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July 31, 2009

Left Behind and the problem of the Sermon on the Mount

slacktivist: TF: Bruce's sermon, part 3 Fred Clark (the slacktivist) continues his close reading of the Left Behind series with book two in the series, Tribulation Day. I find Clark's work enthralling as he picks apart the fundamental theological and literary issues in the books. For the past three weeks Clark has been winding through chapter 2 of Tribulation Force, in which Reverend Bruce gives the first sermon of the Apocalypse and . . . it stinks. On many different levels. As it wraps up, Clark brings up one of the most difficult portions of the New Testament: the Sermon on the Mount. This is easily the most radical passage and the clearest call to, as Bill & Ted said, "be excellent to each other." I have never understood how someone could be a Christian and ignore the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount. Clark inches me closer to understanding here.
In my most cynical moments, I sometimes think that the whole structure of Christian theology seems like an elaborate ruse to escape the unambiguous obligations set forth in the Sermon on the Mount. The bluntest and crudest dismissal of that passage comes from these people -- from Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins and their premillennial dispensationalist cohorts. All that stuff about helping the poor and turning the other cheek and not worshiping Mammon and overcoming evil with good -- all of that, they say, doesn't apply to us. That's for another "dispensation" -- for the future (literal) millennial kingdom. Here in our dispensation, they say, we're free to ignore all of that. And then they defend this outrageous claim by inventing a massive, convoluted, text-shredding hermeneutic that hop-skotches arbitrarily between unrelated passages, misreads the few passages it pays any attention to, and disregards the rest. And these awful, illiterate people, these dissembling dismissers of Scripture, then have the chutzpah to claim that they, and they alone, "take Scripture at it's word." I find that a bit ... irritating.

Green Apple books presents: The Book vs. The Kindle

Bookninja -- Book vs. Kindle Featuring Nick Buzanski, an old friend of mine and author (published in Poor Mojo's Almanack issue #10).

Defending the Hugos

Explaining the Hugos -- Whatever The Hugos, one of sci-fi's most prestigious awards, have come under some fire this year. Nearly all of the nominees are safe, fan-favorites, with noticeable web presences. (i.e., John Scalzi, Neil Stephenson, etc.) Some people have complained that, well, some of the books just aren't very good. I've only read "Anathem" from the list, so I personally can't comment. But it's a familiar reaction when looking at any awards shortlist. Why these books? Are these really the best? John Scalzi, himself a nominee, tries to mount a defense:
Let’s say you visit a friend of yours in a city you don’t live in. Your friend has lived in that city her whole life, and is always talking up the charms of the town to you. So you go and you visit and you’re hungry. And you say to your friend, “so what’s a good place to eat around here?” And your friend says, “well, there’s this very nice and expensive restaurant that just opened up that’s getting fantastic reviews, we could go there.” You shake your head. “No,” you say. “Take me someplace you go to eat. Someplace you and your friends really like.”
That, he says, are the Hugos. They are the "local flavor" of science fiction. One of his commenters pops up and says, Scalzi, you're confusing "best" and "favorite." Scalzi does his usual thing in the comments (they're his comments on his site, if he wants to be a prick he can) and says, ". . . your theory is . . . appallingly condescending. But this has been an endemic problem with the Hugo discussion: Quite a lot of condescension coming from people who apparently are under the impression they are qualified to condescend." And look, this troubles me. It seems to me what Scalzi (and many others) are arguing is that the Hugos are an award for the best sci-fi that would loan to non-sci-fi reading friends. But not, say, the best that someone who is already steeped in sci-fi would necessarily read. This is the problem with all literary awards, I suppose. What do you think?