Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dark World: From the New World

(The story begins here.)

Dr. Fleming smiled at Darren’s bewilderment. “It isn’t magic, you know,” he whispered as he indicated Lassiter’s strange conveyance. “It’s controlled by radio or sound, and there’s a metal strip on the floor that probably powers and even guides it.”

“I am not a benighted heathen, Victor, but thanks for the explanation anyway. It just seems rather cold and mechanical compared to being borne along by one’s fellow men.”

“A modern hospital room is cold and mechanical compared to a witch doctor’s hut.”

An open door and the view through it interrupted the debate. A man with dark, shoulder-length hair sat at what Darren first took to be an organ. An image flashed through his imagination: Captain Nemo sitting at his organ following the destruction of the mysterious warship. Darren could not understand why that image; he could find no trace of the the overwrought, vengeful submariner’s pathos.

But Karel Dvorak turned to face them, and the image vanished, especially as Darren saw that it was not an organ at all, but some strange collection of keys or levers of unknown purpose. “You appear startled, sir,” Dvorak stated.

“I thought for a moment you were an organist, sir,” Darren replied.

Dvorak chuckled. “I can see how one could think so. I am not a musician, though I suppose you could say I am a composer. A composer of music might produce a symphony; the symphony I produce here is from the new world that my keyboard, here, makes possible. This device shall someday be famous along with me.” His gaze moved to Dr. Fleming. “Your patient’s vital signs are quite normal. Indeed, the only irregularity I find is that he has remained unconscious. The ride is scarcely lulling.”

“Mr. Lassiter is a man of many hidden irregularities. This, meanwhile, is Mr. Darren Christopher, who has some tedious irregularities of his own. Darren, Dr. Karel Dvorak.”

The two men bowed slightly in acknowledgement, and Darren said, “I take it that this device of yours is medical in nature?”

Dvorak chuckled again. “It is universal in nature, as is my own work. I meant what I said about creating a new world. If I survive long enough, I intend to usher in what the bumbling Soviet and German fools promise: a true technocratic paradise, free of the divisions that threaten the Czechoslovak Republic and the rest of the world.”

“Pardon me if I find that terrifying.”

“You aren’t alone. They are afraid that I shall succeed where they are doomed to fail; that’s why they are determined to kill me—that and the services I rendered to Masaryk’s intelligence efforts during the Great War. Some Germans still hold a grudge about that period.”

“But still, any technocracy is only as good as the supposed experts who tell everyone else what to do. Why are your experts better than the others?”

“Because my expert harnesses the inexorable, inevitable accuracy of the machine,” Dvorak answered, indicating his keyboard.

Next installment: Keeper of the Keyboard

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dark World: Dvorak Manor

[In an attempt to get back on schedule somewhat, I'll post a few chapters (sections, whatever) of Dark World to get the "Dvorak Manor" arc going; then I'll do some reviews and such. I'd rather not do even a Christian horror tale going into a holy day.]

(The story begins here.)

“It’s a castle,” Darren murmured, gazing at Dvorak Manor. “What did he do, bring it over from Europe?”

“No, it’s all American stone,” Victor replied. “When Karel Dvorak adopts a country, he doesn’t look back.” He guided the car expertly through a minor labyrinth that separated the drive from the main complex of castle and outbuildings.

“I see what you meant about paranoia. No one can get in or out quickly without knowing the route well. I take it you’ve been here often?”

“A few times. I automatically map places I visit.” The doctor parked the car and got out. “Keep your hands in sight and make no sudden moves.”

Darren joined the doctor and stood by the car for nearly a minute before seeing any sign of life from the manor. Then a tall, muscular man with close-cropped blond hair emerged from a doorway. He approached swiftly and silently with a military gait. Only when he stood before them did he speak.

“Dr. Fleming, the master greets you and enquires about your mission and your friends.”

“The man in the car is a patient—and rather a curious case. This is Mr. Darren Christopher, also a curious case, but more annoying than problematic. Darren, this is Antonin Čapek, Dvorak’s assistant and aspiring automaton.”

The man’s face remained impassive; if he had a sense of humor, it was carefully stored somewhere far away. “Is the patient dangerous?”

“He can be extremely dangerous, and so can some other people involved with him—whether friends or enemies, I do not know. I would suggest restraining him.”

“The master will not appreciate incurring an added risk.”

“I didn’t appreciate it either, but I need a safe place to work, and this is the safest I know.”

“It is the most imperiled,” Antonin stated. But he fetched an odd contrivance that made Darren think of a sarcophagus on wheels. When he had brought it to the car, he opened it and, with Darren’s and the doctor’s help, placed Lassiter inside.

The machine now reminded Darren of an iron lung, and he was startled when it moved off by itself into the recesses of the manor. Antonin followed it, and Darren and Dr. Fleming brought up the rear. After they entered, a heavy door shut and locked behind them.

Next: From the New World

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Return of the Judaizers

The recent comment about Jesus' so-called original teaching is a matter for concern, though I'd rather not spend much time on it just now. C. S. Lewis said that human nature is constantly moving from one extreme to the other, and having spent far too long despising anything Jewish, some people have gone the other way and now worship anything Jewish.

The middle ground isn't that hard to find. The Old Testament remains vital reading for Christians, because it gives the context of the New Testament. Without it, the New Testament is meaningless and without foundation. Further, much that we find in the early Church, including the term for church itself, ekklesia (= "assembly"), has Jewish origins. Ignoring these facts leads to folly.

On the other hand, Judaism itself has changed considerably since the time of Christ. I have seen references to Jesus wearing a tallit, for example, which is a neat trick considering that they didn't arise until centuries later. From an OT perspective, covering the head was a sign of mourning--David fleeing Absalom (2 Sam 15:30--13:19 may also be an example) and Est 6:12 (though here it's Haman[!] who is our example). In the NT, Paul says that a man who is praying or prophesying should not cover his head (1 Cor 11:4, 7), and he seems to consider this obvious: there is no hint that he is disagreeing with the normal Jewish practice of the day. So some people back-read a modern practice into biblical times and misunderstandings arise.

Then there's the matter of considering non-Christian Jewish sources authoritative. In 2 Cor 3:13–16, Paul deals with this: when an unsaved Jew (probably anyone unsaved—2 Cor 4:3–4) reads the Law, he can't understand it properly; only in Christ is truth revealed. You can learn a lot from unsaved experts, but you must always remember that you're dealing with someone at least partly blind.

But the recent comment goes beyond such incautious blunders: the group in question effectively believes that Jesus did not come to establish a new covenant, because the old laws remain in place. Indeed, they ignore the argument of Heb 7:12--there has come a change of priesthood and therefore of law. They may bring up Mat 5:17-19, where Jesus claims that he has come to fulfill the Law rather than destroy it, and that the Law will remain until everything has been fulfilled. But since he came to fulfill it, he either did so or failed; and if he fulfilled the Law, its purpose has been accomplished, and a new covenant may be introduced. Rejecting the new covenant robs Jesus' life, death, and resurrection of their meaning; it marks a return to the first major heresy in Christianity: the Judaizers.

That's about all I'll say on the topic at the moment, though I'm sure I'll have to revisit it. Just indulge some healthy skepticism about wild (and often contentious) claims. You can usually pick up what kind of spirit and wisdom (Jam 3:13–17) they're using. Also remember what C. S. Lewis said about those who attack Christianity: they usually claim to accept what Jesus said while attacking Paul's teaching, but if you look carefully, it's really Jesus' teaching they're attacking. They just think Paul is a safer target. That's cowardice—and hypocrisy. Such people refute themselves.

If all goes well, I should resume some overdue reviews and get back to Dark World in short order—in fact, I'll probably intersperse them a bit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In defense of denominations

As previously noted, God knew full well that denominations would arise, just as he knew a monarchy would arise. I'm going to sketch an argument for denominations.

To begin with, the monarchy wasn't the problem; the motivation was. It's always bad when someone depends on someone or something other than God, and that's how the Israelite monarchy began. What about denominations?

Have you noticed that in 1 Cor 1:12, Paul mentions factions--early denominations--with disquiet and even disgust, but one of the groups claims to follow Christ? It's obvious that someone following Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (Peter) has a problem, but apparently so did the "Christ-followers." Why?

While following Paul is here a bad sign, Paul himself urged others to follow his example (1 Cor 11:1, Php 3:17). The difference is that it's good to follow the example of godly people, but it's bad to follow just one person and ignore all others. This is why the "Christ-followers" were a problem: just as the Paul-followers ignored Apollos and Peter, the "Christ-followers" would have ignored any merely human teacher, including Paul. But Christ sent Paul--and Apollos, Peter, and many others. Ignoring the ones Christ sent meant ignoring Christ. But following Christ in the right way, in humility, means following the ones he has sent as well.

The danger in movements and denominations comes when they have our devotion. Are you a Christian first or a member of your denomination? If your denomination comes first, it has become an idol. Also, you are probably rejecting out of hand some people God has sent to teach you, simply because they aren't from the right group. That's one of the main reasons the Jewish religious establishment rejected Jesus!

The proper use of denominations involves humbly following God's path for you without rejecting others, and in part this means knowing why denominations exist.

Paul told the Corinthians that different groups had to exist among them to show who God approved (1 Cor 11:19). I think we've misunderstood this. He isn't saying that the idea is to find the one group that is completely correct: given human sinfulness, there won't be one. Even if there were for a brief moment, human perversity would misdirect it--and a good thing, too, or we'd begin to worship and rely on it, not God.

This is what Paul was talking about: Christianity involves living out God's love in community, and nothing shows God's love more powerfully than getting along with people when you disagree with them. The existence of different groups should be an opportunity to love fellow Christians who are unlike us. If we do so, well and good; if not, it's really our fault, not the fault of the other groups.

And there will be different groups because we are individually different. Some denominations emphasize quiet contemplation, others loud, energetic worship. Some emphasize individual responsibility, others corporate worship. And so on. Just as no one has all the spiritual gifts, so no one lives out all these facets of the faith in perfect balance. In a given congregation, this leads to the "many parts, one body" phenomenon: no one has to do everything; we each do what we were called to do. And denominationally, there is no one perfect group; each has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own place in the Body. The trick is to carry out your function without demeaning the others. As long as we do that, denominations will be a blessing, not a curse.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christianity and "Religion" 2

I think we'll all agree that no one has ever successfully thrown a surprise party for God. He knows the end from the beginning, so of course he knew about denominations and religious wars before the Incarnation. Perhaps he thought it was worth it.

So in answer to the question, Did Jesus come to found the religion called Christianity? I would ask in turn, Did God bring Israel out of Egypt to found a monarchy? From Deut 17:14-20 we know he was aware they would choose a king eventually, but when they actually got around to it (1 Sam 8:5ff), God wasn't pleased. Now, a lot of that had to do with motives--they wanted to depend on a human leader for military victory, not God. But if you look at the history of Israelite kings, they were generally not good. Hardly any in the eventual northern kingdom were godly at all, and few of the kings of Judah were more than nominally devout. Yet God knew there would be a monarchy, and he did chose David's line for the Messiah: it wasn't all bad.

So did God bring Israel out of Egypt to found a monarchy? No--at least, that wasn't the main idea. Was the monarchy an entirely bad, human-devised idea? No--God allowed it; it was the motivation that was the issue, and God brought good out of it, including the Messianic line.

I consider the cases analogous: God did not set out to establish a religion or a monarchy, but he didn't set out not to establish one. They were acceptable and inevitable consequences of what he was out to do.

You may agree that, given sinful human nature, they were inevitable, but acceptable? I'll try to demonstrate that next.

Christianity and "Religion" 1

I don't know why Christmas brings out certain types of trolls--and if this isn't a troll, it's a line typical of trolls. I normally just reject their comments, but this one is common enough, I thought I might as well deal with it in a post. Basically, did Jesus come to "found a religion called Christianity"?

First, there's the matter of "religion." I suspect this is the sort of person who considers "religion" essentially evil. It isn't. Simply put, "religion" involves man's beliefs about and interactions with some greater (usually divine) reality. Even atheists are often religious: they are devoted to their belief in a zero-god.

"Religion" is also a system explaining these interactions, and a term for outward manifestations of them, as in James 1:26-27. Note that these verses don't treat religion as evil. I could bring up several other passages that treat the topic neutrally or positively, but then I'd feel obligated to invoke Greek, and it would probably get tedious.

Did Jesus come to found a belief system? Not as such; he came to get rid of our sins and destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:5, 10). But events (e.g., the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ) entail certain beliefs about them. How can you claim to follow Jesus and deny any of these events? Furthermore, he left us teachings on a number of topics, as well as commandments to follow. And these beliefs, teachings, and commandments constitute a "religion" called Christianity.

Now, the focus is Christ. Mere assent to a group of beliefs is worthless: the demons know such things too (James 2:19). But faith requires content: it is not enough to say, "I believe!" What do you believe? You have faith in Jesus? Which Jesus? Jesus the Great Teacher and All-Around Nice Guy who didn't literally rise from the dead? Try again.

In my next post, I'll examine something similar to the founding of a "religion" that God did anyway.
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