Pursuit of Percipience

the blog that nobody reads which I write to silence the voices in my head

Tag: book review

The Art of the Argument (Brief Book Review)

The Argument favours the intelligent, the prepared, the resourceful, the courageous, and the well-trained. The Argument rewards intellectual and moral virtues of every kind. The Argument promotes the most civil to the highest reaches of influence in society, and demotes fools and bullies to the basement of irrelevance.
~Stefan Molyneux

aoa

The Art of the Argument, written by Stefan Molyneux, is a primer on logic, reason, and debate. The book is primarily written for today’s younger generation — those who belong to the “snowflake” generation — but it is good for all ages and all who do not know how to argue without relying on emotion and subjectivism.

So, if you’ve ever heard someone say, “Hate speech is not free speech,” or you have said that yourself, allow Stefan to explain to you why free speech is essential for any civilized world, because without the ability to openly discuss our differences and problems, we can only resort to violence.

Molyneux gives many examples of how to present a logical and objective argument — not in order to defeat an opponent, but rather to discover the truth. “The Argument is beholden to a third party – the truth.” (Location 1530 on Kindle)

I can recommend this book if you enjoy debate and see a need to speak out against the attack on free speech rising in the west today.

I gave it 4/5 stars.

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Propaganda (Brief Book Review)

propaganda

“Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group”
~Edward Bernays

I recently finished reading Propaganda by Edward Bernays. It’s a short book written in the late 1920s describing the methods used by anyone who wishes to push their ideas and agenda onto a large group of people. The methods described in the book are still in use today.

Propaganda is a neutral term; it is neither good nor evil in and of itself. It can be used for good and used for evil, but mostly it is a vessel used to push an idea.

If I were a newsman who recently read a report done by some major university on the annual financial earnings of men and women and wanted to do a story on it, I could choose a couple of different ways to present the report. If I have no agenda but to present the report to the public for their own scrutiny, my headline would look something like: New Report on the Financial Income of Men and Women Released by U of T. However, if I’m a feminist, and do have a strong agenda, and I see in the report that men, due to more frequently working full time, putting in more overtime, and taking jobs in higher paying fields, are earning more money on an annual basis than women, I can use that information to push my agenda, and my headline would look more like this: Women Only Make Seventy Cents for Every Dollar a Man Makes New Study Shows. And that headline would be propaganda. It’s not an outright lie; it’s just that I am presenting the information to the reader so as to sway his or her opinion toward my agenda (which, for the feminist, is to convince the public that women are oppressed by men).

propSo, even though propaganda is neutral (and should not be mistaken with opinion writing), I would argue that it will most often lean towards dishonesty as the presenter of the propaganda is most likely not being sincere in his or her propagation of the information, even when the cause behind the propaganda is a good one.

I gave the book 3/5 stars.

The Day the Revolution Began (Book Review) Part Two

Revolution
Part One of this review can be found by clicking here.

In the next section of the book, Wright focuses on three elements which are “found within the varied pre-Christian expressions of Jewish hope. Each then played a large part in the early Christian understanding of what actually happened on the cross.” (Page 116) They are: 1) The Messiah would be a king; 2) The final redemption might come about not only in the context of extreme suffering, but by the means of it; 3) The “forgiveness of sins” and the “end of exile” would be the dramatic expression of the covenant of love.

In the King/Kingdom section, Wright writes a bit about the gospel (the proclamation of the good news that the righteous king is now in power), and a new exodus. He uses Daniel chapters 2, 7, and 9 to show how the Messiah would overcome the world empires and reign as king forever. Chapters 2 and 7 show how the world empires are destroyed by the Messiah King, and chapter 9 shows that Israel would have to endure a prolonged exile (70 x 7 years), but then the Messiah would come and save the people. This section is a short one and one could read Wright’s Simply Good News to get a better idea of how he presents the gospel.*

In the next section on suffering, Wright writes: “It is important … to detach the pre-Christian Jewish notion of a coming Messiah from the notion of suffering.” (Page 122) He points out that the notion of one man coming to suffer on behalf of the group is not necessarily a Jewish idea, but rather a pagan one.

“[F]rom quite early on in … Israel’s scriptures, some prophets and psalmists seemed to come back regularly to this idea of great suffering as the prelude to the coming deliverance. This suffering would, however, only be ‘messianic’ in the loose sense that it might immediately precede the ‘messianic age.’ Sometimes Israel’s scriptures refer to the suffering that results from Israel’s idolatry and sin. Sometimes, however, as in many of the psalms, it is suffering inflicted on God’s people, or perhaps an individual, despite their innocence. The night gets darker, the pain still more intense, and then a new day will dawn.” (Page 122)

Wright then focuses on the story of the Maccabean revolt. Wright says earlier in the book: “To understand any event in history, you must put it firmly into that history and not rest content with what later generations have said about it.” (Page 51) So, I guess he is trying to figure out why the early Christians viewed passages like Psalm 22, Isaiah 50 and 53 as describing the suffering Messiah (Jesus) as one who came to suffer for all the people when pre-Christian Jewish thought did not follow that narrative. It’s a bit of a confusing section, and I don’t think Wright gets his point across clearly enough here to the reader. He assumes you know (or hopes you don’t know) the Maccabean story well enough to follow his reasoning. Whereas Wright is very clear in other sections, repeating his main points over and over, here he is quite vague.

Well, the Maccabees were a Jewish family who rebelled against the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes IV ca 160 BC. Antiochus had greatly oppressed the Jews, prevented them from temple worship, and pushed them out of Jerusalem. The Maccabees fought back, won the day, and ruled Israel as kings and priests for the next 100 years or so. Antiochus had removed the rightful Zadokite high-priest, but the Maccabees did not reinstate him (or his descendant), but rather made themselves high-priests as well as kings.

The story as told in 1-4 Maccabees** is a story of Jewish covenant renewal (Antiochus’s oppression was the result of Jewish unfaithfulness), but it also emphasizes the suffering of the few, or the one, for the many, and so Wright suggests that it is here where the pagan idea of one suffering for many is combined with the narrative of Jewish covenant renewal. No doubt the Jews at this time were heavily influenced by Greek culture.

“Suffice it to note that at precisely the point where a Jewish writer [the author of Maccabees] is drawing explicitly on pagan philosophical traditions and doing his best to present a story of Jewish martyrdom as a story of human virtue [a pagan theme], especially courage and nobility, these themes come suddenly into prominence. Was that the reason, one might wonder, why some of the early Christians said some things about Jesus’s death that strike us, at least at first glance, as very similar? Or were they following a subtly different interpretive line?

“In any case, the point is clear. Within the larger Jewish hope, there are signs that some people at least, under pressure of intense suffering and persecution, reached for ways of interpreting that experience not only as something through which God’s people might pass to deliverance, but as something because of which that deliverance would come about… The point … is that the idea of redemptive suffering, though certainly not associated with messianic expectation, was clearly available in the Jewish world of Jesus’s day.” (Page 131)

The third element is titled Divine Faithfulness and Covenant Love. One theme that is absent from the Maccabean writings, but is clear in passages like Isaiah 40-66, is that God’s redemptive work is the result of His faithful love. A new exodus would occur with God taking the initiative to save, and not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.

The redemptive work would come through a royal servant. “There is a well-known fluidity between the nation and its royal representative: the king holds the key to the destiny of the people.” (Page 139) The king, through the love for his people, takes on himself the consequences of his people’s sins.

Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him
That there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor;
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him.
~Isaiah 59:15-16 (NKJV)

I looked, but there was no one to help,
And I wondered
That there was no one to uphold;
Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;
And My own fury, it sustained Me….
In all their affliction He was afflicted,
And the Angel of His Presence saved them;
In His love and in His pity He redeemed them;
And He bore them and carried them
All the days of old.
~Isaiah 63:5 & 9 (NKJV)

To be continued in Part Three….

*An excellent and illuminating commentary on the book of Daniel was written by James B. Jordan. I took a whole bunch of notes on that book which you can read here.

**A history of the Maccabees (and other events surrounding the life of Jesus) that I recommend is Emil Schürer’s A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ.

The Day the Revolution Began (Book Review) Part One

Revolution

You could rename this book Christianity 101. If I were to recommend just two books by N.T. Wright, they would be Simply Good News, and this one, The Day the Revolution Began.

N.T. Wright’s main push in a lot of his books is that the traditional definition of Christianity (Jesus died for your sins so that you don’t have to go to hell) is only one slice of a much larger pie, and the problem of Western Christianity is that it made that slice the whole pie.

The Reformation really centred on one main issue: How does the individual get saved? It was necessary to focus on that issue at that time as the Catholic Church had really messed it up. But, over the last 500 years, the Church has never gotten away from focusing on that one issue. N.T. Wright criticizes that problem. The early Christians didn’t focus on that issue, and neither did the pre-Christian Jews.

This is how many, if not most, Christians view their faith:

“God told his human creatures to keep a moral code; their continuing life in the Garden of Eden depended on their keeping that code perfectly. Failure would incur the punishment of death… Humans were therefore heading for hell rather than heaven. Finally, however, Jesus obeyed this moral law perfectly and in his death paid the penalty on behalf of the rest of the human race… Those who avail themselves of this achievement by believing in him and so benefiting from his accomplishment go to heaven… those who don’t, don’t.” (Page 75)

Wright does not deny the truth of that description of Christianity; he just argues that there is much more to the faith that only that. Wright says our biggest problem as humans is not that we are sinners who broke some law, but rather that we are idolators. “The human problem is not so much ‘sin’ seen as the breaking of moral codes–though that, to be sure, is a part of it…– but rather idolatry and the distortion of genuine humanness it produces.” (Page 74)

The result of putting anything before God, refusing to worship Him, and refusing to live out our created purpose leads to sin, and sin leads to death, which is separation from God. The Israelites of the Old Testament saw their exile as a form of death. It was when Israel stopped worshipping God and refused to fulfill their role as a kingdom of priests to the nations that God desolated the temple and sent His people into exile.

For Israel, the term “forgiveness of sins” was directly related to being allowed to return from exile. Wright argues that we too need to see that term in the same light as the Jews. Exile for humanity is the being cut off from proper human life: peace, unity, love, being proper image bearers and worshippers of God.

“[L]awbreaking is a symptom of a much more serious disease… [idolatry]… The result is slavery and finally death. It isn’t that humans do wrong things and so incur punishment. This is one element of the larger problem, which isn’t so much about a punishment that might seem almost arbitrary, perhaps even draconian; it is, rather, about direct consequences.” (Page 77)

N.T. Wright suggests “that in the Bible humans are created in order to live as worshipping stewards within God’s heaven-and-earth reality, rather than as beings who, by moral perfection, qualify to leave ‘earth’ and go to ‘heaven’ instead.” (Page 77-78)

Wright uses the term vocational covenant. Our vocation as humans is to image God to creation as caring stewards, and to image creation back to God as thankful worshippers. If we abandon that vocation we corrupt ourselves and creation too. Sin is simply the result of breaking that vocational covenant, which then leads to death and separation from God.

So, notice how Wright’s emphasis is not You broke God’s law and now He’s angry at you and you are going to hell, but rather it’s, We abandoned our vocational covenant by refusing to worship God and refusing to steward creation, and because of that we have corrupted ourselves and are separated from God.

The question then is: How is this problem of us breaking our vocational covenant, and the consequences thereof, fixed?

Wright spends some time writing about the purpose of the nation of Israel. As I mentioned above, Israel was a kingdom of priests to the nations. That means that they were acting as the image bearing mediators between God and the world. They were priests, and as priests they were to work to reconcile creation with God. That of course included being a light to the Gentile nations. This was, as Wright puts it, their vocation.

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
~Exodus 19:4-6

It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth….
Kings shall see and arise,
Princes also shall worship,
Because of the Lord who is faithful,
The Holy One of Israel;
And He has chosen You.
~Isaiah 49:6-7

Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
~Isaiah 60:1-3

When Israel was faithful to that vocation they were at peace with the nations and the nations would come to them to worship God. But, when they abandoned that covenant, they would be in conflict with God, and thus the nations as well. Continual non-repentance led to exile, when the Israelite people were pushed out of their promised land, their temple was abandoned by God, and they spent a time in “death” separated from the true life that they were supposed to have.

“[H]umans were made for a purpose [and] Israel was made for a purpose, and … humans and Israel alike have turned aside from that purpose, distorted the vision, and abused their vocation.” (Page 99)

The Greek word for sin, hamartia, means “missing the mark”. Wright points out that sin then is not so much a result of failing to keep a “do/don’t do” list of rules, but rather failing to be proper image bearers, and failing “to reflect the praises of creation back to the Creator and [failing] to reflect the Creator’s wise and loving stewardship into the world.” (Page 99)

If Israel was supposed to reconcile the creation back to the Creator, what would happen if Israel itself was in need of reconciliation? How could they fulfill their vocation if they themselves were just as corrupt as those they were called to help? What could be done if those who had the authority to reconcile had forfeited that authority over to powers which worked for evil and death? Others, or One, would have to come and take back that authority and fulfill the vocation of reconciliation.

When the tabernacle was first complete, the glorious presence of God came down to cover it (Exodus 40:34ff), and again when Solomon’s temple was complete, the glory cloud of God came again (1 Kings 8:10-11). However, after the exile, when the Jews went back to Jerusalem and completed the rebuilding of the temple, there is no mention of God’s glory coming down then (Ezra 6:13ff). What you do see is the presence of God leaving the temple (what would have been Solomon’s temple) in Ezekiel 10 & 11.

In Malachi, a prophet sent to Israel after Ezra’s temple had been built (the second temple), we see that the Jews were neglecting their covenantal responsibilities again. They were doing so because they were disappointed at what the second temple era was: no renewed kingdom of Israel (they were still in a form of exile) and a perception that God’s glory never did return from exile with them to once again fill the temple. But Malachi told the people: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming.” (Malachi 3:1) Now, that messenger sent to prepare the way was John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27), so, “the Lord who will suddenly come to His temple” was Jesus.

“In Jesus’s day, the hope was alive that the Glory would return at last. But nobody knew exactly what that would mean, how it would happen, or what it would look like.” (Page 112) The Jews’ great hope after the exile was not to make it to heaven when they died, but to be restored within the present world, to be forgiven of their sins, and to be a part of the new covenant promised to them by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This new covenant, we know today, would also include the Gentile nations.

Jesus is the One who took the vocational covenant of Israel onto Himself and fulfilled it once and for all in His life, death, and resurrection. But how does that work? What did Jesus really do on the cross?

To be continued in Part Two…..

Further reading….

N. T. Wright: The Church Continues the Revolution Jesus Started

N. T. Wright Reconsiders the Meaning of Jesus’s Death

Seven Revolutions (Book Review)

7 revs

Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change it Again was written by Mike Aquilina and James L. Papandrea.

It teaches an idea which I strongly agree with: that Christianity, since its beginnings, has changed the whole world for the better and continues to do so.

The authors focus on seven revolutions; seven ways in which Christianity rearranged the world in new and positive methods.

The first revolution is concerned with Human Dignity. Unwanted life, be it children, or slaves, or cripples, was thrown away in the ancient world, and no one thought much of it. It was the first Christians who condemned this behaviour and openly spoke out against abortion, child murder, gladiatorial violence, and the overall low view of “inconvenient” persons.

The second revolution, which builds on the first, is on Family. In contrast to the Roman culture, Christian homes had husbands and wives who loved each other, and children who were valued and cared for. The marriage was not just a contract, and the wife was not just the property of the husband (she was, but he was her property now too). Sex was seen in a new light as well: not just something for the physical pleasure of the man, but a sacred activity to both marriage partners. As one second century author wrote:

“They [Christians] marry, as everyone does; they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.” (Epistle to Diognetus, 5)

The third revolution addressed is that of Work, and how labour became holy. “Shoemakers, cleaners, weavers — these were the people who called themselves Christians. How could a religion made up of such lowly people be anything but contemptible?” (Page 80) Manual labour was despicable to the upper classes in the ancient world, and that type of work was best left to slaves. But Christians welcomed and treated as equal both manual labourers and slaves in relation to the upper class Christians. Manual labour is seen as holy in the Christian faith. God Himself worked with His hands in creating the world. How could a religion like this lead people to salvation when clearly the physical world is dirty and disgusting while the spiritual world is beautiful and pure?

The fourth was a revolution of Religion. Whereas the pagan religions of the past were more so contracts between patron (the god) and people and were seen as a patriotic duty, Christianity focuses on having an actual relationship with God and with fellow believers. A Christian, rather than trying to guess at what makes the gods happy, receives divine revelation which allows for a direct and intimate knowledge of God. And then there is the monotheistic/trinitarian nature of God: God is one, but He is three persons in relationship, and that relationship of love spills over into humanity causing Christians to not only love God, but also to love people. And don’t leave out the Christian view of morality — living a life which pleases God, not to earn salvation, but to live out the salvation already received.

Number five: a revolution of Community. The authors, perhaps unnecessarily, start this chapter with an overview of the Augustine/Pelagius controversy. Augustine believed in original sin and total depravity, while Pelagius believed in free will and humanity’s ability to live a perfect life. The Church (the Catholic Church) decided the truth was somewhere down the middle of those extremes — not all depends on God, and not all depends on us. Therefore we must work with God in His mission to “extend His love to others.” (page 137) The debate of free will vs. original sin still rages on in Protestant circles, but the point of the book is clear: “the revolution of the community is that God calls us to love our neighbour.” (Page 137) The focus here is on working with the poor, and the contrast of Christian charity (loving others for the sake of love) against pagan charity (doing good to others to be seen doing good). Christians are not to build up treasure in this world, but rather in heaven, and “the storehouses of heaven are the stomachs of the hungry.” (Page 141)

Next, a revolution in Death. This is a Catholic book, and while I don’t think it’s too Catholic for non-Catholic readers, this chapter on death does hold much of the theology, particularly concerning relics and patron saints. While I’m not Catholic myself, I do agree with the premise of this chapter, which has to do with resurrection and Christianity’s conquering of death itself. Death has no more sting and the horrors of death are nothing more than a temporary sadness. A new body and a new life await those who belong to Christ.

The final and seventh revolution is about the State and Religious Freedom. Again, being a  Catholic book, there is no mention of the Reformation’s contribution to the western world and to how individual liberty grew out of that movement influencing so much of western politics. The book mainly focuses on the influence of Constantine and his edict of religious tolerance. “By the time the Church was in a position to influence government in the fourth century, a Christian idea of government had emerged — that those who governed should be the protectors of those whom they govern. Leadership was not a right; it was a responsibility — one that included serving the ‘least’ of society. To govern was to be entrusted with something very valuable — human beings created in the image of God and the resources to sustain them. In other words, Christian leadership is a form of stewardship” (page 183). That’s good in theory, but fast forward 1000 years and the Church’s rule wasn’t doing so great. Much was corrected by the Reformation.

The final two chapters talk about how the Church can change the world again. Several “to-do” items are given for the Church:

  • Reject isolationism
  • Respect the value of every human life
  • Reject the culture of celebrity and humiliation as entertainment
  • Respect the humble, the labourer, and the poor
  • Reject the creation of a secular religion of the state
  • Respect religious freedom (freedom of religion, not from religion)
  • Reject a defeatist attitude
  • Respect your neighbours

All in all I thought it was a good book. I give it 3.5 out of five stars. I think the Catholic authors focused too much on ancient history, neglecting the huge changes made in the last 500 years. But, there is much to be learned from those ancient centuries as well so that we need not repeat the mistakes of the past.

“The seven revolutions of the Church can be broadly grouped into two categories: the protection of all human life, and the protection of each person’s dignity and freedom.” (Page 204)

“Just like the early Christians, we may find ourselves facing a choice between two kinds of sacrifice. We will either sacrifice our place of comfort within society to speak up for life and freedom, or we will sacrifice our convictions and accept the current definition of freedom (that is, absolute freedom of convenience for the individual, and freedom from having to be confronted with expressions of religious faith that may convict one of selfishness).” (Page 217)

***