appreciated this section, because I’ve seen him live it out. What happens when progressive, disenchanted Christians try to follow Jesus into the messy places of the world without a robust theology of Spiritual warfare?
The battle becomes precisely against flesh and blood.
Pete Enns’s musings about the ark museum in Kentucky have led him to propose three important road signs for navigating the story successfully. Since my REL 130 students will be grappling with this story next week, I thought I’d link to what Dr. Enns has to say. The all-too-insufficient summary goes like this:
- The flood story seems to be rooted in history.
- The story of Noah and the flood, though rooted in history, is also rooted in the stories told among other ancient people living in or near Mesopotamia.
- The story does not depict an “accurate” account of history, but the ancient Israelites’ understanding of that long-past event that survived in cultural memory.
And here’s a brief snippet to encourage you to hop on over and see what Dr. Enns is getting at:
The reason given in Genesis for this need to start over is human wickedness. Now, this raises (and has raised for a long time) all sorts of problems, namely why God goes so over-the-top. We’re only in the 6th chapter of the Bible. Couldn’t God think of another solution or was drowning the only option?
But this may be asking the wrong question. Rather than trying to explain why God would do such and such, it is more fruitful to ponder what this story tells us about Israel’s understanding of God.
The reason the gods flood the earth in the Atrahasis epic is because humans, who were created for slave labor, were making too much noise. The Israelites, on the other hand, had something else to say about the character of their God and the obligation of humanity to God as creatures created in God’s image.
They had a different theology.
This month’s Carnival is now posted at Philip Long’s Reading Acts blog. Enjoy!
Kris Lyle of Old School Script hosts this month’s Carnival. He has opted to go with a TV theme for all us biblical couch potatoes. Well done!
According to the Times of Israel, a Hebrew-language version of the Epic of Gilgamesh is underway:
In writer Shirley Graetz’s mind, the Akkadian figure who stars in the ancient poem “Epic of Gilgamesh” sounded a lot like her eldest son. Big, strong, and not always able to delicately avoid things in his path.
“I got to thinking about Gilgamesh,” said Graetz, who at the time was finishing up her PhD on cuneiform, an ancient form of writing from the Mesopotamian region. “He was half human, half god and he was a tyrant. Until he found his match, and then he calmed down and went on adventures.”
Graetz then went on to write a chapter book geared to children aged 8–11.
Best sentence in the article? This one:
Ever practical, the academic turned popular fiction writer also considered the fact that neither Disney nor Pixar had ever touched the story of the Mesopotamian figure.
I wonder if the bit with Shamhat might have something to do with that.