ornament 8 February 2005 ornament

Books That Haunt: Crime and Punishment

Each Tuesday, until I decide otherwise, TruePravda will feature a different book in the Books That Haunt series. You can view all posts from this series here.

There are certain characters in the canon of Western literature that are instantly recognizable by mention of their surname. The names of Crusoe, Nemo, Copperfield, Ahab, Sawyer—all evoke the setting and aura that their respective authors intended for them. But if Ahab evokes a whale, and Sawyer a picket fence, what in the world does the name Raskolnikov bring to mind?

The protagonist of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov conjures up a cacophony of paranoia, guilt conceit, and—to some extent—redemption. Rodion Raskolnikov is a student, who in an act of sheer will-to-power, murders an elderly moneylender (sorry for the mild spoiler, but it doesn’t take long to get to the murder). Raskolnikov rationalizes his action as moral because he considers himself of greater worth than the old woman he killed.

It is from this point that an investigation ensues—but rather than a mere detective story, Dostoevsky in his psychological brilliance gives us an investigation into the mind of the criminal. Only Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” comes close to portraying the pangs of conscience as well as is done with Raskolnikov.

On many levels Raskolnikov is in denial. He is poor–just as poor as the poor people he encounters on the streets of St. Petersburg. However, in Raskolnikov’s mind he is better than them because he is a “student”—a sentiment not lost on many a college student today. As his walls of self-denial crumble, so too do the walls of association with others much different from himself.

Dissertation upon dissertation (in the areas of psychology, philosophy, and literature) could be written of Crime and Punishment, yet it remains as Dostoevsky’s most readable works. There’s scarcely a dull section—which is a lot to say for a nineteenth century Russian novel.

The haunting of Crime and Punishment comes when one juxtaposes oneself with murderous Raskolnikov. The way Dostoevsky writes him makes readers wonder just how far removed they are from becoming Raskolnikovs themselves. In a culture where conscience has all but been eradicated, we need to read Crime and Punishment now more than ever.

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The Fresh Prince of Marriage

Will Smith has worn many different hats, from rapper to TV star to the big screen. A few years back, he had hit song devoted to his son called “Just the Two of Us,” in which he gave his son words of wisdom amidst Smith’s divorce from the child’s mother:

I pledge to you I will always do
Everything I can
Show you how to be a man
Dignity integrity honor an
An I don’t mind if you lose long as you came with it
An you can cry ain’t no shame it it
It didn’t work out with me an your mom
But yo push come to shove
You was conceived in love

Having dispensed his parental advice, Smith has now taken on the mantle of marriage expert. Apparently he has found the secret to a happy marriage:

The ‘Men In Black’ star says he and his wife of seven years, actress Jada Pinkett, have made a pact that they can sleep with other people, as long as it isn’t behind each others back.

The smitten pair have researched the subject by meeting up with high-profile divorced couples, including Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, to find out what went wrong.

Ahh, honesty before fidelity. How refreshing. Which leads me to this question: is honesty really honesty if you’re living in a complete fantasy world? Just what kind of “dignity integrity honor an” are you teaching the boy now, Will?

Hat tip: Family Scholars Blog

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ornament 7 February 2005 ornament

The Greening of Evangelicals?

A surprisingly well-informed article in Sunday’s Washington Post notes the trend of a rise in environmental concern among American evangelicals. I say well-informed because the reporter, Blaine Harden, actually did his homework and got a number of perspectives on the issue. He writes:

There is growing evidence — in polling and in public statements of church leaders — that evangelicals are beginning to go for the green. Despite wariness toward mainstream environmental groups, a growing number of evangelicals view stewardship of the environment as a responsibility mandated by God in the Bible.

Harden notes the tension that many evangelicals see between “green” environmentalism and “creation care,” or stewardship of the earth. Evangelicals have rightly been wary of associating with environmentalist causes, whose radical egalitarianism often places humans and trees at equal value. The Bible sets parameters that are at odds with such a notion:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. — Genesis 1:28-30, ESV

Dominion over the earth and its living things is clearly not a carte blanche for destroying the earth in the name of profit or anything else. However, the biblical view of dominion and the worldview of environmentalism are radically different. While some of the outworkings may intersect (for example both the biblical view and the environmentalist view would say clean air is a good thing), the underlying philosophies are opposed. In the biblical view man—the image of God—is the pinnacle of God’s creation. Consider Psalm 8:4-8:

what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,

all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

The rest of creation is never portrayed in the Bible as an equal, much less as a superior, to mankind. It is assumed within the text that creation, like peoples, should be governed responsibly.

Christians must indeed seek to do a better job with their stewardship of the environment—but they must be careful that they not confuse the worldviews of environmentalism with biblical dominion. Harden quotes one environmentally-conscious “evangelical” pastor as saying, “The Earth is God’s body…God wants us to look after it.” This pastor’s substitution of the body of Christ—the church—with the earth shows just how dangerous (this is outright heresy!) environmentalist-thinking can be.

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ornament 3 February 2005 ornament

Truthtelling in Fiction

I haven’t yet read Michael Crichton’s new novel about environmentalist conspirators, State Of Fear, but it’s on my wish list. The Christianity Today review of Crichton’s book by Read Mercer Schuchardt is good overall, but this line in particular struck me:

Crichton deftly reminds us that today, only fiction writers can tell the truth.

This is an interesting concept, though I dare say it applies only to today. Literature has throughout history had somewhat greater license to convey ideas than outright argumentation. This is because the cloak of fiction always leaves the reader a perceived “way out.” In a more objective battle of ideas, one must either accept or reject explicitly the idea that is set forth. With fiction, one can appreciate the work while still encountering ideas that might be too hostile in a debate.

Fiction’s inclination toward subtlety is both a strength and a weakness. While it can make an alternate idea or truth known to a opposing reader, the reader can easily dismiss it without having to deal with the intellectual consequences—consider the Soviet Union’s rejection of Dostoevsky’s ideas while continuing to celebrate him as a Russian author. In order to work properly, truthtelling fiction must be accompanied by truthtelling nonfiction. There is also the issue of where the fiction writer will get his truth to tell if not from truthtelling nonfiction writers!

There needs to be a good mix of both fiction and nonfiction in truthtelling. Fiction, if it is not too preachy, can make inroads where straight argument could never go. However we still need outright tellers of truth if the depths of truth are to be further explored.

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ornament 2 February 2005 ornament

SOTU 2005

In short, I thought it was a great speech. One might say that there was a shortage of details, but where details were lacking, President Bush laid much philosophical groundwork. After all, in a 40-minute speech that covers everthing from domestic policy to the war on terror, how much detail could someone give? Bush instead gave reasons for the changes that were to come—especially on Social Security. I think few are so deluded as to think that there’s nothing wrong with the current program—that’s the easy part of Bush’s battle. The difficult part will be developing a plan that can maneuver through such a partisan congress as ours and still survive intact enough to work.

While the boos from the Dems were cute, Bush was nearly upstaged by the parents of fallen Marine Sgt. Byron Norwood and the hug she received from Iraqi Women’s Political Council leader Safia Taleb al-Suhail, fresh off the plane from voting, ink-stained finger and all. If that moment doesn’t solidify the liberation of Iraq as a worthy cause in the eyes of Americans of all stripes, nothing will.

The Democratic response: weak. Surprisingly weak. Sen. Harry Reid, aside from correcting Bush on some Social Security numbers had nothing to say except that Democrats have moral values too. Well, nobody said they were trying to be subtle. Pelosi’s statements were even worse, as she droned on and on, whining vagaries about a timetable for the troops and how we need to be safe. Nothing new here Congresswoman Pelosi.

All in all, a good night for the President. Not a spectacular night, but a good one. President Bush showed the nation and the world that he will not back down. Will George W. Bush be remembered as a President who did great things? The “capital” is there. Let’s hope the ground can be broken.

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Further Abductions!

By now, you’ve all probably heard about the Iraqi terrorist kidnapping of an American G.I. Joe–type doll, photographing it, and holding “him” hostage—all in an effort to pass it off as a real American soldier (although, G.I. Joe is indeed a real American hero…). Well, now that other Jared at Exultate Juste has uncovered a new, more dastardly plot. Hilarious!

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ornament 1 February 2005 ornament

Books That Haunt: Wise Blood

Each Tuesday, until I decide otherwise, TruePravda will feature a different book in the Books That Haunt series. You can view all posts from this series here.

If, in some parallel universe, I were held down kicking and screaming and demanded to sum up the work of Flannery O’Connor in a single word, the word which I would choose (kicking and screaming, mind you…) would be disturbing. As I’ve noted before, O’Connor’s works—both her short stories and her novels—have penchant for taking the reader on a slow walk through the “innocent South” only to shock the reader with such a jolt that he or she is knocked from the blissful stroll into a reality that must be grappled with.

O’Connor’s first novel, Wise Blood, is about a young grandson-of-a-preacher named Hazel Motes. Having decided to live a debauched life upon returning from military service, Motes encounters a self-blinded street preacher who irritates Motes to the point that he decides to become a preacher himself. Hazel Motes, however, does not wish to have anything to do with the Jesus his grandfather preached. The Jesus he encountered through his grandfather’s preaching unsettled him:

The boy didn’t need to hear it. There was already a deep, black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin. He knew that by the time he was twelve years old that he was going to be a preacher. Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown. (p.22)

Motes founds and preaches the Church Without Christ, a church that doesn’t have to bother with Jesus because it summarily ignores him. Motes meets primarily with rejection, having only one follower, Enoch Emery, who, led by his “wise blood,” finds an entirely new Jesus which he presents to Motes. Throughout the novel Motes flees from this Christ who pursues him in the recesses of his mind.

The unflinching honesty set forth in the pages of Wise Blood earned O’Connor acclaim from wide audiences, both Christian and secular. In the preface to the second edition, she addressed the tension that the novel created:

It is a comic novel about a Christian malgré lui, and as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death…That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence.

Wise Blood’s characters are anything but squeaky-clean. Perhaps it’s this very stumbling block that makes the greater Stumbling Block that haunts the back-story all the more present…

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