Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Hello dear friends. Sorry to have left you for the last few months, but life has been crazy. My wife and I just had our third child a month ago and there has not been much time for reading. There has been even less time for writing. I hope to remedy that very soon. For those who don't know me well let me say that we already have two boys: Sean (13) and Elliot (11). Both are autistic and so they already take up a lot of time. add to that their newborn sister and the fact that reading is, alas, not my full time job, you have the recipe for slow blog posts. I do have 5 reviews that I need to write, so that should keep me busy for a little while. For now I will leave you with the cause of my lack of sleep and loss of reading time.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Throughout the history of mankind myths have given us our higher. In this wonderful series Professor J. Rufus Fears looks at a number of these myths and examines what they meant in their own time and what they can teach us today.
The myths in this series cover the entire period of Western Civilization. From Gilgamesh and The Bible all the way through the Greek and Roman periods, the Medieval period, and up to our own times. Fears examines the kernel of truth in many of these myths and shows that most have some form of history behind them. He also shows that these stories convey truths that can serve in our own time. This means that while there is some history in the myths we shouldn't get bogged down in debating every historical fact. Instead we should look at what truths these stories convey and learn.
I am sure that there will be those who object to Dr. Fears' selections. They focus entirely on what we call the Western Tradition. Of course this encompasses nearly four thousand years of literature and history that spans the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the British Isles, and North America. These myths are the myths that inform us in the modern world. They contain the wealth of a cultural heritage that we ignore to our own poverty of mind and spirit.
Throughout the course there are a number of themes that Dr. Fears draws from these stories. Some of them are intended to resonate deeply with the audience in our own time. On multiple occasions he discusses the problems associated with pre-emptive war, particularly in the Middle East. Perhaps the American leadership and the American people could have avoided many of the mistakes of the past decade if we had spent more time reading the classics and less time on other subjects. He shows us the importance of following your dream.
This is true of the characters in the myths as well as those who pursued the study of these myths. On several occasions he points out the intrepid amateurs who ignored the "pot-bellied" professors and found Troy, Knossos, Mycenae, and other locations deemed as mere fantasy by the experts of their time. This is just one sample of the dry humor that he shares. Personally I found Dr. Fears speaking style to be quite enjoyable. With his soft Southern accent and the subject material he often reminded me of a preacher delivering a classic sermon that would be discussed in great depth after church.
I have read myths since I was a very young child and have always enjoyed them. In college I majored in history and took as many English courses as I could. There I saw first hand what damage has been done to our culture in the university setting. History and Literature studies no longer examine the higher aspirations and truths. Instead, History has become a dull plodding world of sociologists. There are notable exceptions, as the Great Courses show us. Literature studies have fallen prey to the post-modernist and the Freudian. It is refreshing to find a professor who still remembers that our stories, whether we call them history, legend, or myth, are what make us truly human. I plan to get everything I can find by Professor Fears and I hope that you will as well.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Noah is in imaginative retelling of the well known Bible story. This has been a labor of love by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. The story takes place in a bleak landscape, this ante-dilluvian world is no paradise. The ground no longer produces food and the inhabitants are vicious. Led by their king Tubal-Cain the society is depraved and violent. In the midst of this unpleasant world we find a righteous man: Noah. After he receives a vision from God (in the book God is called The Creator) Noah and his family leave their home and go off to find a safe place. Along the way they rescue a young girl who joins their family. Of course everyone is familiar with the main parts of the story. Noah builds an ark and his family, along with the animals, are saved when God destroys the world.
As I said, this is an imaginative retelling. This book was adapted by the authors from the screenplay. There are a lot of interesting points about this book. First of all it is not a simple rehash of the Bible story. There are many additions. At least I don’t remember rock giants in the Bible. This should not worry the reader. While the authors have taken a great deal of liberties with the actual narrative they did maintain the important themes of the story.
The primary theme is sin and redemption. The first row of panels show the fruit being eaten. The second row shows the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. The world of Noah is bleak. Man has misused the planet and its resources. This misuse has caused drought. In all of this there is only one righteous man. Noah is not a flawless man. Early on we see that he has a temper. Noah has visions that involve the destruction of the world. He goes to the capital city to warn the people. He is ignored and physically thrown out. After his message to change and repent is ignored Noah comes to believe that God wants to destroy the human race completely. Now God does not say this anywhere, this is Noah’s assumption.
This is the central theme of the story. Sin has ravaged the planet and judgement must come. This is not some simple environmentalist story as some have said. People are not bad because of the environment, rather selfishness and greed have led to the destruction of resourced for personal gain. Noah’s assumption that God wants to destroy mankind is wrong. God doesn’t want to eradicate man. Rather he wants to restart creation. In fact Noah is the only one who could be taken as an extreme environmentalist and he is shown to be without compassion and almost in danger of losing his own humanity. This extremism is shown when he tries to kill his own granddaughters because he is afraid that they can keep the human race going. His own actions lead him to be isolated from his family as he goes off to live in shame. This is one of the great moments of redemption in the story. It is his daughter-in-law who brings him back to the family. Even though he tried to kill her children she still shows him love and returns him to the family.