“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight- A prophet for then and now

[H]e is the lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. –Frederick Douglass (quoted on p. 361)

Frederick Douglass is one of the most important thinkers in the history of the United States. David W. Blight’s fantastic biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom shows the man in a way I hadn’t met him before, despite reading one of his three (!) autobiographies. I write in this post that he is a prophet for then and now because much of what Douglass had to say can still apply to today. His philosophical insight, his way of speaking, and his life’s devotion to a cause are things we can think on and emulate to this day.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery, took help where he could, taught himself to read and write, and escaped from slavery. He became one of the most traveled people of his century, a prolific speaker, writer, abolitionist, and philosopher. Blight uses the term “prophet” in the way that highlights Douglass’s words to moral persuasion, just as so many of the Old Testament prophets did. And Douglass was a deeply Christian man who saw two faiths that were incompatible co-existing in the United States: the religion of slaveholding and the religion of Christ.

Douglass existed in a place where few others did. A former slave, he told firsthand accounts of the brutality of that horrific system and its injustice. Working with white abolitionists, he favored more radical views and even, at times, the perfectionism of some aspects of the abolitionist movement, while also moderating some of his positions depending upon the crowd to which he spoke. An insightful, lucid thinker, he called injustice to account and pointed out the true hypocrisy of people calling themselves Christians while perpetrating awful deeds. One example of the clarity of thought he provided united with his “radical” persuasions about antislavery can be found in his philosophical argument about the morality of the slaveholder and slave: “The morality of a free society can have no application to slave society. Slaveholders have made it almost impossible for the slave to commit any crime, known either to the laws of God or to the laws of man. If he steals, he takes his own; if he kills his master, he imitates only the heroes of the revolution” (quoted on page 57). This kind of sharp logic is revolutionary and world-changing, and many saw it as such.

Douglass’s life would be impossible to summarize here. Blight’s biography is one of those which goes for a fairly comprehensive look at the life of its subject. A few notes along the way: Douglass reacted to and changed his view on some things over time. His bootstrap-type thinking for African Americans was moderated in later years as he saw how inequality could be enforced through Jim Crow laws and the like. He married a white woman after his first wife died, causing no small amount of controversy and showing his–and Helen Pitts’s–commitment to the equality of all people regardless of skin color. He leveled vicious attacks on slaveholders and their cruelty but later in life moderated some of these claims, perhaps in order to try to assist with the reunification of a country he saw as died and resurrected after the Civil War. There is no shortage of rich detail to his life. Blight points out how Douglass was, as any would be, prone to shaping his personal narrative to fit current needs. He was also one who enjoyed the spotlight and did not wish to cede it to other rising stars, though he did help mentor many African Americans and was generous with his often overestimated wealth.

Though Blight does little reflection on Douglass’s application to our day, the parallels could be drawn out. For one, racism continues to exist to this day. Organizations that are white nationalist, KKK, and the like continue to exist. Less overt racism continues in supposed color-blind laws that are unequally applied. Moreover, the co-existence of true faith–the faith in Christ–with radical heresy and anti-Christian beliefs continues to this day in movements like the Prosperity Gospel. Any Christianity which tears people down rather than freeing them with grace, which divides rather than unites (as in Galatians 3:28) is a Christianity without Christ. Let us allow Douglass to continue to be our prophet of freedom and listen to his words today.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is a truly monumental work on the life of a monumental human being. Douglass is a name that every American ought to be familiar with. He was a prophet of our country and one whose words should continue to stir us to fight inequality on every level. Biographies that truly shake and shape the reader are few and far between, but this is one that did so for me.

Links

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SDG.

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“The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas- Reading the Classics

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Several friends had recently talked about finishing this book and how much they enjoyed it. I also recalled seeing the recent-ish movie several years ago (though, having finished the book, I threw it on hold at the library, so I’ll be watching it again!). Also, there’s a delicious sandwich that I at least assume got its name from this book, which makes it even better. But other than these fleeting glimpses, I knew pretty much nothing about Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo going in. The memory of the movie had faded, and I just recalled there was some guy who wanted revenge. Yeah, there’s a lot more to the novel than that.

The Count of Monte Cristo is, on the surface level, a novel of vindication and revenge. It’s an adventure that spans more than a thousand pages. Yet it remains a page-turner that demands to be devoured in sitting after sitting. But on the deeper level, it is a fantastically Christian look at the world and God’s action therein.

The set up for the plot involves the man who would be the count getting set up by several who wish him ill for various reasons. But throughout even that section, “Providence” is constantly in view. Providence is historically one way people talked about divine activity in the world, so the reader is led to see Dumas’s viewpoint as having a divine hand in many acts. And, indeed, as our lead character begins his quest for vindication and vengeance, bringing blessings and curses upon those who helped or hindered him, we as readers cannot help but associate his actions with those of God. We want the Count to succeed in his quest for revenge; it is so well planned, and he has become a man of almost limitless poise and focus. It is not until the count has one part of his vengeance go “too far” that he starts to have second thoughts.

These second thoughts translate into an awareness that our Count’s activity is not just the hand of God acting. Though we as readers have been rooting for him throughout, it becomes clearer that the assumptions we’ve made about how the story is going are wrong. It’s as though Dumas played into our expectations, allowing us to think that, perhaps, here is the kind of “divine vending machine” that we so often wish to turn God into. Here, in at least this story, God is working in the way that we want, dispensing a kind of hard justice on wrongdoing and giving great benefit to those who deserve it. But our Count realizes that this is not, in fact, what is happening. His own actions have been, well, his own. Has he been aided by God? Yes, in the sense that his endeavors could not have all succeeded without some acts of Providence. But he has presumed too much. Like Job in the Bible, he has questioned God; nay, he has gone farther and turned himself into the hand of God, dishing out vengeance and blessing as he wished. And his actions have led to a great wrong with the death of innocents.

So Dumas asks us to take ourselves back out of the shoes of the Count, to stop assuming that we know what is supposed to happen. Instead, he has lured us into this complacency, thinking we know how things ought to be, when instead we should be approaching the acts of God with fear and trembling, carefully avoiding the notion that we can make God act in the ways we desire. Hidden in plain sight within this apparent adventure novel, we have a serious theological commentary that forces us to re-examine who God is and how God acts. How often we make God into what we want, thinking we can control God! Yet here we see how foolish that is, and how we must once again evaluate the assumptions we have made.

So apart from this deep theological discussion, is there a good book? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The novel is so well written. I found it un-put-down-able. It’s a true page turner even at its doorstop-like heft. The story is full of beautiful description and overflowing with heart and depth.

There is far more that I could say about The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s such a phenomenal achievement. It definitely stands among my favorite works of all time, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to you, dear readers.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “An Inquiry Into the Secondary Causes Which Mr. Gibbon Has Assigned for the Rapid Growth of Christianity” by Sir David Dalrymple

An Inquiry Into the Secondary Causes Which Mr. Gibbon Has Assigned for the Rapid Growth of Christianity by Sir David Dalrymple (1786).

Review

Dalrymple shows, exhaustively, that Edward Gibbon is deeply mistaken in his theses about the rise of Christianity in his famous historical work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

“Zeroboxer” by Fonda Lee- Book Review

zeroboxer

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee was intriguing to me. It’s science fiction, and its central focus is a sport. I love science fiction, and I also love sports. I picked it up from the library immediately purely based on the brief description of it being sci-fi with a sports arena. Well, I didn’t even think about it, but the title has “boxer” in it and so I should have expected boxing. I don’t like boxing–I just don’t see the appeal of watching people beat each other up–so my expectations went down. Lee would have to really write a great book to keep me hooked. In short, she did. There are SPOILERS in what follows.

The first thing that sold me was the frantic pace of the action in the book. The fight scenes are truly spectacularly done, as boxing in zero gravity sounds pretty intense and strategic. I liked that Lee came up with different broad styles for how people fought, and then used announcers to highlight these different styles for different fights. This was balanced with a look at the realities of having to sign contracts and try to move up in a sport as the main character, Carr “The Raptor” Luka, had to balance all of these things.

But that still wouldn’t have been enough to grab me. Sure, far-future sports could be interesting, but it needed more. Well, Lee had more to give. The book offered mere hints of a broader conflict shaping in the solar system, but these hints were put forward in such a way as to maintain interest in how “normal” citizens could live amid the tensions. More importantly, however, was the aspect of bioethics that Lee introduced into the book.

Luka, unknown to himself, has been genetically enhanced beyond the legal limits. In other words, he is not allowed to be a zeroboxer, or be in any sport, due to his enhancements. He finds this out when the criminal who worked with his mom to do this for/to him turns up as his popularity increases, and he must internally struggle with whether to turn himself in or keep going under a falsified genetic profile. He must also decide whether to share this with Risha, his Brandhelm–adviser/marketer. I appreciated the thought involved in these moral quandaries, and it added dimension to the novel that, had it not been there, would have been merely okay.

The biggest flaws in the book are intertwined. There are several pretty explicit scenes which I felt were pretty unnecessary and a little out of place in a book largely marketed for teens. The book speaks frankly and not infrequently of sex and would rate an “R” if it were a film. Given that “R” ratings are for 17+, it seems out of place in a young adult novel. The second issue is that these same scenes are written awkwardly. There’s a frankness in the language that makes it feel forced. It’s hard to describe, but the stilted feel of it takes away from the plot just as much as the unnecessarily explicit scenes.

Overall, Zeroboxer was an adrenaline-filled ride with more thoughtful moments than one might expect from the premise. It was a truly promising debut. I look forward to more from the author.

The Good

+Intense, frenetic action in the ring
+Interweaves bioethics into the text in compelling fashion
+Decent twists and turns
+Interesting world
+Potential for more

The Bad

-Quite explicit at times
-Strangely literal/stilted when speaking of sex
-Only glimpses of the universe offered

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #1-5 scores and comments

duneI’m a huge science fiction fan, but realize I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. We’re kicking off here with the top 5 science fiction books according to the fans. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

1. Dune by Frank Herbert Grade: A+
“Certainly one of the best novels ever written, Dune’s depth is astonishing. The characters are captivating, and the reader is put directly into their minds frequently. The book’s message is also thought-provoking on many levels–theological, scientific, ecological, and more. A true masterpiece of the genre.”

2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card Grade: A+
“Card manages to make you get inside characters’ heads in ways no other author can. There is a reality to the characters that leads to empathy even for the ‘bad guys.’ A shocking twist at the end makes you want more. It’s science fiction at its best.”

3. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov Grade: C-
“The overall plot is good, but my toddler’s board books have deeper characters than are featured here. It is extremely hard to care about any of the goings-on when not a single character is given depth or even has energy directed towards them by the writer. I know it’s a classic, but I’ve read them twice and don’t think I’ll bother again.”

4. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams Grade: A
“Hilarious and wry, Adams presents a shockingly nihilistic view of the universe. Although we laugh for the whole ride, the implications make me want to weep. It’s a vision of the future that is funny–yes–but it is also horrifying, in its way. It envisions a universe in which we don’t matter, nor does anything else, really.”

5. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein Grade: A
Stranger in a Strange Land manages to capture the feeling of ‘alien-ness’ utterly, but stumbles slightly at the end, when Heinlein allows his own time period to take control of the plot too completely. It takes some digesting. The small stumble does little to take away from the overall power of the book.”

What do you think? Which are your favorites? Are you surprised at any of the scores or what is on the list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Review

Bearing little resemblance to film Blade Runner that was based upon it, this novel ably accomplishes the rare feat of lumping humor and suspense together successfully.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “The Last Full Measure” by Jeff Shaara

The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara

Review

It was an engaging, thought-provoking, and historically-deep work on the end of the Civil War.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.