God and Writing

Writing for Publication is a course at Denver Seminary that I have been teaching and loving since 2000. We always use Elements of Style, “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell, as well as other writing on writing well. Theology is also our concern, as it should be in all areas of life (Matthew 22:37-40). Thus, we reflect on the purpose and meaning of writing. It begins with The Word.

The divine Word of John 1:1 is the foundation for all rational ordering and communication. Men and women were created to listen, learn, speak, and create culture. God spoke to them, they spoke back, and eventually they began to inscrible their ideas. God wrote the Decalogue himself. The prophets spoke truth for life, and it was later written down, since it was the revelation of the Logos. The Bible is God’s writing for us as recorded by numerous writers at different places and at different times. “Living and active” is how The Book of Hebrews describes itself and the entire canon of Scripture (Hebrews 4:12)

Authors should take care, as did the biblical writers. Luke tells us in his prologue that he carefully investigated all the pertient writings about Jesus and set forth his account so that the reading might have certainty about the events described (Luke 1:1-4). The Book of Ecclesiastes commends the writing of Soloman by noting his care in composing the wisdom of that book (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12). I could go on.

Follower of the Logos made man (John 1:14, 18), must be people of truth in a world of lies. Character matters here and everywhere. Knowledge and clarity should be our aim in all writing, whether about the Bible or jazz or painting or literature. We all write before the face of God. This true and living God calls for our best at all times in his strength, so that he be honored and his glory become global. This can not be done on the cheap. One cannot fake it and keep one’s integrity.

With the Logos above us, before us, behind us, beneath us, and for us, let us think and write as if our words are inscribed in the mind of God. They are.

Books on the Philosophy of Technology

Techology bewitches, seduces, entrances, and benefits us. Since it lies in the background of our thinking and acting, it remains invisible–despite its daunting powers. A wise person will interpret oneself and one’s context in order to live according to the Goos, The True, and the Beautiful. To that end, consider these works on the culture-shaping and mind-shaping powers of technology. These books, unlike so many others, are not about efficiently using technology, but about not letting technology use us.

Classic Works

1. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. 1985. The best critique of television ever written.

2. Neil Postman, Technopology. 1990. His theoretical work on how technology shapes and often debases cultures.

3. Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society. An early and astute evaluation of the hidden influence of technology, given the value of technique.

4. Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word. 1985. A brilliant work explaining the decline of writing in light of the ascent of the image.

Recent Works

1. Nicholas Carr, The Shallows. 2009. Explains how the Internet is adversing effecting our thinking. Special emphasis on neuroscience.

2. Douglas Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace. 1997. An early work critiquing the Internet. Perhaps a bit of a period peace, but it does explain fundamental categories of technological interpretation.

3. Quentin Schult, Habits of the High Tech Heart. 2002. A thorough and thoughtful assessment.

Epistemology and Morality: The Case of the Ferguson Shooting

One cannot know the good and act rightly if one cannot sift evidence and construct sound arguments with a virtuous character. This is evident in the Ferguson shooting incident. As rioters destroy, pundits declare, and confusion reigns, consider these principles of epistemology (the study of knowledge):

  1. Truth is not determined by feeling. A true statement is one that corresponds to reality; it matches reality; it fits the facts. Your belief about X (any proposition) does not make X true or false.
  2. Some beliefs are false. Many of our ideas fail discern reality aright. Therefore, if we care about truth, we will test our own beliefs against reality as best we can. We need knowledge, not merely opinion. This is especially so for things of great moment, such as whether a killing was justified or unjustified.
  3. To have knowledge of X:
  4. One must believe X
  5. X must be true
  6. X must be justified
  7. Standards for justification (3.C) vary from discipline to discipline. Our court system is structured to weigh evidence carefully, to minimize prejudice, and to give the accused a fair hearing according to stated standards.
  8. Grand juries are charged to determine whether the accused should be brought to trial. They are made up of citizens from the location of the incident. In the case of Ferguson, they considered evidence of all sorts and deliberated for three months. In other words, they know more about the situation than anyone outside of this setting, except God.
  9. The nine Ferguson grand jury members—six white, three black—decided that Police officer Darrin Wilson should not be put on trial, since the evidence was not strong enough to warrant this. Grand juries do not decide the innocence of guilt of anyone. They, rather, determine whether a case should be brought to trial.
  10. In light of 1-6, it is reasonable to conclude that the police officer did not wrongfully kill Brown. Beyond that, the evidence released to the public shows that Brown tried to take the officer’s gun and was aggressively attacking the policeman.

Concluding comment:

Slogans can obscure truth. In the Ferguson case, the situation was often reduced to “a policeman shot to death an unarmed man.” This is true, but misleading, since it communicates that it is always wrong for the police to kill an unarmed man. This is not so for at least two reasons. First, the officer may not know the man is unarmed. He has to assume otherwise to protect his own life. Second, unarmed people can be lethal. They can kill with their bare hands or otherwise. Those enraged, especially if they are on illegal drugs, may continue to attack even after having been shot several times. Those who get concealed carry permits in Colorado are taught this in the required class.

This essay is not meant to address all the sad issues raised by the death of a young black man. But unless we heed basic logic, reasoning, and intellectual probity, no justice will be served.

A Book Review: Lila, by Marilynne Robinson (2014)

Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, is the strangest and one of the best pieces of fiction I have read. Mind you, I do not read much fiction, and I commonly read half of a classic novel and then stop. (I think this disorder is listed in the DSM manual). But Lila is a kind of emotional suspense novel–but never histrionic. At one point I literally turned the page quickly to find what would come next.

The work bewildered me not a few times, given its shifts in time and perspective. I did not always know when something had happened. However, the threads weave together as the book goes on. I had to finish this one.

The narrative is of a woman kidnapped (or rescued) by a pathetic and courageous woman who lives on the margins of society. She takes Lila as her own. Skipping much (to not ruin the story), Lila wonders into a town, Gilead, where she meets and marries an old widower preacher. In touching and unexpected ways, they nurture each other’s faith. Much of the plot concerns Lila’s difficulty in accepting love and trusting anyone outside of her old life on the road with tough, but good, drifters.

The novel profound perspective on life, death, risk, evil, hope, fear, and the development and shape of Christian faith–much of it coming from Lila’s thoughts. There is nothing cliche or preachy about it. Robinson has already won a Pulitzer Prize for Gilead, and is a highly respected writer. On top of all this, Calvin is referred to several times, and the story can be seen as a reflection on God’s strange providence.

This is not a light or easy read. It may take you places where you do not want to go. But no matter, take up and read.