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| 30.12.02
The Diario of Christopher Columbus’s first Voyage to America: 1492-1493, Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr., trans. Abstracted by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas.

Dunn and Kelley’s translation of the diario is very useful to both the Spanish and non-Spanish speaker, in that it provides a modern English translation side-by-side with a faithful rendering of the Spanish original. While some typographical problems presented themselves in rendering a manuscript filled with ambiguous characters, deletions, and postils written on large folios into a comprehensible book, Dunn and Kelley have managed to do this without “cleaning up” the text of the manuscript or purging valuable information. By stating exactly what changes were made for the sake of continuity and clarity in the preface, the reader is not left wondering where alterations in the original text begin and the actual manuscript ends.

The diario, however, is highly problematic in and of itself as an historical document. What we term Christopher Columbus’ diario is in fact a rendering of the original by Bartolomé de las Casas, a Franciscan friar who lived in roughly the same period as Columbus. While parts of the diario are rendered in what appears to be a word for word transcription of the original, other parts are clearly paraphrased by las Casas. In some instances it is difficult to tell where “The Admiral” leaves off and las Casas begins. This makes the diario’s use as a primary source doubtful.

The audience for the which the diario was written also casts doubts on the verity of the statements therein. Columbus was keeping the record for the express (expressed in the prologue) purpose of detailing his voyage to king Ferdinand and queen Isabella. His descriptions of New World inhabitants as “good intelligent servants,” (67) “very naive about weapons” that “can be made to do whatever one might wish” (76) can be seen as primarily statements made to justify his voyage and its expense. Likewise, Columbus’ constant mentioning of the native’s lack of any sort of religion seems to emphasize the need for converting the Indians, again justifying more voyages. While Columbus did not bring back much of anything of value on the first voyage to the New World, the diario is constantly speaking of “mastic,” “aloe,” and “a thousand other good things.” Columbus exaggerates to the point where “a loaf of wax” become the signifier of hidden riches beyond imagine. (189)

There appears to be a dichotomy in the diario between the manner in which Columbus wanted to treat the Indians, and the manner in which they were actually treated. Columbus wanted the Indians to be remunerated for everything which his men traded for. “But the Admiral, seeing the openheartedness of the Indians, who for six glass beads would give and do give a piece of gold, for that reason ordered that nothing should be removed from them without giving them something in payment.” (265) In addition, on October 15, 1492, Columbus gives an Indian a ride onboard ship in an attempt foster goodwill between the Indians and the Europeans for future visits. (85) However, after the initial contact with the Indians, fear seems to be the rule rather than the exception. When there was no gold in great quantity to be found in the new lands, Columbus resorted to capturing Indians to return to Spain as slaves. On Wednesday, December 17, 1492 part of the entry reads, “Finally they captured one woman --for they could catch no more-- because, he says, I had ordered them to catch some [people] in order to treat them courteously and make them lose their fear, which would be something profitable since it seems that the land cannot be otherwise than profitable, judging by its beauty.” (219)

It is clear from the diario, however, that Columbus believed that he was sailing towards, and had indeed discovered, a new route to the “Indies.” Repeated references to the “Grand Khan” and “the end of the Orient” where the fabled “terrestrial paradise” is said to be reveals to us that although Columbus never encountered any Asian civilizations, he always believed that he was in the East. (383)

In brief, the diario reveals to us three main motivations for Columbus’ journey: God, gold, and glory. Las Casas and Columbus both refer to Columbus as “Admiral of the Ocean Sea,” a title Columbus had fought to attain for both himself and his descendants in perpetuity. Columbus sought gold, not only for himself and for his sovereign, but also so that he could “prepare to go conquer the Holy Sepulcher; for thus I urged Your Highness to spend all profits of this my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem.” (291) Thus it would appear that not only did Columbus desire to Christianize the native, he also wanted to start a Crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims.

The main problems with the diario, however, remain the following. How accurate is it as a document which reflects what actually happened on the voyages? Given its audience, the manner by which it comes to us through time, and the motives of its author, it seems that any statements substantiated by the diario must be carefully examined in light of the above considerations.

PUBLISHER: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.

In Search of Columbus

| 29.12.02
In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the first Voyage, by David P. Henige

In In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the first Voyage, David P. Henige effectively criticizes the diario (Columbus' ship log for the first voyage), showing that as a primary source it is very problematic. Henige argues from the viewpoint that the diario is primarily a work by Bartolomé de las Casas, and as such is a corrupted source at best. ...The text we have is, by the transcribers own admission, largely a paraphrase of another secondary text. (7)

The problem with the diario as a primary source is thus made apparent. The copy of the diario that we have in our possession today is in fact two, or even possibly three times removed from the original source. To trace the history of the diario helps explain this problem. To begin with, there must have been an original diario, the ships log that Columbus kept on his first voyage to The Indies. Then the picture begins to become ambiguous. According to some sources, it is possible that Columbus made a copy of the log for the sovereigns instead of handing over the original copy, which Columbus would have kept to help substantiate his future claims as Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Then it is known that the royal scribes made copies of the diario. One of these copies was used by las Casas, who in turn made the transcription that is known as the diario we have today. (22,23)

Henige believes that there are many reasons to believe that the original text of the diario was altered. The scribes may have doctored the numbers to make the new lands fall into Spains domain under the Treaty of Todesillas with Portugal. (104) There is even more reason to believe that las Casas may have incorporated changes into the work. In comparing las Casas diario with Ferdinand Columbus Historia de las Indias, Henige found that the December 25, 1493 diario entry concerning the beaching of the Santa María exaggerates the role of the Indians, and their willingness to help. (44) Henige goes as far as to state that, the later it [the diario] was transcribed, the more Las Casass increasingly impassioned views on the Spanish treatment of the Indians would effect the character of the work, which is, after all, largely paraphrase. (19)

Henige cites many other examples in which it appears that the diario has been altered as well. Henige doubts the validity of the October 11, 1492 entry in which Columbus reports seeing a light that later proves to be land based on the following observations. First, the story of Columbus seeing the light occurs in the text subsequent to an entry in which land has already been sighted. Secondly, the story of the light has only Columbus word to back it up, since the two witnesses mentioned in the entry are among those who are later left at La Navidad, where they perish. (107) In sum, the passage [of the sighting of the light] bears every mark of being an ex post facto abuse of Columbuss monopoly of the log. (171)

Henige sees the motivations behind the diario we possess today to be threefold. First, it was a propaganda device for Columbus. Second, as a marital account, it was a subterfuge to beguile the Portuguese. Finally, it was an instrument to Las Casas, for his world view, and for his opinions concerning the treatment of the Indians by the Spanish. (122) If we accept these conclusions, the ramification for Columbus study are great. In essence, the diario is discredited as an accurate source of Columbus route to the New World, his treatment of the Indians, and of practically any observation about the lands and peoples Columbus encountered.

Henige uses the inaccuracies in the diario as the centerpiece to an argument highlighting Columbus research in general. Henige believes there is a tendency to pick and choose testimony from the diario solely to satisfy particular modern predispositions and in subservience to grand designs. (285) He states that there is a natural tendency to grant critical immunity to sources that provide unique access to major historical occasions (2) and that as such a source the diario has been given a place in the literature that is more than its due.

The major problem with Heniges study is that it criticizes effectively, yet doesn't provide an answer to the question: What then can we believe about Columbus with any degree of accuracy? Henige manages to impeach most of the major sources used in Columbus studies, yet provides us with no alternative source of information. If it is indeed endemic in this field to see arguments based upon faulty and partial evidence, Henige does not provide a way in which to say anything about Columbus with accuracy. Henige has been accused of hyper criticism and has been labeled a Pyrrhonist critic. (284) Perhaps this is overstating, but Henige leaves us with no answers about Columbus or his motivations. There are only questions.

PUBLISHER: Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1991.

The Conquest of Paradise

| 28.12.02
The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, by Kirkpatrick Sale

Kirkpatrick Sale’s monograph The Conquest of Paradise tells the Columbus story as the conquest of noble, peace-loving peoples that live in harmony with the environment by a brutal, savage, medieval Europe of which Christopher Columbus is a product. Because of the horrible effects of the black plague, and the European cultural tendency to war against the environment instead of coexist with it, Sale speculates that Europeans had been hardened towards death and killing, and enamored with property and personal wealth, to such an extent that mutual understanding between Native Americans and Europeans was practically impossible. Sale argues that Columbus was not seeking a route to the Far East, but rather that he intended his mission to be one of discovery and conquest. The fact that Columbus and Europe dominated the Amerinds is an ecological one. Disease, which Europe had coped with in the Black Plague, decimated the island populations upon which Columbus landed. Sale paints the Amerinds as peoples who lived in perfect harmony with the environment, while Europeans are depicted as a people who are at war with nature.

It seems that Sale wants to depict the Indians as “noble savages,” a simple folk innocent and at peace with their environment. He tends to ignore the fact that great Native American civilizations had existed and declined prior to the arrival of Columbus to the New World. In addition, Sale neglects to mention that even Amerinds warred with one another (something that is mentioned many times in the diario). It would seem that Sale’s involvement in the Green Party, and other ecological organizations, predisposes him to see the lifestyle of “noble savages” as superior to that of the conquering Columbian hordes. We are almost told outright that the world would be a better place today had the expansion of European culture, first implemented by Columbus, not taken place. In Sale’s conclusion, it becomes apparent that at the very least, Conquest of Paradise is history with a strong didactic twist.

PUBLISHER: New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1990.

Columbus: The Great Adventure

| 27.12.02
Columbus: The Great Adventure, by Paolo Emilio Taviani

Taviani paints a complex yet sometimes contradictory image of Christopher Columbus. Unlike other scholars who portray Columbus as a medieval stereotype hearkening the modern age, Taviani gives us the dual image of Columbus the Renaissance man, and Columbus the medieval man. Through this use of the Italian Renaissance Taviani attempts to claim Columbus as a great Italian navigator, even though Columbus was Genoan and Italy as a nation did not exist during Columbus’ time. Thus this historical work, while detailed, has nationalistic underpinnings.

Taviani supposes that Columbus had a “grand design” of discovery. Because Columbus, as an expert navigator, had empirical knowledge of the Atlantic trade winds before his first voyage to the new world, he deliberately chose the south west route on the outbound voyage, and the north east route back to Spain. Taviani cites trips to made to Iceland as a youth as the source of Columbus’ knowledge of the proper routes. (41) Yet while one would think that Columbus would also have heard rumors of the New World in Iceland, Taviani holds firmly to the notion that Columbus believed he was sailing towards Asia, even after he arrived at his destination and began to see negative evidence with his own eyes. Naked natives, no iron working technology, no cities, no “Grand Khan”-- nothing Marco Polo outlined in his account of the Orient. “Why? Because the Discoverer was obstinate and ruled by ambition and pride.” (108)

This is the crux of Taviani’s Columbus. A modern man on the one hand, who used the Old Testament, the classical texts, his own observations as a navigator and the writings of Toscanelli to buttress his argument for making his voyages to the scholars of the royal courts of Europe (66) while on the other hand Columbus “was the man who would open the door to the third age, that of the Holy Spirit, prophesied by Joachim of Floris.” (256) Taviani states it best when he characterizes Columbus’ motivations as “ambition, pride, scientific curiosity, a spirit of adventure, a fascination with the unknown, and a mystical feeling of being chosen for a divinely inspired mission.” (128)

Taviani’s book also attempts to give the reader a background into the cultures that Columbus encountered on his first voyage. Drawing upon archeological data he portrays the tainos as having a stratified matrilineal society based upon three classes --nobles, commoners, and slaves. The chiefs (caciques) held the power of life or death over their subjects. (121) Like the diario, he differentiates between the gentler tainos and the caribs, who, according to records made by Dr. Chanca and Michele de Cuneo on Columbus’ voyages, consumed human flesh. (147) Taviani uses the existence of at least two separate indigenous cultures to help justify the difference in treatment Columbus gives to the Indians from the first to the second and subsequent voyages.

On the whole, Taviani is generally sympathetic in his interpretation of Columbus. Columbus is a great navigator, a daring adventurer, and issues such as his enslavement of the Indians and his mismanagement of the colony at La Isabella are conveniently consigned to “the times” or politics. On the slavery issue, Taviani says “Columbus lived in his own time, was a man of this own time, thinking like the leaders --and others-- of his time, not like the saints.” (103) On Columbus’ leadership at La Isabella, the author states that “. . .anything he did to defend the Indians and punish the Spanish would be interpreted by the Spanish in Nationalistic terms.” (176)

Yet Taviani needs Columbus to be a forward thinker in order to tie him in with Italian nationalism. “Without the Italian Renaissance there would have been no modern age. Christopher Columbus symbolizes the creative genius of Italy shaping the beginning of the modern age.” (263) Taviani is correct in portraying Columbus as a complex historical figure, operating from many different and sometimes contradictory motivations. However, by claiming Columbus as the first Italian, Taviani weakens the rest of his argument considerably.

PUBLISHER: New York, Orion Books, 1991

The Harp and the Shadow

| 26.12.02
The Harp and the Shadow: A Novel, by Alejo Carpentier

On a thematic level, The Harp and the Shadow is a novel dealing with masks, deceptions, and hidden truths. Specifically, the main action of the story centers around the issue of whether Christopher Columbus should be canonized as a saint. On the one hand, a St. Columbus could be a symbol that ties together disparate parts of the Catholic church in Europe and America. On the other hand, that symbol might be tainted, through accusations of adultery, slavery, and personal greed. As the novel progresses, we are taken past the layer of “the Harp”, the image of pure motives for family, God and country that Columbus attempted to leave behind, and instead descend into the depths of “the Shadow”, or the reality behind Columbus, his voyages, and his motivations behind them. Through the presentation of some substantiated historical material, some “myths” long part of the Columbus legend, and some outright fabrication, Carpentier provides an image of Columbus as an egotistical, self-styled Christo-phoros, or Christ-bearer, who lies, steals, enslaves --all for the vain goal of “pursuing a country never found that fades away like a castle of enchantments. . . [following] vapors, seeing things that never become intelligible, comparable, explicable, in the language of the Odyssey or in the language of Genesis.” (126) Carpentier’s Columbus is a man obsessed with his own personal glory and how history will remember him.

One of the most exaggerated portions of Columbus’ life depicted the novel is his reputed sexual relationship with Queen Isabella. This charge is not substantiated in the documents we have for Columbus, yet it plays a major part in the novel. According to the story, Queen Isabella pawns her jewels to purchase the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María only after she and Columbus make love. (68) Later, after the first voyage, Isabella doesn’t believe that Columbus discovered the Indies, yet finances a second voyage after a night of intense passion. (106) On one level the sexual interaction between Isabella and Columbus symbolizes the way in which Columbus treats the new lands he has discovered --as something to be dominated and conquered in his quest for personal glory. Columbus will say or do anything to further this end and enhance his own position. “I speak of gold mines where I know of none. I speak of pearls, many pearls, merely because I see some mussels that ‘signal their presence.’ I say only one thing that is true; that the dogs here seem not to bark.” (87)

Carpentier, like Sales, has Columbus hoping that he has discovered new lands, as opposed to the Indies. Proof of this is inferred from the cargo on Columbus’ ships --one would not bring trinkets to the orient. (81) Carpentier also maintains that there was no distinction between the tainos and the caribs except that Columbus wished to characterize them differently to serve different purposes. (110) When Columbus wants to emphasize the wealth to be had in slaves, the Indians are depicted as gentle, easily domesticated folk. Later, when Columbus needs to justify harsh treatment towards the Indians, they become bloodthirsty cannibalistic savages.

The Harp and the Shadow concludes with the decision that Columbus is no saint. The move for his canonization has failed. As the decision still rings in the air, the image of Columbus the saint --the image Columbus himself tried to perpetuate according to Carpentier, starts to fade away. The point the author seems to be making is a simple one; if we probe the myth of Columbus, we will penetrate the fiction of Columbus “the harp” and discover for ourselves “the shadow” that is the man behind the myth.

PUBLISHER: San Francisco. Mercury House, Inc., 1990.

The Jefferson Image in the American Mind

| 19.12.02
The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, by Merrill D. Peterson

As the title suggests, Merrill’s work shows, sometimes in excruciating detail, the differing, convoluted, and oftentimes contradictory interpretations people have given Jefferson’s ideas and ideals throughout American history. In a manner very much akin to quoting Scripture to prove a point, early Americans venerated Jefferson and his writings, and quoted them with authority to support their arguments. Over time, Jefferson’s writings were used to support such disparate and contradictory views as states rights, emancipation of the slaves, and Jacksonian democracy.

Merrill sees it as symbolic that Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826. This day, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, also marked an “era of good feeling” in which Americans were proud of what the revolution had accomplished, and proud of its founding fathers. Histories written around this time venerated the figures involved with the revolution --including Jefferson. Thus the image of Jefferson was first created as a forward thinker, an example of the Enlightenment, and a proponent of individual liberties and freedoms for all people.

Ironically, however, this image clashed violently with what had actually happened in American politics. The Constitution (first ten amendments excluded) read more like English laws and institutions transplanted than the revolutionary document of the Declaration. Far from being democratic, the executive branch was elected in a process that excluded the landless. The institution of slavery was retained, seemingly contradicting the high ideals of the framers. In addition to this was the question of state’s rights. Many felt that the federal government was usurping more power than it was entitled to, and that individual states should have the power to “nullify” laws set forth by the federal government which interfered with state interests. When the interests of state’s rights, the masses, and abolition clashed, they all drew upon the Jefferson image to bolster their arguments.

Merrill states that Jefferson’s popularity stemmed from his unique political and philosophical outlook. He represented a train of thought that can be traced to the Philosophes of the Enlightenment, yet he retained a respect for the common man characteristic of agrarian, pre-revolutionary America. His ideas were thus very individual and Enlightenment oriented, and very radical compared to those of the other Founding Fathers. Jefferson was subsequently not pleased with the way post-revolutionary America had turned out, and his writings provided ammunition for those who wished to press for change. However, when employed in the political framework that existed, his ideas conflicted with each other.

PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Diary of Samuel Sewall

| 18.12.02
Diary of Samuel Sewall, edited by Harvey Wish

Samuel Sewall (1652-1730) was born in England of a well-to-do family of the merchant class. At age nineteen, however, Sewall moved with his family to New England, where they lived on a plantation that Samuel's father had started in 1634. There Samuel attended Harvard from 1667-1671. The strict Harvard regimen, including prohibitions against card playing, profanity, the wearing of long hair and wigs, along with his Calvinistic upbringing, proved to influence him later in life as he served as a Boston magistrate and merchant. Concern over doctrinal orthodoxy and his own personal worth as God's servant are major themes that run through Sewall's Diary, which includes the years 1673-1729 (with a mysterious gap from 1677-1684).

Sewall's Diary is valuable as an historical source because it is a personal, unguarded account of events and issues large on the New England political and social landscape of his time. From his perspective as a merchant and landowner, we see the effect on the people of New England when the crown revokes its charter, and the overall loyalty of the colonials to England despite the revocation. From his perspective as a Puritan magistrate during the Salem witch trials, we see how he was initially caught up in the sense that justice must be dispensed in combating witchcraft --only later realizing "the Blame and shame of it, Asking pardon of men..." (80) From his perspective as a devout Puritan, we see how distressed he was at the disruptive presence of Quakers in the Sabbath meetings, and the constant threat of Anglican Church influence, as evidenced by swearing oaths on the Bible, use of the cross in worship, the observance of Christmas as a holiday, and the battle between Anglicans and Puritans over who could use the town meeting house for church services.

Aside from these, however, perhaps the greatest benefit of the Diary to us is that we are given the opportunity to glimpse the spiritual groaning of a man deeply committed to his Puritan faith, yet constantly unsure of his spiritual worth. For Sewall, everyday events and acts of nature often took on supernatural meanings. After a hailstorm which knocked out the windows in many Boston houses, including his own, Sewall could not help but wonder if God wasn't making His displeasure known to him. In a separate incident, when Sewall's house was broken into, Sewall saw it as divine retribution, for he had been feeling "listless as to Spiritual Good" just a day before. (114) Upon the death of his wife, Hannah, he attributed the cause as divine wrath brought down upon himself. These types of accounts, frequent throughout the Diary, make it very tempting to count Sewall among the "second generation," as outlined in Perry Miller's "Errand Into the Wilderness."

Yet Sewall exhibited some characteristics not shown in even the most progressive Puritans. In "The Selling of Joseph," Sewall's diatribe against slavery, he convincingly refuted many of the Biblical underpinnings of slavery, while still adhering to the literal school of interpretation. Later, in a Diary entry, he wrote, "I essay'd June, 22, to prevent Indians and Negros being Rated with Horses and Hogs; but could not prevail." (152) As the Diary portrays it, Sewall stood virtually alone in these opinions. On a more personal level, we are given entries that show Sewall during tender moments --praying with his children, comforting them with Scripture against their fear of death from the "Small Pocks." Altogether, the Diary of Samuel Sewall portrays a full picture of a Puritan man, his immediate society, and his struggle to relate Divine principles into his everyday life.

PUBLISHER: New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1967.

The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America

| 17.12.02
The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America: 1735-1789, by Brooke Hindle

As the title indicates, Hindle attempts to trace the birth and growth of science in America during the period prior to the Revolution. Specifically, Hindle draws connections between the pursuit of science in Europe of this time period (especially Europe’s interest in the plant and animal life of the New World) and the advent of American scientific exploits in their own right.

Simply stated, Hindle’s story of science in the Americas is thus: Europe had books, libraries, universities, great thinkers, and a tradition of classificatory science. America did not. Yet America did have the previously unknown species of flora and fauna --experimental data, if you will, to fit into the theories of the Europeans. Thus the early story of science in the Americas was one of observers and collectors, taking samples and making sketches to be sent back to Europe, where they would be classified and studied by the experts.

As the period progressed, however, Americans made efforts to establish a scientific community of their own --one that made its own advances and insights, and did not rely on Europe for all its ideas. This scientific community in America was mostly made up of physicians, as they were among the only people with sufficient background or inclination to study natural science. This community languished because of lack of popular support (i.e., merchants and others did not fund scientific undertakings) and lack of intellectual resources.

This malaise changes when Benjamin Franklin enters the scene. Called a “prodigy” by Hindle, Franklin and his electrical experiments represent science that more easily could have been developed in Europe, yet is discovered by Americans first. Coming at a time when electricity is very much a fad, Franklin’s experiments and theories have the twofold effect of popularizing science among the masses, and forcing Europe to recognize at least one American scientist on equal terms.

PUBLISHER: University of North Carolina Press, 1956

The Great Divorce

| 9.10.02
The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis

Lately, books have evoked memories of movies I've seen. C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce reminds me of the movie What Dreams May Come. Both deal with visions of the afterlife, but while What Dreams May Come is a post-modern vision of heaven and hell --where our bliss or torment is entirely of our own creating-- The Great Divorce maintains that the Kingdom of Heaven is the Platonic Ideal (or Form) of Absolute Reality. That makes it all the more surprising when many of Lewis' characters don't have the spiritual wherewithal to live in that Reality, and choose to live in subjective hells very similar to the ones depicted in What Dreams May Come.

In the preface (page x, to be exact) Lewis warns against the arousal of "factual curiosity about the details of the after-world." Such equivocation is startling from the man who tirelessly (and tiresomely) insisted in Mere Christianity that we must choose between liar, lunatic or Lord. Instead we get Lewis' dream of the Kingdom --beautifully and pastorally represented as the dawning of a new day where only the pure in heart can gaze upon the Son/Sun and live. As in the Narnia series and the Space Trilogy, Lewis is at his best when he's imagining evocative new worlds.

Evangelicals love Mere Christianity for its proud trumpeting of certainty, but The Great Divorce is literature for those who acknowledge increased levels of ambiguity, mystery, and uncertainty when it comes to things theological. Often it seems that Lewis skates on the edge of orthodoxy, but never sails over the edge by hedging with paradoxes --for Lewis the Kingdom is a Platonic form, rendered paradoxically and shrouded in mystery. For instance, Lewis comes very close to saying that Heaven and Hell are states of mind, but one of his characters crisply corrects this contention, saying that Hell is a state of mind, but Heaven is Ultimate Reality. On the issue of free will versus predestination --the biggest paradox of all-- Lewis upholds both by saying that what looks like predestination from a cosmic point of view is actually free will from a human point of view. Lewis' version of hell seems more like the dusky, murky mists of Old Testament sheol than the New Testament fires Jerry Falwell likes to emphasize. Lewis circumvents the problem of evil's existence with the classic argument of making it a privation of the good --for Lewis hell is only a crack in the earth of heaven. In a surprisingly post-modern take, spending an eternity in hell is merely the lack of a broad enough "heavenly" perspective.

Everyone has a chance to move on up to heaven, but many prefer to stay wallowed in their own issues. The bulk of the book is devoted to the stories of different "ghosts" who, upon being extended the chance to enter Heaven, either refuse outright or refuse to enter on anything other than their own terms. Since for Lewis it impossible to enter the Kingdom without orienting oneself to the Absolute Reality, no one is denied entrance, but all in hell choose to be there. The "ghosts" represent types of moral lapse: pride in chapter four (the ghost who believes he's earned salvation on his own merits), apostasy in chapter 5 (which for Lewis is epitomized by the liberal theology of the Episcopal Church), apathy in chapter 7 (coupled with cynicism), self-preoccupation in chapter 8 (the embarrassed/ashamed woman), obsession ("mother love" gone awry) and lust in chapter 11, and finally --the greatest sin of all-- holding the joy of another hostage to your own misery (epitomized by a man who could not appreciate his wife) in chapter 12.

Of the moral sketches that make up the meat of the story, the three that moved me the most were, not surprisingly, issues in which I could see myself and my own struggle. In two of these cases (for me, lust and not appreciating my wife enough) I felt that Lewis' insights were jarringly accurate. However, for the third issue of apostasy epitomized by liberal theology I think Lewis thoroughly misses the mark in an attempt to score some easy points. If it is really true that folks see least clearly and strike most fervently against those in whom they see their own undesirable traits mirrored, I can't help but wonder what this says about Lewis.

First, a quibble over terminology. An apostate is one who repudiates the faith --something Lewis' liberal theologian ghost does not do. Even if we grant Lewis' version of what the faith actually is, his liberal ghost would not be an apostate, but merely a heretic, which is one who claims to hold onto the faith while simultaneously believing things contrary to it. I used to listen to a pastor who commonly referred to the Episcopal Church (and by extension all mainline denominations) as "the apostate church." Now I can see that it was clearly a reference to "the Episcopal ghost" in The Great Divorce --inaccurate as the apostate label in this instance may be.

Secondly, Lewis paints the Episcopal ghost as a liberal whose liberal views serve only to self-aggrandize. Even when confronted with incontrovertible evidence, holding onto liberal views are more important than the truth. As one with liberal leanings myself, I can personally attest that this is a straw man. If I could be shown that the universe is really as Lewis says it is in The Great Divorce, I'd gladly amend my views to match. I'm on a search for truth, and to the extent that my views are liberal or unorthodox only reflects that I am willing to be open to the direction the Spirit blows me. Any other view makes an idol out of orthodoxy that's put in place of the living God.

PUBLISHER: Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0060652950; (February 5, 2001) Originally published in 1946.

Encountering Jung

| 3.10.02
Encountering Jung: Jung on Christianity, edited by Murray Stein

Encountering Jung: Jung on Christianity, edited by Murray Stein, is a handy collection of primary sources --Carl Gustav Jung's own writings on Christianity as it relates to his psychoanalytical theories. The main works excerpted here are Aion, Answer to Job, and various pieces of correspondence that deal with Christian subjects in response to current popular and psychological issues of his day. The content is arranged under three categories: Jung's relationship to Christianity, Jung's psychological approach to Christian doctrine, and Jung's interpretation of Christian history and its future.

Jung's relationship to Christianity is an interesting one. Despite his father's occupation as a Reformed minister, Jung was never convinced or compelled by popular or orthodox views of the Christian faith. In one of the early excerpts Jung writes of his frustration with the lack of connection with the Divine at first communion, and his early conviction that his father, and church theology in general didn't answer the questions he was asking about God. Jung sought a more direct union with God than he experienced through church ritual and the sacraments. Simultaneously, he experienced deeply disturbing dreams and other images during childhood and early adulthood that he was certain would be found blasphemous when compared to popular notions of God.

Jung's approach to Christian doctrine was primarily one of seeing the evolution of doctrine as a response to the evolution of the collective unconscious. In this part of his writings, Jung shows us how symbols of the unconscious --the mandala, the shadow, and other archetypes are mirrored in the Bible, Gnostic writings, and other myths. Breathtakingly well read on very diverse religious materials, Jung draws from this wealth to show that the collective unconscious is universal and cross cultural, and that all the major religious traditions draw from this material in their depiction of the Self, the Divine, and the world.

Jung's take on the future of Christianity paints a rather dim view of Protestantism, and a more optimistic view of Catholicism. This surprised me, given Jung's background as a protestant. Jung was impressed by Catholicism's ability to create and perpetuate new dogma (like the Assumption of Mary dogma formulated in the 1950s) as a sign of its continuing relevance to everyday people (and to the continuing evolution of the collective unconscious.) His disgust with Protestantism was perhaps most striking in his criticisms of Rudolff Bultman, whose de-mythologizing of the biblical text Jung saw as excising precisely the most meaningful part of the Scriptures from a psychoanalytical point of view. More broadly, however, Jung felt that Protestantism was too rational and not mystical enough.

My interest in Jung is somewhat related to Bultman. While I find Bultman's (and others') critiques of the mythological aspects of the Bible compelling, I also want a way to make use of the myth in a spiritually edifying way. My hope was that Jung would provide a credible framework on a rational basis to do this. And there are very difficult passages of Scripture that make a lot of sense when read through a Jungian filter, as well as glimmers of Jungian concepts shot through the gospel of John, Job, and the Psalms, just to name a few books.

However, I still feel that I don't have a very good handle on Jung, even after reading him directly. Perhaps Encountering Jung --while very interesting reading-- was too direct for an initial encounter. I walked away from the text impressed by how well-read Jung was in the classics, the early Church Fathers, apocryphal Christian writings, etc, but feeling like I hadn't really comprehended the totality of what he's saying. Even after searching the web for a number of links providing introductory material on Jung, I'm still waiting for the work that brilliantly sums up Jung's contribution to psychology, how its reflected in Christianity, and how it can be useful to Christian spirituality.

PUBLISHER: Princeton Univ Press; ISBN: 0691006970; (September 22, 1999)

The Minority Report

| 2.9.02
The Minority Report, By Phillip K. Dick

I'm probably one of the few (but growing) number who saw the movie and was then inspired to read the short story. This review will focus on the differences between the movie and the short story, and how this is one of those pieces (like Planet of the Apes and Contact) that is actually improved when translated from story to movie form.

As far as the basic plot-line goes, the two works are the same. Both feature John Anderton, head of Precrime --a futuristic police department that is able to arrest and incarcerate murderers before they strike through the use of genetically mutated telepathic humans. Public acceptance and trust of the Precrime department hinges on believing the idea that the future is fixed, and knowledge of it would not change the present. Otherwise, since no actual crime has been committed, the idea of jailing those who "offend" becomes repugnant. Anderton accepts this premise --until he finds himself accused of committing the murder of a stranger he's never even met and can't conceive of killing. He flees in order to prove his innocence by demonstrating that he won't kill his intended victim --but in both the movie and the short story the issue of free will is skillfully treated but never conclusively resolved.

As a tale written in 1954, the short story sports such inconsistencies as a future where radio is still the main way people get their news and entertainment, and smoking in the office is commonplace. The "high tech" computers used to analyze precognitive visions sport tape drives and punch cards in the original. Meanwhile, interstellar travel is commonplace. As a fan of "classic" sci-fi, I enjoy these kind of anachronisms, but they may be off-putting to most readers. It just goes to show how hard it is write something in the SF genre that will withstand the passage of time.

While the movie uses nice special effects and compellingly updates these minor issues, it also introduces the currently relevant issues of privacy in the high-tech age, and the post-911 issue of how government's interest in security is to be balanced with civil liberties for the individual. I found the high-tech future depicted to be chilling and tantalizing at the same time. The virtual reality, holographic computer displays and ultra-thin computing devices looked oh-so-much-fun! On the other hand, advertising that is able to determine your identity based on retina scan and call you by name sounded very annoying, and the ability of the state to track your location and transactions in minute detail made the future presented sound like a safe, but repressive alternative to our own present.

PUBLISHER: Citadel Pr; ISBN: 0806512768; (January 1992) (story originally written in 1954)

A Journal on Doubt

| 31.8.02
A Journal On Doubt, by Bennett Wade Kilpela

A Journal On Doubt, by Bennett Wade Kilpela leaves me profoundly ambivalent. While his openness allows us a sometimes touchingly intimate look into his personal demons as he struggles to make sense of his deep-seated doubt in conservative, evangelical Christianity, the longwindedness of his manifesto and the almost neurotic way in which he swings and leaps from one somewhat shallow conclusion to another left me wishing for less length and more depth. This work could definitely use a good editor who's willing to cut chapters and pages of repetitive entries, distilling and highlighting some of the truly moving moments of self-discovery within the text.

If you're looking for first-person narratives by people leaving Christian fundamentalism behind, there are much more well-written stories out there. (One that comes to mind is http://www.theheretic.com, which unfortunately is no longer online.) What drew me to Kilpela's story, however (and what kept me reading) was that he and I share a common background and a common struggle, although we've dealt with it in different ways.

Both Kilpela and I were raised in the ultra-conservative, pietist sect called the Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, and both of us left it for greener pastures shortly after confirmation. Both of us have struggled with extreme cases of doubt in the childhood version of the faith, trying to reconcile it with what we perceive as its deficiencies, brought to light by the modern worldview. While this seems very typical in the stories I've read online of people who've left fundamentalism, I think that it reveals a great strength and a great weakness in fundamentalism in general --it is able to inspire deep feelings of loyalty and commitment, but also creates a great sense of cognitive dissonance when confronted with compelling contradictory truths from the outside world.

What makes Kilpela's story unique is his unwillingness to ever make a complete break with the basic fundamentalist propositions he was raised with. While I actually self-identified as an atheist for awhile before having the existential spiritual experience that reconnected me with the Christian faith in a liberal-leaning, post-modern way, Kilpela hangs on by the edge of his fingernails, though despair, depression, divorce, bankruptcy, and more. While he doubts aplenty, Kilpela never repudiates --he's too afraid of hell-fire to do so. Thus his eventual transformation is lesser than it might have been had he actually hit rock bottom in terms of the inadequacy of his prior formulation of Christianity.

The bottom line of Kilpela's story is this: before his period of doubt he demanded nothing less than a religious formulation that was totally unassailable by any logical argument. Now he's willing to accept that no position is air-tight, and calls a truce with ambiguity by making a "bet" on what "makes sense" to him. This "modified Pascal's wager," while not eliminating Kilpela's doubts, makes them more manageable and easier to deal with.

WEBSITE: A Journal On Doubt, by Bennett Wade Kilpela http://www.msu.edu/user/kilpela/doubtpref.htm

The Devil

| 28.8.02
The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, by Jeffery Burton Russell

This volume is merely the first of four works that deal with constructions of the devil through history. I haven't yet read the other three (Satan: The Early Christian Tradition, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages, and Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World), but if the subsequent volumes are anywhere near as interesting and insightful as the first, I have much to look forward to in the other volumes as well.

The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity takes a cross cultural look at how evil spirits (termed generically "the devil") have been perceived by various cultures in the ancient world, including early Christianity. Russell's main thesis is that constructions of the devil, like constructions of the god, follow a Jungian pattern of undifferentiated ambivalence, differentiation, unhealthy repression, and healthy suppression.

Simply put, Russell explains Jung's version of the psyche as follows: In children, according to Jung, there is no concept of right and wrong. Good and evil deeds are done with equal abandon. Later, as the child grows to adulthood, concepts of good and evil begin to differentiate themselves. At first the reaction is to repress the evil aspects of the personality (in essence, when tempted to do evil, the response is to say, "I don't do that because I'm not the type of person who would do such a thing.") This is unhealthy because by denying the urge toward evil the pressure just builds up in the individual over time, and can possibly be released dangerously and uncontrollably, to the detriment of both the individual and society. The answer: acknowledgment of the evil nature, and then the conscious suppression of evil inclinations. According to Jung and Russell this is more healthy than Freudian repression because it honestly admits that all people are capable of great good and great evil, but that through a conscious determination evil can be avoided and good chosen.

Russell sees this model in many ancient religions and texts, including early Christianity and the Old Testament. Drawing mostly upon the depiction of God in the books of Job and Exodus, Russell brings the darker side of God to light, arguing that in this early stage Yahweh is morally undifferentiated or "beyond good and evil." Only in the later stages (I suppose in later books in the series dealing with the New Testament) does good and evil --God and the Devil-- separate into two separate entities.

PUBLISHER: Cornell Univ Pr; ISBN: 0801494095; 1977.


| 23.8.02
Treason, by Orson Scott Card

While it isn't my favorite vein of work by Card, (that honor is split evenly between the Speaker for the Dead series and the Tales of Alvin Maker) Treason nonetheless brings us a striking example of both the author's excellent writing style and his originality.

In general, what has always been wonderful about Orson Scott Card is his originality, and his ability to tell a gripping story. I normally detest fantasy, because so much of it seems to be merely a retelling of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Conversely, I love science fiction, but my one constant critique of it is that it assumes a purely materialistic universe and seldom addresses spiritual or moral issues. Card is a master of integration in this respect, combining science fiction and fantasy as well as ethical and religious issues. Alvin Maker and Speaker for the Dead accomplish this the best, but Treason is still worth reading.

The major premise of the novel is that 3000 years ago an elite group of scientists and revolutionaries were banished to the metalless planet Treason as punishment for rebelling against the old Republic. As the generations progress, each of the abandoned members of the original group create a society based on his or her area of scientific expertise. The goal: to create trade goods of sufficient value to buy enough off-planet metal to build a starship and escape the planet.

The plot focuses upon a young aristocrat named Lanik Mueller who is disinherited from his father's throne and banished to distant lands. His society possesses the amazing ability to heal from any wound and regenerate lost body parts. He is exiled because of a genetic disorder in which he uncontrollably sprouts excess body parts. He can return when he has successfully divined the secret source of wealth of an enemy tribe, but in the process learns other secrets and befalls many adventures that make for interesting reading. Through the novel we see Lanik mature from impetuous youth into mature adult. Concurrently, Lanik must do battle with the forces of evil both within and outside of himself in order for a horrible secret truth to be revealed --an ending that comes as a shock, yet is strangely satisfying.

PUBLISHER: St Martins Mass Market Paper; ASIN: 0312921098; Reissue edition (April 1990)


| 18.8.02
'A Princess of Mars,' 'The Gods of Mars,' 'Warlord of Mars,' 'Thuvia, Maid of Mars,' and 'The Chessmen of Mars,' by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs' science fiction classic "Mars" series (including A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, Warlord of Mars, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, and The Chessmen of Mars) marked my initiation into three different yet equally satisfying worlds. It was my first exposure to Project Gutenburg. Secondly, it was the first time I had used my Palm Pilot to read an entire novel. Thirdly, it was my first and only exposure to any of Edgar Rice Burroughs original works.

For those not familiar with Project Gutenburg, its goal is to put full-text copies of literature on-line for people to freely download, read, and distribute. Since only materials whose copyright has expired are eligible for this treatment, you won't find any recent bestsellers here. However, there are still thousands of the classics available, from Mark Twain to William Shakespeare to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I'd been aware of these "e-texts" for quite some time, but had never been very interested in them, primarily because when I read a book I don't want to be chained to my PC, and hence my desk. Moreover, with paperbacks cheap, easy to use, and small in size, why purchase one of those expensive, clunky electronic book devices? If I'm going to have to lug around an expensive device just to read books, I might as well just lug around the book itself.

Enter the Palm Pilot. I bought it primarily as a way to check E-mail when away from home, and as a way to keep all my information organized. Because of its small size (roughly the size of your wallet) and long battery life (with the backlit screen on I get about one weeks worth of use out of two AAA batteries; with it off the batteries only need changing once a month) it has become an indispensible part of my daily routine, and my constant front pocket companion. Since it is always with me, and it performs all these other indispensible functions, using it to read books (and thus saving me the trouble of carrying the books with me) is just the icing on the cake.

That said, on to the review. Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Mars" series is great fun for anyone interested in a fast-paced romp of an adventure tale. All the stories feature John Carter, a southern gentleman and Civil War veteran who mysteriously finds himself transported to the Red Planet Mars --known to its inhabitants as Barsoom. There Carter's physical strength and mental prowess (as well as his warrior skills) are put to the test as he must slash and hack his way to freedom, both for himself and for the beautiful Princess of Mars, Dejah Thoris.

I found the series wildly entertaining, despite the Victorian writing style and first person narrative. Part of the series' charm is the breathtaking detail and care with which Burroughs paints us the portrait of the Martian landscape, its peoples, and their cultures. It is truly a tale of epic proportions --I hope I don't sound too cliche when I say that.

One thing that surprised me was the amount of violence and sexual innuendo. I guess I had subconsciously bought into the conventional wisdom that things were much more innocent in "the olden days." I always thought that it was just our generation that enjoyed such blood and gore. While not quite as explicit in the details as today's action movies, these classics nonetheless have more than their share of slaughter. The hero, John Carter, literally hacks and slashes his way across the moss covered hills and plains of Mars to find and rescue his beautiful red princess, Dejah Thoris. While sex is never explicitly mentioned, chivalry and romance abound. Coupled with the fact that everyone on Burrough's Mars waltzes around without wearing any clothing, the story is not only charged with violence but exudes a latent and primal sexuality as well.

The entire series are available for download below. I highly recommend them as entertaining reading on both the Palm Pilot, and in their own right.

The 'Mars' Series, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

PUBLISHER: Project Gutenberg; 1911-1941

Finding Myself

| 15.8.02
'Finding Myself', by Brenda Cooper and Larry Niven

'Finding Myself', by Brenda Cooper and Larry Niven (which appeared in the June 2002 issue of Analog), is actually the continuation of a storyline first developed in the January 2002 issue short story 'Choosing Life' which traces the post-mortem survival of the protagonist, Christa, who dies but whose memories and personality are saved into a virtual reality computer generated afterlife to exist indefinately with like-minded cybersouls. While 'Choosing Life' does set the stage, quite frankly I found it rather unremarkable, and only remembered it after enjoying the thought-provoking questions raised by 'Finding Myself.'

The main story line in 'Finding Myself' is simple --someone in the world of the living has restored a backup copy of Christa's persona for nefarious purposes. Since the laws that regulate this cyber-heaven prohibit two of the same person being active at the same time (upon pain of permanent erasure of both copies!) Christa enlists the help of a hacker cyber-friend to track down the 'Rogue Christa' as well as the flesh and blood perp.

Eventually Christa does find her other self, the criminal is brought to justice, and the issue of the two Christa's is resolved satisfactorally. However, the most interesting thing about the story is the questions it raises about individualism and identity. What makes 'me' me? If there was an exact copy of me walking around, but exposed to a slightly different environment, how long would it be before we become two distinct individuals? Are we merely the sum of our memories? What if getting rid of a bad memory was as simple as deleting a file?

While the technology to save souls on to a hard drive is a long way off, Cooper and Niven's vision of personas existing after death in an ideal and actualized state reminded me a lot of today's internet. The web is increasingly becoming a domain in which we can reach out and connect with other people who share a common interest but may be halfway across the globe, or of a different age, sex, or race. I sometimes think of this ability to interact through bytes and photons as akin to an extra sense, and the net as another layer of reality superimposed upon the so-called 'real world.' Maybe this small sense of transcendance through technology has fired my imagination enough to make eternal life via hard disk seem plausible.

PUBLISHER: Analog Science Fiction and Fact (Astounding); Dell Publishers; ISSN: 10592113 (January 2002 and June 2002)

Beyond Born Again

| 23.7.02
Beyond Born Again: Towards Evangelical Maturity, by Robert M. Price

In Beyond Born Again Robert Price --former evangelical active in Apologetics turned Jesus Seminar member-- uses those sharply honed skills to critique the glaring lack of intellectual rigorism found among the leading and most widely read evangelical apologists. Although a sometimes cumbersome read because of the sheer number of quotes brought in, Price has produced an excellent description of evangelicalism that avoids the pitfalls of over-generalization and straw-man arguments while exposing inconsistencies within evangelicalism, its tendency towards totalism, and blindness to anything beyond its own categories.

Published in 1993 by Hypatia Press, the book is also available on-line in its entirety at Essene.com. It's a rare treat to be able to review something this contemporary and relevant, yet also available to the public for free --only a mouse-click away.

In the first of three main sections, Price divides evangelicalism into two main groups --the "hard line evangelical" and the "soft line evangelical." Hardliners are those evangelicals for whom "all answers to life's puzzles are strictly religious or spiritual in nature and are directly derivable from personal commitment to Christ and accompanying devotional disciplines. Furthermore, all necessary information for this is in the Bible. The result is a purely religious view of the world and the self which does full justice to neither." Authors indicative of the evangelical hard line include Bill Gothard, Merlin Carothers, Peter Gilquist, and Tim LaHaye. Softliners, on the other hand, are a less extreme form of the hard line faith --but still derived from it. "Here, religious commitment is still given fundamental importance in life, but it is also recognized that even the Born Again Christian is subject to problems and solutions that are not especially spiritual in origin or nature. Accordingly, the Bible is not seen to have the answer to everything. One may also look to and trust other sources. The consequent worldview attributes both significant value and independent reality to the world and the self in their own right." Some notable soft line evangelicals include Bruce Larson, Keither Miller, and Ruth Carter Stapleton. Price considers the soft line attitude a lot more psychologically healthy than the hard line attitude, but ironically pans the soft-line as being inconsistent because it pays lip service to the hard-line idea of a unique and sufficient Bible while at the same time finding many of life's answers elsewhere.

In part two, Price examines the arguments and arguing styles of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict and C.S. Lewis' famous "trilemma" argument (among others), accusing both of assuming their conclusions and not looking deeply enough at other possibilities and contrary evidence. Cutting to the heart of the apologists' arguments, Price claims that they all serve as "cognitive dissonance reduction" strategies, aimed at preserving the credibility of a unique inerrant Bible and the hard relgious line. Interestingly, Price makes the distinction that he is not arguing against the possibility of an inerrant Bible, but arguing that the arguments of the evangelical apologists fall apart under scrutiny and additional evidence, which he lays out side-by-side with the apologists' shallow treatments.

Part three discusses the future of evangelicalism as a mature faith. For Price, an evangelicalism that is mature is a post-modern evangelicalism that has dispensed with fundamentalist assumptions as its baseline expression while still remaining in recognizable continuity with its past. Quoting the stylistic definition of evangelicalism put forth by Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary, Price suggests that the distinctive features of evangelicalism are "a message... that must be verbally articulated to those who do not profess Jesus Christ as Lord; an emphasis on the need for a 'personal relationship' with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of one's life; a set of basic attitudes towards the Holy Scriptures, which are typified by certain devotional patterns and regularly references in Christian discussion to what 'the Bible says.' Price argues that within these distinctives any theological content can be successfully inserted, giving evangelicalism a broader base from which to successfully dialogue with other traditions, and more flexibility to change its theological model as the need arises.

Interestingly, since 1993 some movement has been seen in this direction. Price's former mentor, Clark Pinnock, has advocated "Open Theism," an evangelical version of Process Theology in which it is proposed that God's knowledge of the future is self-limited in order to make room for human choice and action. Although in 2001 the Evangelical Theological Society voted to censure Open Theism as a non-evangelical option, its proposal may be an indication that evangelicalism is willing to start looking beyond fundamentalism for its definitive paradigm.

Beyond Born Again at Essene.com
Beyond Born Again at Infidels.org

PUBLISHER: Hypatia Press; ISBN: 0940841983; (1993)

In Search of Lake Wobegone

| 9.7.02
In Search of Lake Wobegone, by Richard Olsenius (photographs) and Garrison Keillor (text)

I've listened to A Prarie Home Companion since I was a boy. Because I lived in a rural area of out-state Minnesota, I felt like Garrison Keillor was telling my story, and I readily identified with the folks in Lake Wobegon.

The "gimmick" for this book is that the location of Lake Wobegone (something kept hidden in Keillor's radio monologues) is finally made known. According to Keillor, the more compelling a story is, the more people want it to be true or be based in true events. In that light, he "started telling people that the town is in central Minnesota, near Stearns County, up around Holdingford, not far from St. Rosa and Albany and Freeport, northwest of St. Cloud, which is sort of the truth, I guess." (p. 12)

The black and white photos which grace this coffee table book will depict very familiar scenes to anyone who has lived in or near a small midwestern town. High school prom, barren winter landscapes, grain elevators, old men drinking in darkly lit taverns --they're all captured by Richard Olsenius' practiced hand. A photographer with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the photos are culled from an on-going assignment he had to photograph Minnesota for the paper when news was slow.

These photos are all from towns in Stearns County, but they really could have been taken anywhere in the rural upper-midwest. Many of the people and places looked like they walked right out of my own childhood in Perham, Minnesota. (A community even more Wobegonian than Stearns County, since unlike Stearns, Perham really does have a mix of German Lutherans and German Catholics and is situated near many beautiful lakes.)

As one who moved away from rural Minnesota for college, left the Upper Midwest for grad school, and lived in the South for five years before finally moving back to Saint Paul to raise a family, I could relate to Keillor's comment explaining the appeal of Minnesota's cities for those raised in its countryside:

Minnesota is a state of decent, hardworking people, half of whom live on the expanding island that is the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, an island of lifestyle in an ocean of cornfields and soybeans, where there is good espresso and Thai food and The New York Times and a couple orchestras and a dozen theaters and movie houses that show foreign and indie flicks and Ruminator Books has about three hundred shelf-feet of poetry and you can get almost anything people in New York or Los Angeles have and yet live on a quiet tree-lined street with a backyard and send your kids to public school. (p. 15)

PUBLISHER: Viking Studio; ISBN: 0670030376; (2001)


| 8.7.02
Baptism, by Martin Marty

If you're looking for a book that settles the age old debate between those who baptize infants and adults, versus those who only baptize adults, this is not the book for you. Written from a Lutheran perspective, Baptism assumes the validity of infant baptism, while not discounting adult baptism. What the book mainly does is bring out some of the major issues concerning baptism, and especially gives useful advice to one who was baptized as an infant on how to usefully appropriate that baptism in adult life, draw meaning from it, and live a life in keeping with the baptismal promise.

Surprisingly, the book is also a critque of some of the pitfalls inherent in baptizing infants in the modern age. The introductory chapter contains two fascinating and contrasting sketches of a baptism cermony. The first is drawn from Tertullian's writings, and depicts a secret ceremony fraught with superstition, performed on adults during Christianity's first century. The second is a christening of a baby boy that could have taken place in any Lutheran, Episcopal, or Catholic congregation today. Mundane, and boring, it's something to "have done" to be "on the safe side."

Drawing on the Bible, scholarship, and Luther's writings, Marty criticizes the excesses of both views while nonetheless affirming that God can work through the worst of our intentions. Marty sketches baptism thusly:

If faith means dependence --the absence of anxiety about the morrow, the active or passive repose of one in the destiny of the Other, the security of the faltering hand inside the strong hand-- then baptismal faith has already said all there is to say. The childlike becomes the model: any faith which does not share this quality cannot matter in the kingdom of God. The humble spirit is fed on the milk of the Word, on the promise connected with the water. With advancing maturity the growth in wisdom and stature brings about crises and quests for new understanding. It is the apparent contradiction within faith --at once already complete and yet in need of fulfillment --that forces evangelical Christians to speak in somewhat circular fashion. (p. 46)

I was looking for something a bit different. As one raised in the tradition of infant baptism, and as one who palpably and intuitively feels that it discloses God's grace in the most glorious way, I was looking for an author who would put what I feel into words. However, Marty goes beyond my desire by preserving something of the Mystery that surrounds this sacrament, as well as providing common-sense advice to parents and churches for making baptism more than something to be done once to an infant and dispensed with, but instead a lifelong vocation. Some of his suggestions, which I've implemented in my own family include celebrating the anniversary of the baptism. This allows us to talk about what baptism means, and how we are to live out our baptism.

PUBLISHER: Fortress Press; ISBN: 0800613171 (1977)

The God We Never Knew

| 3.7.02
The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith, by Marcus Borg

The God We Never Knew is simultaneously a fascinating account of one man's spiritual journey from one understanding of God to another and a compact, readable summary of the major trends in theological thinking from the Enlightenment through the present. Marcus Borg, a Jesus scholar and professor of Religion at Oregon State University, uses his own personal experiences as a metaphor for the changes that have taken place in biblical understanding through the centuries.

For years I have sought to resolve the conflict, or tension, in my own mind between modernism and Christianity. Because the modern scientific world view so rigorously and systematically reduces all of reality to what can be measured or observed with the physical senses, Christianity is totally deprived of reality. Yet the heart cries out for a level beyond the material; a longing for the sense that God is real and near and grants life meaning in a very personal way. I think the major reason why some Christians are so threatened by modern scientific theories such as evolution and literary/critical techniques of reading the Bible is because they fear that there is nothing real left to base faith upon when the Bible does not match reality in a very literal way. Part of the reason why I enjoyed The God We Never Knew so much is because Borg's theology is able to incorporate modernism intelligently while critiquing its tendency to reduce everything in the universe to the purely physical. By the same token he is able to view and interpret the Bible in a non-literal yet meaningful way which illustrates a close personal relationship with God that is not only possible but indeed nurturing to Christians daily, strengthening their faith.

As the title suggests, Borg compares and contrasts two different ways of looking at God. One view comprises a distant God "out there," who points his finger at humanity's failings, and demands adherence to a set of beliefs in order to gain acceptance into heaven. This view of God focuses mainly on eternal rewards for earthly deeds, and uses biblical metaphors of king and lord as the primary way of viewing God. Borg's view of God, by contrast, holds that God is close and personal, existing in us and around us as well as "out there," is accepting and nurturing, and focuses on relational rather than propositional truth. Rather than focusing on eternal rewards, Borg suggests that the kingdom of God is here and now around us, and can be visible, if we are willing to look through spiritual eyes.

Surprisingly (for a book primarily about theology) Borg looks cross-culturally to find a number of useful techniques for enhancing one's sense of God being present in personal way to each believer. Borg gives each traditional notion of worship, prayer, and evangelism a helpful tweak when he recommends "sounds in creating an opening to the sacred", "talking to God", and "the dream of God", respectively. According to Borg, spiritual senses need to be practiced and developed because we are used to thinking purely in terms of our physical senses and material reality.

The only glaring critique I have of Borg's book is that it tends to oversimplify the broad range of Christian understanding existing both today and throughout history. Because he uses the Lutheranism of his childhood as the metaphor for a traditional understanding of Christianity, he builds a false dualism--an "either/or" scenario in which it feels like Borg is saying "this is the way Christianity was traditionally conceived...and this is my new conception of it." The footnotes are a helpful corrective, where it becomes apparent that there are myriad positions that can be taken in between these two views. Some passages, however, still feel like Borg is attacking a straw man. More so than in other books, I would recommend reading the footnotes (located at the end of each chapter.) All of the scriptural references are in the footnotes, and since Borg often looks at parts of the Bible that are traditionally underemphasized, you may be as surprised as I was at what is actually in the Bible. Finally, the footnotes provide additional reading sources should you be interested in a particular topic Borg mentions only briefly.

The God We Never Knew is a very useful book on many levels. If you are seeking a way to reconcile modernism and religion, or if you are seeking a readable synopsis of contemporary theology, or if you are interested in reading about one person's spiritual struggle, Borg's book will speak to you.

PUBLISHER: Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0060610352; Reprint edition (June 1998)

The Complete Gnomes

| 1.7.02
The Complete Gnomes, by Wil Nuygen (text) and Rien Poortvliet (illustrations)

I've loved gnomes for as long as I can remember. It's all because my Auntie had a book on her coffee table called Gnomes (1977) when I was a child. My family would visit her and I'd make a bee-line for the gnome book. Richly illustrated, it was packed full of details about these little creatures --enough for a youth's imagination to bring them to life.

As an adult, I'd sometimes reminisce about the gnome book. I'd look for it in bookstores, but could never find anything like it. So one year my spouse did some sleuthing, and got me The Complete Gnomes (1994), an unabridged compilation of both Gnomes and a later release by Nuygen and Poortvliet, Secrets of the Gnomes (1987), which I never even knew existed. This second section goes beyond a mere compendium of gnome facts and lore, taking the reader into the daily life of some gnomes and the authors as they share some small-scale adventures.

PUBLISHER: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; ISBN: 0810931958; (October 1994)


| 29.6.02
Superman: The Complete History, by Les Daniels

This book caught my eye when I was browsing in Barnes and Noble last week, and I ended up spending the entire evening there reading it from cover to cover. Not only is Daniels exhaustive in bringing us the twists and turns in Superman's evolution since he was first published by Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (cartoonist) in June of 1938, but he also compellingly explains why Superman has remained a popular character for over 60 years.

The real reason I picked up this book, however, is because I've been thoroughly obsessed with the new Superman television show called Smallville that came out on the WB network this year. While Superman: The Complete History is ironically incomplete in this regard (being written in 1998 it ends its chronology with the end of the ABC series Lois & Clark) it still brought to light many synergies between the lives of Superman's creators, the early comic books, and the latest incarnation.

Here are a few of the choicest bits:

Siegel and Shuster grew up in an Ohio town called Glenville. Superman grew up in Smallville.

Both Siegel and Shuster were quiet, nerdy, Clark Kent-like characters.

Joe Shuster drew cartoons for his school newspaper, the Glenville Torch. On Smallville, Chloe is the editor of the Smallville Torch. In a first-season episode she even dates a nerdy guy with super powers who draws cartoons for the paper.

Joe Shuster's hometown was Toronto, and was his inspiration for the city of Metropolis (the name Metropolis, of course, is a tribute to the 1927 silent film classic directed by Fritz Lang.)

Toronto's newspaper was called The Daily Star, and this was an early candidate for the name of the paper where Clark Kent was to work, before an editorial decision changed it to The Daily Planet.

Although Siegel and Shuster sold the first Superman cartoon (including all rights and ownership of the character) for the paltry sum of $130 in 1938, they had been developing the concept (and changing it) for years. One of the first prototypes they had was a character called "The Superman," who was an evil bald scientific genius with vast mental powers. Lex Luther, anyone?

Lex Luther was first introduced in 1940. The original Lex had curly red hair. It was a nice touch in the Smallville pilot episode that young Lex had the same curly red hair, before losing it in the meteor shower that brought Clark to Earth.

It was not until the first Superman radio show aired in 1945 that flying was established as a super-power. On Smallville, Clark Kent has not yet learned to fly.

In the original cartoon the symbol on Superman's chest doesn't look the way it does now --it was a less triangular shield with a more standard looking "S" on it. I caught a glimpse of a very similar emblem on Whitney's (Lana Lang's boyfriend) high school letter jacket in the pilot episode of Smallville. For some reason the emblem on his jacket is just an ordinary "S" in all subsequent episodes.

The actress Annette O'Toole plays Clark's mom on Smallville. In the movie Superman III, she plays Lana Lang!

Why has Superman remained such a phenomenon for so long? Les Daniels explains it in terms of our insatiable appetite for heroes. Superman is similar to the gods and heroes of ancient Greek mythology. Yet while Superman is physically and morally better than us, he chooses to live his life as the humble Clark Kent. This affirms the ordinary individual, causing us to identify with him rather than resent his superior powers. The Superman incarnated in the humble, bumbling human also taps into the imagery of the Christian story.

Great book, and a great show!

PUBLISHER: Chronicle Books; ISBN: 0811821625; (1998)

Amazing Grace

| 28.6.02
Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, by Kathleen Norris

In this well-written, interesting volume, Kathleen Norris takes the timeless words of Christian vocabulary such as grace, perfection, belief, doubt, and Bible (just to name a few) and defines them in the light of her own experience and struggle to reconnect with her faith.

Drawing on her own spiritual journey back to Christianity as an adult, Norris explains how certain words erect barriers to faith, and how imaginative re-appropriation of these words can tear the barriers down.

Each essay is very short, which makes the book easy to read in short bursts. While I also read long stretches, it's the perfect book to put on one's nightstand and read a chapter or two each night.

While I found the "definitions" in her "lexicon" interesting, the most useful thing to me was her method --the way she allowed herself the freedom to roam freely around a word, finding a way to appropriate it creatively and intelligently into her spiritual vocabulary.

PUBLISHER: Riverhead Books; ISBN: 1573227218; (February 12, 1999)

Just As I Am

| 27.6.02
Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham

Billy Graham is a man who has impressed me (both positively and negatively) for quite some time, and Just As I Am is an equally impressive treatment of his life and ministry. Overly long in parts, the book nonetheless gives a fascinating look into his ministry, family life, personal convictions, and interactions with many famous political figures. While Graham's evangelically focused message of faith and repentance may be simple, Just As I Am shows us the complexity of the man himself, and the surpassingly open-minded way in which he reacts and interacts with those who hold differing theological views than himself.

One of the things the book does best is show how Billy Graham has evolved over the years. Recounting his first meetings with a United States president, Graham candidly admits to country-bumpkin manners and overly flashy showmanship (including an impromptu prayer on the White House lawn while photographers' cameras flash) after a private audience with President Johnson. Learning from these mistakes, however, Graham proceeds to become the "pastor to the presidents," having been a personal friend of Richard Nixon and Ronald and Nancy Reagan, as well as being in amazingly close contact with presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter.

Just As I Am lays out Billy Graham's theological convictions shortly and simply as that of response to Christ's sacrifice on the cross by accepting responsibility for one's sins, recognizing Jesus as God on earth who died to pay the price for those sins, and (through God's help) a life in which one seeks a personal relationship with Jesus, giving God power and "lordship" and attempting to live according to God's will. This is the process that Graham believes Jesus teaches in the New Testament as being "born again." It is the type of conversion experience that Graham experienced personally as a teenager, and is fairly standard evangelical theology.

While his theology may be evangelically orthodox, however, Graham was not and is not a standard evangelical. While so much of evangelical Christianity today has gravitated towards a right-wing political agenda, Graham has been painstaking about not becoming involved in partisan politics. Although raised a Southern Democrat, and despite his deep personal friendship with Richard Nixon, Graham has explicitly refused to publicly endorse any presidential or any other political candidates, recognizing that there are sincere Christians in both major political parties. This is an attitude I think many evangelical and fundamentalist leaders would do well to adopt today, where political powder kegs such as abortion and school prayer become de facto litmus tests for acceptance in some churches, and partisan jokes and comments are commonly preached from the pulpit. Graham recognizes these attitudes as diluting the effect of the gospel message that he has devoted his life to preaching.

Another area in which Graham deviated from the conventional thought of his heyday was the issue of segregation. Believing that such racist attitudes were contrary to the Bible, Graham insisted on non-segregated seating for Crusades, and actually refused to bring his organization to South Africa because of the apartheid government there, long before such sanctions were fashionable. This alienated him from more socially conservative Christians, as well as opening the issue with more liberal groups because he didn't get directly involved in the civil rights movement of the 60s.

The cord that ties all these views together is Graham's understanding of the Bible. The main theme that runs through Just As I Am is Graham's willingness to confront any obstacle, use any technology, and sacrifice as needed in order to spread his understanding of the Christian Gospel. To Graham the gospel message is paramount, and where evangelical mores or fundamentalist norms hindered the clear articulation of that message, he innovated. Graham recognized that times change, cultures change, and preaching techniques change as circumstances warrant. However, to Graham the gospel message is timeless and personal. Graham is always quick to say that he has accomplished nothing without the support and prayers of family and friends, and has done nothing but be a willing servant of God. While containing some regrets and counting the cost of being an itinerant evangelist; on the road most of the time and away from his family, Just As I Am is generally just that; a down to earth account of an extraordinary man and what he has accomplished.

PUBLISHER: HarperCollins; ISBN: 0061010839; (March 1998)

Pilgrims in Their Own Land

| 26.6.02
Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion In America, by Martin E. Marty

In the most general sense, this book is an excellent resource for those looking for a survey of American religious history. Starting with a brief overview of tribal rites performed by early native Americans prior to Columbus' arrival, the book takes a panoramic view through the centuries. Catholicism, Judaism, and the myriad forms of Protestant Christianity are covered as well as the major forms of Eastern thought as they relate to the United States context.

Martin Marty's thesis ties the book together, stipulating that even since early periods in its history the United States has taken a unique market place approach to religion. Unlike the relatively homogeneous states of the European past, in the American setting a wide variety of religious expression has been available since the beginning, and the average citizen has been able to pick and choose from a number of faiths competing for believers. Major revivals in the American Christian tradition, far from being ecumenical, often degenerated into sects competing for the new converts shortly after the tent-poles of the camp meeting were disassembled. This unique past, according to Marty, tends to make the average American more apt to "shop around," crossing denominational lines to find a church that best suits his or her needs, instead of remaining in the faith of the family or the community.

Pilgrims in Their Own Land does an excellent job of focusing in on the details of religious leaders and movements. Marty was able to encapsulate the details of relatively minor figures such as John Humphrey Noyes, or sects such as the Quakers in just a few pages, leaving plenty of room for breadth in this well-penned tome. Definitely a must-have reference source for anyone serious about learning United States religious history, the book's footnotes and bibliography also provide a great reading list for learning more about any particular segment of the past that interests the reader. I've already bought three more books after reading this one, specifically because Pilgrims In Their Own Land peaked my interest.

PUBLISHER: Penguin USA (Paper); ISBN: 0140082689; Reprint edition (August 1985)

Title Index

| 2.5.02

'A Gay Bishop is Faithful', by John P. Streit, Jr.
A Journal On Doubt, by Bennett Wade Kilpela
Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary Of Faith, by Kathleen Norris
The Anglican Vision, by James E. Griffiss
'The Apostle Paul On Sexuality', by Neil Elliot


Baptism, by Martin Marty
Because I Love You, by Max Lucado
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
Beyond Born Again: Towards Evangelical Maturity, by Robert M. Price
The BFG, by Roald Dahl
The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura


Cathedral of Saint Paul: Living the Mission of the Church, Mary Cabrini Durkin, editor
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
Christopher: The Holy Giant, by Tomie dePaola
Columbus: The Great Adventure, by Paolo Emilio Taviani
Common Sense for a New Century, by Howard Dean
The Complete Gnomes, by Wil Nuygen (text) and Rien Poortvliet (illustrations)
The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, by Kirkpatrick Sale
Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back, by Frank Schaeffer


The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, by Jeffery Burton Russell
The Diario of Christopher Columbus’s first Voyage to America: 1492-1493, Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr., trans. Abstracted by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas.
Diary of Samuel Sewall, edited by Harvey Wish
'Dibs', by Brian Plante
The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ, by Rowan Williams


Encountering Jung: Jung on Christianity, edited by Murray Stein


'Finding Myself', by Brenda Cooper and Larry Niven
The First Step Bible, by Mack Thomas (Illustrated by Joe Stites)


Gilead: A Novel, by Marilynne Robinson
God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, by Jim Wallis
The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith, by Marcus Borg
'Good Grief: An Undertaker's Reflections,' by Thomas Lynch
Grace @ Work, third edition. Ellie Byrd, editor.
The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis


'Hang Six', by Gregg Easterbrook
The Harp and the Shadow: A Novel, by Alejo Carpentier
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
Hear the Difference? by Robert Hansen
The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, by Marcus J. Borg


'I feel sorry for Jesus', by Naomi Shihab Nye
If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland
In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the first Voyage, by David P. Henige
In Search of Lake Wobegone, by Richard Olsenius (photographs) and Garrison Keillor (text)
'In the Loop', by Brian Plante


The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, by Merrill D. Peterson
Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham


'Lavender In Love', by Brian Plante
Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech


Making Sense: Philosophy in the Headlines, by Julian Baggini
The Man Who Folded Himself, by David Gerrold
The 'Mars' Series, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man, (vol 1), by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man, (vol 2), by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvels, by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross
The Minority Report, By Phillip K. Dick
Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John, by John A. Sanford


'Not A Drop To Drink,' by Grey Rollins


Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel, by Thomas Keating
Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, by Jimmy Carter


Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler
Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler
Passion for Peace: The Social Essays, by Thomas Merton
Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion In America, by Martin Marty
Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott
Popular Music from Vittula: a novel, by Mikael Niemi
The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America: 1735-1789, by Brooke Hindle


Rachel and Leah: Women of Genesis, by Orson Scott Card
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally, by Marcus J. Borg
Rebekah: Women of Genesis, by Orson Scott Card
Reflections on General Convention 2003, by Tomte
'The Reinvented Church: Styles and Strategies,' by Donald E. Miller
'Restoring a Damaged Faith' by Mary Tuomi Hammond
Road to Perdition, written by Max Allan Collins; art by Richard Piers Ravner


Sarah: Women of Genesis, by Orson Scott Card
'The Software Soul', by Brian Plante
Soul Sex: Tantra for Two, by Pala Copeland and Al Link
Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, adapted by Henry Gilroy (based on screenplay by George Lucas), art by Rodolfo DaMaggio.
'Stories to Live By: Reading the Bible in the new millennium,' by Ched Myers
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman
'The Strange Redemption of Sister Mary Ann,' by Mike Moscoe
Superman for all Seasons, by Jeph Loeb (writer) and Tim Sale (artist)
Superman: The Complete History, by Les Daniels


'Talking with the enemy', by L. Gregory Jones
Things Not Seen, by Andrew Clements
'Third Corinthians', by Michael F. Flynn
The Tomten and the Fox, by Astrid Lindgren
Treason, by Orson Scott Card


Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Welcome to the Episcopal Church: An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship, by Christopher L. Webber
'What Paul Really Said About Women', by John T. Bristow
What Rough Beast: Images of God in the Hebrew Bible, by David Penchansky
The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to Saint John of the Cross, by Rowan Williams


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