A Devoted Husband Struggles to Save His Wife via a Dark Virtual Reality Game: My Review of Stan Faryna’s Dystopian Novella ‘Francesco Augustine Bernadone’

Stan Faryna’s Francesco Augustine Bernadone: A Brief History of Our Tomorrows centers on an 80-year old Italian named Francesco as he desperately seeks to finance his wife’s cancer treatments, battles multiple sclerosis himself, and struggles to hold onto any work he can. All in a bleak world devoid of much happiness and hope. Francesco’s selfless devotion to his ailing wife, Clare, is about the only bright spot in the dark dystopian story world painted by the author.

Francesco Augustine Bernadone is the first of a planned series of novellas set several years into an imagined future where the Dollar and Euro have collapsed, and western society has plunged into a gritty existence of unemployment, poverty, struggle, and despondency. To escape this grim reality, people are buying their way into a virtual reality game called Jacob’s Ladder. The massively multiplayer role-playing game (MMORPG) is, in many ways, even darker than the real world itself. Yet, for those few who can survive for any length of time, Jacob’s Ladder promises possible windfalls of cash that can help better their condition in the real world. When Francesco is laid off from the last of his three part-time jobs, he is a man with few prospects. He decides to give Jacob’s Ladder a try.

Faryna does a great job creating a highly immersive story world and drawing the reader into it. And then…before you know it, you’re plugged into an online, virtual game world as well. Both worlds – the dystopian world in which the characters live and breathe as well as the MMO game world – are convincingly described.

The novella is difficult to classify as it crosses genre lines. Broadly speaking, it’s certainly within the science fiction umbrella, but there are elements of horror, fantasy, LitRPG, and spirituality as well. The breadth of the novella, however, reflects the diverse background of its author. Stan Faryna is an author, blogger, gamer, successful entrepreneur, technology expert, and an online strategist. He’s done business extensively both in the United States as well as Europe. He studied philosophy in college before drifting into the IT arena and entrepreneurship. He counts gardening as among his hobbies, and is strong in his Christian faith.

The story jumps around a bit. It doesn’t actually begin with Francesco, but with a woman named Penny and then her son Roberto. Just as you get attached to one character, especially at the beginning, it jumps you to another. He also plays with chronology a bit (as many authors do), but this (combined with the character-jumping) can make things a little confusing at times.

The characters are, however, well developed – especially Francesco. Faryna’s world-building is quite good. The settings are compelling. The game world is believable. And he does a great job setting up contrasts and ironies within the story as well as dropping in symbols and what some call “Easter eggs” to make readers think. And…Faryna encourages the reader to confront some worthy questions, like how much one should compromise or sacrifice for a noble end.

The story is darker than what I normally like, but I still give it high marks due to the quality of the writing and the importance of the themes that Faryna causes the reader to confront. For these reasons, if you’re an adult (or at least a mature teenager) and can handle some darker elements in your reading, I recommend you give Francesco Augustine Bernadone a try.

George Washington and Robert E Lee are not the Same

In a combative and frankly somewhat jaw-droppingly disjointed August 15 press conference, President Donald Trump expressed dismay at the removal of the statue to Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia (that planned removal being the flashpoint of the violent protests which erupted this past weekend) and in doing so, seemed to compare General Lee to George Washington.

“So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee,” said the President. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?”

Let’s agree that there are many in this country who, like President Trump, would make little to no distinction between Confederate generals and slave-owning Founding Fathers. These activists would like to see statues and memorials to any and all slave owners (Confederate or loyal American) removed, and they would like to see any schools, towns, cities, or states likewise renamed. This includes Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, and so on. President Trump is correct on this point, but…

He is wrong to encourage such linking or association. And he’s wrong to suggest an all-or-nothing approach to statues and memorials.

**For the rest of this article, please visit “George Washington and Robert E Lee Are Not The Same” over at my American Revolution & Founding Era blog**

God is Not Racist: White Supremacy is Satanic

Three people died and over 30 were injured on Saturday, August 12, 2017 when a white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent. The rally, dubbed “Unite the Right” by its organizers, came together amid plans by the city of Charlottesville to remove a prominent statue to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Many of the white protesters brandished weapons, chanted “Blood and Soil” (a Nazi slogan), waved Nazi flags as well as Confederate battle flags, and shouted racist and homophobic obscenities. Predictably (and appropriately), the white nationalist rally drew counter-demonstrators. And when the groups clashed, things became bloody and ultimately deadly.

My family and I were traveling back from vacation when all this was happening, so we were catching bits and pieces on our smartphones. And, like many of you, my emotions went on a bit of a roller coaster. I’m still processing it.

I am frankly shocked that so many “Americans” came together in one place openly embracing white supremacy – and some even Nazism. The images of torch-bearing protesters chanting “Blood and Soil” and some carrying Nazi flags is chilling. And it’s horrifying to consider this happened on American soil – in 2017!

President Trump publicly condemned the violence and “bigotry” on display in Charlottesville, but did so in broad equivocating language that laid the blame “on many sides.” (8/14/07 Update: He has since issued a follow-up statement: “Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans”). Others on social media have defended the white nationalist marchers – or have at least expressed a degree of sympathy for them. This is all mind-boggling and absolutely shocking to me. How hard is it, in 2017, to specifically and pointedly condemn Nazism and white supremacy?

Let’s be clear on this point…

White supremacy and Nazism are evil.

I agree with Russell Moore, the head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the Washington, DC arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, when he termed what the white nationalists marched for as “satanic.” I also agreed with him when he lamented on Twitter: “I am grieved to the core to think that this is the United States of America that I’m watching on live television right now.” 

To their credit, most Christian leaders have echoed similar condemnations. And we’re seeing condemnation from most political leaders, Democrats and Republicans, as well — the President’s disappointing statement notwithstanding. Let me also state that I don’t believe these white nationalists, despite their claims to the contrary, represent “the right.”

And it’s worth noting that, in a nation of 300 million people, a rally of several hundred white supremacists (one count had it at 1500) is hardly representative of the country. None of us should think these marchers represent mainstream America. But…

This is still sobering and it’s still appalling. And it’s still something that should capture our attention and serve as a wake-up call.

One Nazi is one too many.

My Grandpa fought against the Nazis in World War II and it absolutely breaks my heart to see people embracing that reprehensible worldview that cost the civilized world so much to defeat over 70 years ago.

And for those few of you who haven’t yet seen pictures of the rally or read any details about it…this isn’t me committing some Godwin’s Law violation. This isn’t me mischaracterizing anyone as a “Nazi.” I know that happens in the political climate these days, especially on social media. But that’s not the case here. Many of those taking part in the white nationalist march waved (or marched alongside) Nazi flags!  Nazi flags!  On American soil!  I saw a picture of one protester wearing a T-shirt with a Hitler quote. That’s right, a Hitler quote!

While we should speak for peace and against violence in general – and, yes, hold all sides accountable (as the President is apparently trying to do) – there is no moral equivalency here.

When you march under a Nazi flag and approvingly quote Hitler, you’ve lost any claim to the moral high ground….or frankly even to any neutral ground. You’re marching with the Bad Guys.

Yes, I realize that a few of the white protesters yesterday (August 12) at the Charlottesville rally probably aren’t Nazis and probably aren’t admirers of Hitler. But there were enough of those people out there to tarnish the entire demonstration. And you know what? Let’s say you just showed up to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee. Let’s say you personally don’t see yourself as racist. You just like Lee and don’t believe in sanitizing history. And so you came to defend Lee. Well, guess what? It shouldn’t have taken you long to figure out that the demonstration was more – much more – than just speaking up for a dead Confederate general. It was a display of reprehensible and diabolical hate. As soon as you saw Nazi or KKK signs or memorabilia or banners, you should have said “Whatever side they are on, I’m not.” And you should’ve stood against them. Period.

Yes, I’m aware that some in the alt-right are trying to distance themselves from the Nazis. One prominent alt-right blogger refers to the latter as the “Alt-Reich” and is calling on his colleagues to denounce them, but… that same alt-right blogger lists the following as one of the movement’s tenets: “The Alt Right believes we must secure the existence of white people and a future for white children.” Seriously? Is there any surprise that such quasi-Aryan talk might attract open admirers of Hitler?

I’m also aware that some of the white nationalists (and their supporters) are blaming Antifa, BLM, the police, etc. for the violence. Reality check: What kind of emotions do you expect white supremacy and Nazism to trigger in the United States of America? You can’t aggravate a bees’ nest and then blame others when people get stung.

Besides, how the police should or should not have handled security is really a separate discussion. The focus of this blog post comes down to this…

All those who marched in solidarity with the white nationalists in Charlottesville on August 12 were siding with evil. There is no getting away from that fact.

The civilized world united over 70 years ago to defeat the evils of Nazism. The United States of America was a part of that struggle. It’s my hope that the people of this great nation will once again rally together – this time close to home – and defeat this worldview once again. Not through violence this time, but through the positive and unequivocal manifestation of the same ideals and principles that drove my grandparents’ generation to defeat Nazism in the 1940s.

And may we turn to God for healing, wisdom, and guidance in times like these, and may we always put our hope and trust in Him.

May God bless the United States of America.

God and the Canaanites: A Recent Study Reopens an Old Controversy

Why did God command genocide in the Bible? How wicked were the Canaanites? Were the Canaanites actually destroyed? These and other questions have long surrounded discussions of the peoples and events described in the Old Testament, and the controversies have now been reignited thanks to a new study making the news.

Those living in Lebanon today “derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population,” according to a new study reported in the American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG). The study sequenced five genomes from individuals dated to 3,700 years ago — individuals who lived in a major Canaanite city on the Eastern Mediterranean coast. The study also included genomes of 99 individuals from present-day Lebanon. The conclusion drawn is that “the ancient Canaanites were not wiped out, as the Bible suggests, but went on to become modern-day Lebanese.”

The study has put many Christians on the defensive. Headlines concerning the study suggest that the Bible’s credibility is in question. The Telegraph’s headline (predictably picked up by Yahoo!) proclaimed: “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out.”

Of course, the study does no such thing. Far from the implication of The Telegraph headline, the Bible’s credibility is bolstered by this study. For one, let’s not overlook the rather obvious fact that the study further verifies the historicity of a people group written about in the Bible. It’s yet another nail in the coffin to those who blithely dismiss the Bible as nothing but myths and fairy tales. For another, the study corroborates the Old Testament’s reports that the Israelites often disobeyed God when it came to their interaction with the Canaanites. The Old Testament makes clear that the Canaanites lived on in the Southern Levant – something this study substantiates.

Isn’t it interesting that a study confirming the Bible is misrepresented as undermining it?

This particular study, however, calls attention to parts of the Bible that, for many, undermine its moral credibility – even if its historical or textual reliability remain intact. Did God command genocide against the Canaanites? And what does that say about His nature?

The best way to tackle issues like this is to address them point-by-point. And that’s what we shall do here.

Knowledge of history should precede commentary on history

Most people who cry crocodile tears over the Canaanites know nothing about them. And they often know nothing about ancient history in general. Taking the latter point first, Paul Copan, a Christian theologian and author, has provided excellent insight into both the nature of as well as the language often associated with warfare in the Ancient Near East. Citing not only the exaggerated language common in the ANE but also the biblical record itself (which has language of total destruction in one passage followed by the same people popping up in a later text), Copan argues that there’s “more nuance – and a lot less bloodshed” than many Christians and critics realize. For more on this angle, I encourage you to read Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan.

As for the Canaanites themselves, set aside any imaginative picture you may have of peace-loving innocents communing with nature and singing “We are the world.” The harsh reality is that the Canaanite tribes and nations engaged in child sacrifice, violent brutality, sexual deviancy, and idolatry. They were far from innocent. And, according to the biblical text, were given over four centuries to repent of their wicked ways.

Condemnation of Canaanite genocide requires an objective moral standard

In The God Delusion, atheist Richard Dawkins famously describes the “God of the Old Testament” as “the most unpleasant character in all fiction.” He lists out many of these (as he sees them) “unpleasant” qualities, including that God is allegedly “petty,” “vindictive,” “racist,” “infanticidal,” and “genocidal.” Dawkins’ assessment of God’s commands regarding the Canaanites is that Jehovah is a “bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser.”

These morally loaded terms seem inappropriate absent any kind of objective standard. As philosopher William Lane Craig writes: “I find it ironic that atheists should often express such indignation at God’s commands, since on naturalism there’s no basis for thinking that objective moral values and duties exist at all and so no basis for regarding the Canaanite slaughter as wrong.”

Picture a game of American football. The rules are developed by the NFL owners and then enforced by the referees. Those rules are external to the players and the coaches. But imagine if there were no NFL owners or referees, and instead you’re left with just the players on the field. It would be one team’s word against the other, and in many cases, one player’s opinion against another as to what is “right” and “proper” and what is “wrong.” No one would be “offsides” (at least not objectively speaking). No one could credibly call an “Unnecessary Roughness” or “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” penalty. There would be no objective rules, only opinions.

This is not to say that those who don’t believe in God can’t act morally. On the contrary, there are many people who deny God’s existence and yet who live more ethically commendable lives than others who believe in God.

The point is that, with a naturalistic framework, there’s no objective standard for morality. There’s nothing that “sticks.” Remove God and you remove any objective rules.

Accordingly, what God commanded with respect to the Canaanites may be “unpleasant” (to use one of Dawkins’ adjectives), but we can’t say it was wrong – not in an atheistic or naturalistic framework.

Judging based on only some of the facts is improper and unfair

If you’re going to judge the God of the Bible for His actions, you must take into account all that the Bible says of His nature. And, in this case, all that’s said about His relationship with the children of Israel.

First, the Bible makes clear that God had a unique relationship with ancient Israel. His command to the Israelites to drive the Canaanites out of the Promised Land was, in the words of biblical scholar Paul Copan, a “unique, unrepeatable historical situation.” Anyone today who takes God’s instructions to Joshua regarding Jericho and concludes this is how God wants us to treat people today should be immediately and strongly corrected.

It’s also pertinent to remind people that, far from any “ethnic cleansing” allegation, God was an equal opportunity Judge. He often judged His own people throughout the Old Testament. And He floods the whole world in Genesis 6! The Canaanites were hardly the only ones to experience divine judgment.

Finally, you must acknowledge that the biblical God is all-knowing and understand all of His commands in that context. To do otherwise is to be deceptively selective and irrational. This means, for example, that God knew everything about the Amalekites when He ordered King Saul in I Samuel 15 to “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them.” It’s admittedly horrifying to read God tell Saul (via the prophet Samuel) to “kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey,” but your reaction to that command must take into account God’s omniscience. Otherwise, you’re not really judging God. You’re judging an inaccurate caricature of God that you have imagined.

God and God alone has the right to judge and take life as He sees fit

We finally come to the real crux of the matter. God is the only entity in the universe qualified to judge. We are finite and flawed. Any human judge or jury must deal only with the evidence that is before them. That evidence is often incomplete, disputed, and sometimes misunderstood. And human judges and juries are themselves flawed sinners. By contrast, God is perfect and knows everything. He knows the actions and thoughts of every human being – past, present, and future. God knows everything about every person, every tribe, every culture, every nation, and every situation. This qualifies Him and Him alone as the judge.

God knows when a person has reached the point that he or she will not repent from evil. He alone knows when a society’s culture has become so thoroughly corrupt and depraved that all hope for redemption is extinguished. He alone knows these things. We don’t. He does. This was true with the Israelites and the Canaanites. And it’s true today. And therefore, the wise choice for us is to accept God’s judgment as holy, just, and final.

Captain Picard on Religion: Star Trek TNG Criticizes Belief in the Supernatural

Captain Jean-Luc Picard is an atheist. The captain of the starship Enterprise featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and played by Patrick Stewart, considers belief in the supernatural to be both primitive and dangerous. As such, he takes his place among the atheists of today, including Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

This should come as no surprise to those of us who watched (and enjoyed) Star Trek: The Next Generation. The philosophical basis of Star Trek, after all, is sheer humanistic hubris. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s dream was that mankind will progress beyond conflict, greed, selfishness, and primitive beliefs and realize a utopian future defined by peace, science, socialism, and space exploration. While Star Trek: The Original Series only touched on these themes (never quite embracing full-on atheism, while at the same time never acknowledging any of the world’s religions at the time of its airing in the 1960s), Star Trek: TNG made no bones about its leanings. Star Trek: TNG routinely portrayed religion as either the superstitious yearnings of primitive cultures or mischief and mayhem unleashed by super powerful beings, such as the recurring character Q. Either way, it was something that had to be left behind in favor of the future envisioned by Roddenberry’s dreams and Star Trek’s legacy.

Nowhere is Star Trek‘s attitude toward religion better expressed than in Season 3, Episode 4 of The Next Generation. This episode, titled “Who Watches The Watchers,” features a proto-Vulcan culture on the planet Mintaka III. Due to a Federation mishap, the people of that planet mistake Captain Picard for an ancient deity and begin to worship him. Rather than simply correct the culture, a Federation adviser recommends that Picard impersonate the deity in order to contain the damage and properly guide the people away from the violence and savagery often associated with religious belief. Here is a clip from that scene…

Picard refers approvingly to how the people long ago “abandoned their belief in the supernatural.” To him, this was a sign of progress. He angrily refuses to “sabotage that achievement” or to (as he puts it) “send them back into the Dark Ages of superstition and ignorance and fear.” That is Star Trek‘s view of religion.

Note that this view was softer in Star Trek: TOS. In one of its episodes “Who Mourns for Adonis?”, Captain Kirk and company meet the Greek god Apollo, an alien who (according to the story) masqueraded as a god in ancient Earth history and who welcomes the opportunity to reassert his divine perogatives now that humans have stumbled across his current abode. At one point in the episode, Kirk declares: “Mankind has no need for gods.” And then adds: “We find the one quite adequate.” In some airings of this episode, that second part of the line is edited out, but it’s there in the original. And it reflects Star Trek‘s only nod to monotheism – one that no longer exists in the Star Trek universe.

Let me say that I enjoy Star Trek. I’ve watched every episode of Star Trek: TOS numerous times, and I’ve seen just about every episode of Star Trek: TNG. I’ve also watched much of Star Trek: Voyager, some of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and all of Star Trek: Enterprise. I love Star Trek. But….

When it comes to religion, I couldn’t disagree with Star Trek more.

Something isn’t primitive or superstitious just because a TV show says so. In this scene, Captain Picard makes several declarations that go unchallenged. It’s a powerful scene, but when you analyze it logically, his premise that belief in the supernatural is unfounded and dangerous is merely an assertion. And it’s an unproven one at that.

First, belief in the supernatural is not a requirement for scientific or social progress. The human race has enjoyed immense progress (in many ways – including in science, technology, civil rights, health, and more) and has done so with most people (in the past as well as today) believing in the supernatural. Most people are religious. They always have been, and (with all due respect to Mr. Roddenberry and Captain Picard) there’s no reason to suggest that this will change.

The vast majority of history’s great scientists believed in God. This includes Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Galileo, Kepler, and many more. It even includes some incredible scientists of today, such as Francis Collins, noted for his leadership in the Human Genome Project. The same is true with the greatest revolutionaries, statesmen, and civil rights leaders in our history, including Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela.

Those arguing that atheism or agnosticism inherently leads to better and more peaceful societies have to explain how atheist regimes caused more death and suffering in the 20th century than what took place in all previous centuries combined.

Not only that, but there is good reason to believe in the supernatural. There is, in fact, more evidence supporting belief in God than there is for the reverse claim. Atheists and agnostics may challenge the various arguments for God, such as the classic Cosmological Case for God, but they are foolish to dismiss these arguments as unreasonable. It is entirely reasonable to conclude that, since time, space, matter, and energy all had a beginning, it makes sense that something (or someone) outside of those elements brought them into existence. Otherwise, you’re left with something coming from nothing – which, by the Law of Causality, is impossible.

You have (and should have) the political and legal right to dismiss or ignore the Law of Causality and believe that the universe came into existence on its own and out of nothingness, but please don’t claim that such a belief is more logical or more reasonable than citing a supernatural cause. (Interestingly enough, an episode of Star Trek: Voyager challenges the concept of cause-and-effect, but this blog post is already too long to dissect that episode. Suffice it to say, it’s no surprise the makers of Star Trek are targeting the one law of logic that most undermines atheism).

I once had a discussion with a friend regarding the issue of origin. She claimed that it makes as much sense to believe that “science” created the universe than it is to say God did it. This is absurd, however, since science is not a thing. It has no inherent substance or properties. Science is a field of study. It is incapable of creating anything, including itself! Saying that science can create the universe is like saying history or geography can create the universe. It’s ludicrous.

The bottom line is belief in the supernatural is rational. And such a belief, contrary to Captain Picard’s claim, poses no obstacle (in and of itself) to progress or achievement.

Captain Picard has every right to be an atheist. I believe in religious freedom. And that means I believe every person should be allowed to worship as he or she desires OR not worship if that is their choice. No society or government should force individuals to embrace a religious belief. However, to declare all those who have chosen to embrace a religious faith as being primitive or dangerous is egregiously unfair and completely inaccurate.

The Star Trek universe prides itself on embracing diversity. It’s a shame that this diversity does not, at least not at this time, extend to those who (for sound reasons) choose to believe that God created the very heavens the characters of Star Trek spend their time exploring.

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You may want to check out “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Christianity: Is it Wrong to Read Fantasy Books and Stories?”

Debunking The Famous West Wing Bible Rant: A Response to President Josiah Bartlett

In one of the most dramatic (and admittedly enjoyable) scenes from the hit television series The West Wing, President Josiah Bartlet (played brilliantly by famous actor Martin Sheen) humiliates a conservative radio talk show host over her anti-gay theology. The talk show host character, Dr. Jenna Jacobs, is a thinly-disguised Hollywood caricature of Dr. Laura Schlessinger. In The West Wing scene, Jacobs is present at a White House event, but refuses to show the proper respect to President Bartlet, whom she despises due to his liberal ideology. Bartlett uses the opportunity to respond to her public views on homosexuality and teach her a Bible lesson. Here is a clip of that scene…

Let’s agree that this is great television drama. Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, is an exceptional screenwriter. And Sorkin and his team do an outstanding job with this scene (one that was inspired by an “Open Letter to Dr. Laura (Schlessinger)” that made the rounds on the Internet in the early 2000s). The scene is reminiscent, in fact, of the well-scripted courtroom decimation of Matthew Harrison Brady (a caricature of William Jennings Bryan) in the famous movie Inherit the Wind, based on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee.

Let’s agree that the character, Dr. Jenna Jacobs, as portrayed in The West Wing, is indeed an ignorant and arrogant charlatan who deserved to be put her in her place by President Bartlet. According to the fictional universe created by The West Wing, Jacobs was trading on her doctorate in literature to pass herself off as an expert in matters she had no business dispensing public advice on. What’s more, her inability to correct Bartlett’s flawed biblical exegesis (more on this in a moment) shows that she is pretty ignorant of the Bible, a book she claims to respect and follow. And her refusal to stand in the presence of the President is a perfect example of how some Christians sadly show open disrespect and disdain toward public officials (as well as common everyday citizens) with whom they disagree. As a Christian and as a pastor, I have no problem seeing someone like Dr. Jacobs taught a lesson in education, civility, and decorum. Unfortunately, The West Wing overreaches. And, as such, an important lesson on tolerance and civility is marred by its own lack thereof.

Like the Inherit the Wind courtroom scene, the West Wing confrontation between Bartlet and Jacobs isn’t just an example of great drama; it’s indicative of Hollywood’s unofficial motto: Never let the facts get in the way of good drama. Sorkin and the West Wing team weave in enough facts to make Bartlet’s speech sound credible. This makes the scene so much more powerful and its lesson that much more convincing. It’s textbook propaganda – and it’s done beautifully.

In his excellent book The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible, Robert Hutchinson writes: “For the Deep Thinkers in Hollywood, this little exchange [in The West Wing] represents a fatal, unanswerable blow to the Bible and all it represents.” Unfortunately for these “Deep Thinkers,” there’s the truth. For as Hutchinson points out, the scene “deliberately misrepresents what the Bible actually says regarding these laws.”

Anyone knowledgeable about the Bible should spot several flaws in Bartlet’s argument as well as a few big, whopping lies in what he attributes to the Bible. Rather than simply taking an appropriate stand against hate and ignorance, The West Wing creators display some hate of their own and slander both Judaism and Christianity in doing so.

Here are a few of the problems and misrepresentations from The West Wing‘s Bible lesson:

Bartlet makes absolutely no attempt to differentiate between biblical laws that are still applicable today and those which are not. For one thing, the Mosaic Law was never applicable to the Gentiles. It only applied to the Hebrew people (and those under the Hebrew covenant) who Moses led out of Egypt to settle in the Promised Land. In addition, a large number of the laws were, as Hutchinson writes, “ceremonial and cultic regulations for the Ark of the Covenant or the Temple (both of which no longer exist) or practical regulations related to life in a nomadic desert setting.” Bartlet groups them all together in an intellectually clumsy, but emotionally effective, manner intended apparently to smear Judaism and Christianity.

Bartlet claims that the Old Testament requires the burning of his mother, since she wears garments made from different threads, and the public stoning of his brother for planting different crops side-by-side. Neither of these horrific penalties are associated with the passages Bartlett alludes to in his anti-Bible rant. As Hutchinson points out, while “the Torah indeed forbids the mixing of the fibers or seeds, there is no specific penalty stated for the failure to do so….they made that part up out of whole cloth to make the biblical laws seems more harsh than they actually are.”

Even with Bartlet’s references to actual capital offenses in the Old Testament, many historians and scholars have pointed out that there’s no evidence these penalties were ever carried out. Indeed, God often shows mercy toward those who break His commandments. The entire Old Testament, in fact, accentuates humanity’s sinful condition and points to the universal need for a Savior.

As for homosexuality specifically, Leviticus 18:22 hardly represents the only passage in Scripture which points to God’s standards for marriage and sex. We see God’s standard for marriage and sex as laid out by Jehovah in Genesis 1-2 and affirmed by Jesus in his teachings on marriage in the New Testament. There are also Paul’s teachings on sexuality to confront. None of this is to sanction hatred or bigotry toward gays and lesbians, but it does prove that the Christian who espouses a traditional view of marriage and sexuality isn’t basing his or her views exclusively on Leviticus.

The West Wing exchange between Bartlett and Jacobs does (appropriately) take to task people of faith who hold to knee-jerk opinions based on sloppy biblical study. It shows the importance of people doing their homework. People should know what they believe and why they believe it – and they should be prepared when their convictions come under attack.

It also reveals the problematic nature of using religious texts for civil laws. Though I’m a pastor, I do not support using one religious group’s specific text (or their interpretation of said text) as the basis for civil law. The children of Israel were a unique exception since they were “God’s chosen people” and were established as a theocracy. The United States (the nation in which most of my readers and myself live) is not a theocracy. It’s a constitutional republic. While its founding and culture have been shaped by Judeo-Christian principles, it was never intended (by the founders anyway) that the Bible become our code of laws. The Constitution is the “supreme law” of our land.

Finally, people who claim to believe in God should always show love, kindness, courtesy, and respect – even to those with whom they disagree. Bartlett was right to call out Jacobs for her failure to do this. And I personally want to add that no Christian should deal harshly with subjects as sensitive as those pertaining to sexuality and identity. God created all human beings in His image, and makes clear that He loves everyone. We should treat all people (regardless of their faith and beliefs) accordingly.

It would of course be nice if critics of Christianity, including those in Hollywood, would extend similar courtesy and respect to people of faith and those who hold to more traditional values, but this sadly is too often not the case.

NOTE: A version of the preceding article appeared on my previous blog. It’s been updated and republished here. 

Five Misconceptions About Money: What the Bible Really Says About Money

How should Christians handle money? Few questions cause as much confusion and controversy as those dealing with Christians and money. Many churches and families have unfortunately suffered due to myths and misconceptions about money. With this article, I hope to uncover those misconceptions and show what the Bible really says about money.

Before we dive into this, it’s important that we address two things. First, not all of my readers believe in the Bible. Whether you embrace a particular faith is your choice, but even non-Christians often have opinions about what the Bible says or doesn’t say about a given topic. And few topics are as widely discussed or prevalent as money. So even non-Christians will, I believe, find this article informative.

The second thing we must do is define our key term: money.

When we think of money, we must understand that it is a tool used for the exchange of goods and services. We should not make it more complicated than that. Money is a tool for exchange. Without coinage or currency, societies resort to barter. For example, a farmer may offer a portion of his crop in exchange for medical care for his family. When he does so, that crop portion becomes essentially the same as money.

Of course, the earliest and best known form of barter is labor. Adam Smith said, “Labor was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things.” What is typically the case now is that we labor for money – and then we use money to acquire the goods and services we need or desire.

With that understanding of the term “money” in mind, here are five of the most common misconceptions surrounding money:

MISCONCEPTION #1: “Money is the root of all evil.”

This is one of the most misquoted (not to mention misunderstood) teachings in the Bible. It stems from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to his young protege Timothy. In his letter, Paul writes: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (I Timothy 6:10, KJV).

Note that Paul places the “love of money” at the “root of all evil” (I Timothy 6:10) — not money itself. In fact, if you read the entire passage and consider the nature of “money” in the ancient world, you’ll see that Paul isn’t talking about bills and coins so much as he is about greed and covetousness. The “love of money” represents greed – the desire for gain. Sociologists today would be hard pressed to deny that greed and the desire for gain — for possession – is not at the source of all our social pathologies.

Nevertheless, while the Bible most certainly condemns greed, it does not condemn money or possessions. It certainly doesn’t place money or possessions at the root of all evil. Those who do are not in step with the Apostle Paul or with the Holy Spirit who inspired him.

MISCONCEPTION #2: “We shouldn’t save money because Jesus says not to ‘lay up treasures on earth’.”

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his listeners to not “lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,” but to instead “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20). He goes on to say that His people should not worry about the future (including their financial future), but should “seek first the kingdom of God” and trust God to provide for their needs (Matthew 6:33). Clearly, the priority of God’s people is (or should be) the kingdom of God. When God’s people shift their focus to the things of the earth (either due to greed OR to worry), they are focusing on that which is perishable and will not last. All that is true, but…

Jesus is not telling us we shouldn’t save money. It’s frankly ludicrous to read His teaching that way. If Jesus were against saving, investing, or earning money, He would be undermining the premise of His own parable on stewardship (see Matthew 25:14-27)! He would also be overturning some of the wise teachings in the Book of Proverbs concerning money.

Money (in whatever form) is a tool. It’s a tool used in this fallen world. And it’s one that God’s people are encouraged to make proper use of. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s people are told how to handle money and possessions. We see examples of this in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. As long as we put our ultimate trust in the Lord and treat money as a means to an end, we are fine. When we let money become more than that, it becomes (at worst) an idol or (at best) a source of worry and stress. God wants neither for His people. He wants better for us. But…

The Bible never tells us we should ignore money. As long as we live and breathe in this fallen world, we will be working with money (in some form). It would behoove us to do so wisely.

MISCONCEPTION #3: “We must give up all money in order to be saved.” 

Many are familiar with Jesus’ famous (some might say infamous) challenge to the “rich young ruler.” This man questioned the Lord about obtaining eternal life. After the man claimed to have followed all the commandments, Jesus responds: “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 10:21, NKJV). Many Christians and non-Christians conclude that this passage sets a works-based standard for salvation and/or establishes a requirement that one eschew any financial possessions or ambitions in order to be a part of the family of God.

I disagree.

A more contextual reading of this account takes one back to the Mosaic Law itself, where people were told to have “no gods” before Yahweh. Jesus correctly identified riches and wealth as the rich young ruler’s ultimate “god” and, therefore, the young man’s barrier to God. The Bible teaches that a person must fully and passionately love God and his or her fellow human beings. This means putting personal wealth on the back-burner of one’s priority list, and instead extending love and compassion to those around him or her.

Lest you think I’m reading into the passage, Jesus Himself points to the emotional burden this man carried with his wealth. After the young man walked away “sorrowfully,” Jesus remarked to His disciples: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). With this comment, Jesus is making clear that this man’s problem relates to his riches, and not simply to the fact that he had money or possessions.

Okay, maybe Jesus was only talking about riches – and not simply having money. Maybe He’s not asking everyone to give up every single coin, dollar bill, or asset in order to get saved. Maybe He is directing this command specifically at a man who made wealth his idol. Many still have a dim view of money, and they will say…

MISCONCEPTION #4: “Rich people can’t go to heaven.”

This notion that rich people can’t make it to heaven comes, of course, from Jesus’ teaching that it’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” This feat is, of course, impossible, so many have concluded that it’s impossible for rich people to get into heaven.

Here is how Mark describes this conversation:

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” -Mark 10: 23-25

Some commentators have postulated that Jesus wasn’t referring to the eye of a sewing needle, but rather to a gate in which a camel had to have its baggage unloaded before passing through. There is a great deal of dispute over this possible interpretation, so we will set that aside and focus on the conclusion drawn (initially) by the disciples and (still to this day) by many readers of Jesus’ words, namely that Jesus was describing an impossible (not difficult – but impossible) feat.

So…it’s impossible for rich people to get to heaven, right? Well…

If it’s true rich people can’t make it to heaven, then Abraham, Job, and Solomon are all roasting in hell right now. I don’t mean to be crass or insensitive, but sometimes, I can only shake my head at the shallow way many people read the Bible. In some cases, the shallowness is painfully obvious, because…

They fail to read the verses above and below the verse they focus on!

Many misunderstandings and misconceptions would be cleared up if people (Christians and critics alike) would read the entire relevant passage instead of just a verse or two here and there. Jesus’ teaching on rich people and heaven is one of the best examples of this.

As the passage makes clear, the rich young ruler refused to give up all he had and walked away. Jesus then turns to His disciples and says that it’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” But the passage does NOT stop there! Upon hearing this (and after witnessing the exchange with the rich young ruler), the disciples are “astonished” and ask among themselves: “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). And then comes Jesus’ response…

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” -Mark 10:27

Do you see it?

Without God, it’s impossible for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God. But with God, it IS possible. And this is why many rich people, including Job, Abraham, and Solomon, are in heaven today.

Okay, so it’s not necessarily a requirement for all to give up all money and possessions to get to heaven and it is possible for rich people, thanks to God’s omnipotence, to get into heaven, but many will still say…

MISCONCEPTION #5: “It’s wrong to desire more money.”

In his third epistle, the Apostle John conveys to Gaius his wish “above all things” that he may “prosper and be in health, even as [his] soul prospers.” (3 John 2). This gracious wish, expressed as a greeting from one friend to another, implies very strongly that the Apostle John (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) saw nothing wrong (at least not inherently) with financial prosperity.

Lest you think I’m reading too much into a greeting, we need to consider the opposite of prosperity – and how that has played out in Scripture. The direct opposite of financial prosperity is poverty. And the Bible provides some stark and painful examples of poverty and deprivation. In the book of Nehemiah, we see the people of Jerusalem suffering in misery and despair, because their walls were in ruins and the gates burned up. Jerusalem was therefore incapable of civil order or economic self-sufficiency. The people of Jerusalem were so desperate, that some families were selling their children into slavery, so they could eat! Because of this horrific suffering, God moved Nehemiah to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem! When he did, Jerusalem was able to get back on its feet. Nehemiah rebuilt the wall, so the people of Jerusalem could rebuild their lives.

Over the years, I’ve seen the unfortunate consequences many Christians have experienced in thinking the Bible discourages them from being conscientious and responsible for their needs and those of their loved ones. There is no inherent virtue in poverty. Not for the people of Jerusalem. And not now. If God intentionally calls you to a season (or life) of poverty and deprivation, then that’s one thing. But it’s quite another to conclude that the Bible somehow endorses poverty, financial obliviousness, or personal irresponsibility for all of God’s followers.

As a pastor, I’ve personally encountered the ignorance of some Christians on this issue. When you reflect on how many Christians are skeptical about other Christians desiring or earning money, you can imagine how these same Christians get when pastors desire additional funds. The Bible is clear that pastors shouldn’t be greedy (just as no Christian in general should be greedy), but the Apostle Paul made tents for extra income while being engaged in missionary and pastoral work. If Paul can make tents, pastors today can likewise (unless God personally tells them otherwise) take a second job, write books, give outside speeches, mow lawns, or whatever to supplement their income. In many cases, they need to do this, and it would be financially irresponsible to their families if they don’t. Biblical admonitions to provide for one’s family apply to pastors too, and if the churches they serve are not able (or willing) to adequately meet their needs, then pastors must make arrangements accordingly.

The Bible is clear that we are to put God first and trust Him to provide for our needs, but many Christians read these teachings to mean that we are to be passive victims in the face of hardship and challenge. The Bible never countenances foolishness or laziness. We have a responsibility to provide for ourselves and our loved ones (I Timothy 5:8, Proverbs 13:22). In fact, the Bible encourages us to work hard so we can be a blessing to people in need — not just our loved ones (Ephesians 4:28).

It is not wrong for Christians to earn, possess, or desire more money. If it were, why did God allow great Old Testament figures like Joseph, Job, Abraham, and Solomon to acquire great wealth? This isn’t to suggest that God wants everyone to be as wealthy as Solomon, but it’s a grievous error (at best) to conclude He wants everyone to be poor and destitute.

We are to work for a living. Yes, we should trust God, but we also must do our part. To think or do otherwise is irresponsible and inconsistent with God’s Word, common sense, and plain decency.

Life Lessons From The TV Series Smallville

Tom Welling stars as Clark Kent in the CW series Smallville

Growing up, I was a huge Superman fan — just as I’ve long been a fan of science fiction, fantasy, and superheroes in general. So, when Smallville aired for the first time in 2001, I should’ve been glued to the TV. But…I wasn’t. For whatever reason, I ignored the series for years. And then, sometime in 2004 or 2005 (I can’t remember exactly when), I started renting DVDs from Season 1. (This was before online streaming took off). And I was hooked. I binge-watched my way through the first few seasons, finally catching up to where Smallville actually was. I’ve been a fan ever since.

For those who may not know, Smallville was a TV series about Clark Kent before he became Superman. It starred Tom Welling and ran from 2001 until 2011. The series starts with Clark as a high school freshman and continues forward as he discovers, understands, and develops his abilities. It’s a great concept, though it requires some suspended disbelief to accept Tom Welling, at the time in his mid-twenties, as a 9th grader. The series follows Clark through high school, then college, and then his early career as an entry-level reporter for The Daily Planet. While the series does a halfway decent job keeping Clark and his friends oriented to high school in the first few seasons, the whole college thing is almost ignored. One wonders, in fact, if Clark ever attended any classes!

Some of my readers may not appreciate superheroes or science fiction as much as I do, but Smallville contained some great life lessons that should resonate with all of us. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not endorsing every single frame of every episode that ever aired, nor am I saying I agree with every viewpoint expressed by every character. Like just about anything, you have to be discerning. And for the discerning viewer, there were some terrific gems of wisdom — some wonderful life lessons — in this Superman origin TV series.

As a Christian (and those of you who don’t share my faith may want to skip this paragraph), I obviously can’t endorse all the content of every episode. While it starts off as a fairly kid-friendly show, as the series progresses, it gets a little more “adult.” Some episodes get a little racy, with revealing outfits, lots of drinking, and some characters engaging in casual sex. Some Christians will understandably want to avoid any such content. Others will see it as merely reflective of society overall and look past the objectionable parts to enjoy the good aspects of the program. I would simply caution you to be discerning and to (as always) make entertainment choices that would not cause anyone (including yourself) to stumble into sin. Speaking for myself, when it comes to entertainment choices, I balance things out on a proverbial scale. And, in my judgment, the good outweighs the bad with Smallville, but I respect those who may come to a different conclusion.

Either way, few can argue that TV shows (as well as movies and books) sometimes contain some inspiring moments or meaningful lessons. And that’s certainly the case with Smallville. So…without further ado, here are some powerful life lessons from Smallville:

“The suit doesn’t make the hero.” -Clark Kent, Season 10, Episode 18 “Booster”

While Clark is trying to keep his identity under wraps and his alter ego’s image (at this point, as “the Blur”) well managed, he comes face-to-face with a flashy, camera-loving superhero named Booster Gold. The episode juxtaposes Clark’s choice to shun the limelight with Booster’s hunger for it. Clark actually begins to diminish his reputation as (well) Clark by transforming himself back into a mild-mannered, socially awkward, and utterly forgettable bystander. By contrast, Metropolis’ newest arrival seeks all the glory he can achieve and presents himself as the city’s new savior (and the Blur’s replacement).

As the episode progresses, Clark learns that Booster came from the future thanks to a Legionnaire’s ring, which he probably stole.  And then Booster messes up a rescue which accidentally leads to an uncontrollable monster threatening the city. And it’s Clark who must pick up the pieces and make things right.

The episode provides a solid lesson in humility, patience, and character. And Clark gets to explain that suits, costumes, and public relations campaigns don’t make heroes. As he explains, “A hero is made in the moment, by the choices that he makes and the reasons that he makes them.”

“Pain is part of anyone’s journey…you can’t escape it.” -Raya, Season 6, Episode 6 “Fallout”

During the Smallville series, Clark (as well as his cousin and a couple friends) spend some time in the Phantom Zone, a lawless and nightmarish abode where Krypton exiled its criminals. In this episode, one of Clark’s friends, Raya, escapes to Earth and comes to visit him. Unfortunately, she isn’t the only one who came to Earth. An evil spirit escapes the Phantom Zone with her and soon inhabits the body of a street kid and comes looking for revenge.

Smallville ran from 2001 until 2011.

I won’t elaborate any more or risk giving spoilers, but Raya says something in the course of the episode that rings true for all of us. Pain is indeed part of life’s journey. And, try as we might, we can’t escape it. Not in this life. How we deal with that pain fashions and reveals our character.

“Call me crazy, but I’ve always been a firm believer that beauty-it’s on the inside.” -Lois Lane, Season 4, Episode 3 “Façade”

This episode explores what it means to be cool, attractive, and popular – things teenagers (and many adults) wrestle with a lot. Against his father’s wishes, Clark tries out for the high school football team, while a former acne-ridden teenage girl returns from summer break looking fabulous. Her secret? Plastic surgery with a little Kryptonite mixed in.

As one who struggled with acne as a teen and with self-esteem issues for much of my teen and young adult years, I can relate to this episode. And I agree with the lessons it tries to convey. Resorting to desperate, dangerous, or unhealthy measures may give you a temporary boost in confidence or even enhance (for a season) your appearance, but they risk damaging you and others at a level far deeper and of much greater significance.

When it comes to looks, talent, and abilities, people come in all shapes and sizes. But everyone, regardless of appearance or personality, can be something special and make a unique, positive, and meaningful difference in the lives of those around them. To do this, we must pay more attention to what’s on the inside than what’s on the outside.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.” -Zod, Season 9, Episode 3 “Rabid”

Sometimes, the bad guys have the best lines. And sometimes, at least when it comes to specific things said, the bad guys are correct. This is one of those times. Zod reminds us that the truth will eventually come to light.

The episode features zombies. That’s right, zombies. Someone in the Smallville writing room must’ve said: “Hey, we need zombies. What could be cooler than Superman vs. zombies?” That’s probably how we got “Rabid” as a Smallville episode. A virus is unleashed on Metropolis turning its residents, including our beloved Lois Lane, into an out-of-control, rabid zombie. It’s up to Clark to (once again) save the day. Which, of course, he does. Sorry for the spoiler, but back to the lesson…

The truth is something that people will often try to hide from, deny, avoid, or redefine. We see this in the news all the time. We see it in the entertainment world. We see it on social media. We see it in our families. We see it in ourselves. We often don’t like the truth. We often, to steal Jack Nicholson’s line from A Few Good Men, “can’t handle the truth.” But…the truth is always there. It’s objective. It’s persistent. And it must eventually be confronted.

Smallville is a great show. I wish they’d do a sequel show called Metropolis with Tom Welling playing as our hero Superman, but this is unlikely given the CW’s current-running Supergirl (which features a different actor for Superman) and the movie franchise which started with Man of Steel and continues soon with Justice League. Still, whenever I get a little nostalgic for Welling’s Clark Kent, I can always fire up an old episode of Smallville and enjoy it. And, with some episodes, I can also learn some important life lessons.

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You may also like “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Christianity: Is it Wrong to Read Fantasy Books and Stories?”

Note: The images included in the above article are property of Warner Brothers. I am using them under Fair Use guidelines. 

An Interview With Christian Fantasy and Sci-Fi Author James Somers

James Somers writes Christian fantasy and sci-fi

James Somers is an ordained minister, surgical technologist, and Christian fantasy novelist. Quite the combination. And some might say there is at least one contradiction in that biographical statement. How can a Bible-believing Christian pastor read (let alone, write) fantasy fiction? Well, who better to help us deal with that question than the man who is, in fact, blending biblical truth with fantasy fiction? I’m honored to interview Christian author James Somers for this blog.

Side Note: The original interview was conducted a few years ago for a different blog (now defunct), and has been updated and provided here.

Brian Tubbs (BT): Thank you for taking the time to “sit down with me” (digitally at least 🙂 ) for this interview. Most Christians take their faith seriously and want to serve the Lord. And yet they also want to enjoy life and that means they want to enjoy some of what we would call “worldly entertainment.” And that means making choices, and that’s where you come in. Thank you for taking part in this interview and offering us some of your wisdom. 

James Somers (JS): I’ll do my best, Brian.

BT: You’re a Christian and an ordained pastor. And you would be the first to say that Jesus Christ is the most important person in your life. When did you confess Christ as your Lord and Savior? And when did you feel God’s call into pastoral ministry?

JS: I repented of my sins and received Christ as my savior in March of 1996, after attending church with my soon-to-be wife. My family never raised me in church. I had visited only a few times before and had an experience with a youth pastor where I basically got cornered in his office for not raising my hand during an invitation. He led me down the “Romans Road” and I answered every question with one goal in mind: how to get out of his office as fast as possible. I was told that I got saved, but I had no idea what that meant and I knew nothing had actually happened to me. I didn’t care about my soul then.

Later, when I had an ear to hear what the Lord had to say to me, I realized my lost condition and put my faith in Christ. I think sometimes we ministers are too eager to give someone assurance of salvation. The Lord will assure them if they really get saved. Our job is to distribute his Word as witnesses.

I felt the Lord leading me into the ministry in January of 2000 after I had spent about a year teaching teenagers in Sunday School.

The Realm Fantasy is one of many books written by James Somers

BT: You’re also, as we said before, a fantasy novelist. Maybe not at the level of C.S. Lewis (yet) or George R.R. Martin or Raymond Feist, but you’re definitely on your way. When did you start writing science fiction and fantasy? And how many books have you had published to this point?

JS: I’m nowhere near any of those guys, Brian 🙂 And as for Martin, I’ll steer clear of the kind of fantasy that includes perversion like I found in my failed attempt to read Game of Thrones.

BT: I agree with you about Martin. 

JS: I began writing my first novel in 1996 as a diversion to take my mind off of the stress of college…a way to relax. It began as a Star Wars story just for fun. When I got to about 150 pages, I decided to go back and use the characters in a story of my own. Chronicles of Soone came from that story. I’ve since published over a dozen novels. Other than Chronicles of Soone (published through Breakneck Books), I’ve utilized Amazon’s Kindle Publishing exclusively — and love it!

BT: When it comes to entertainment in general, I think of something I read recently by John MacArthur, a very well-known pastor and theologian. Dr. MacArthur says that, as Christians, our worldview is (or at least should be) based on the “reality” of God’s world, His Truth, and His revelation. And that, by contrast, the “world of entertainment is not real.” That it is, in fact, about “escaping from reality.” While he stops short of saying it’s a sin for Christians to watch TV, read fiction, and so forth, he is certainly raising a red flag when it comes to people allowing their worldview to be influenced by imagination and entertainment. Do you agree that this is an important cause for concern?

JS: I would agree that we must always be careful with our thought life. It can be easily influenced. However, I also believe that a mature believer can recognize what’s real and not real. Is it a lie to tell someone a story, if they fully understand that it is fiction? A lie is an intent to deceive. That’s not what fiction is. It’s meant to engage the reader and entertain.

Consider that Christ used many parables to explain complicated truth to those who heard him. Parables are simple stories. They were not necessarily real events or intended to be. They were stories with a point. A story can also have a good message to be understood as well. Was Paul condemning the Olympic type games when he used them as examples of fighting the good fight, running the race and winning a crown of righteousness? I don’t think so. Yet those games are pointless entertainment.

At the same time, I don’t think we should take pleasure in unrighteousness. We are to meditate on what is good.

However, clearly there are serious descriptions of evil in the Bible. Is describing evil as evil in a story sinful, if it’s not sinful to talk about it in the Bible as fact. It’s a matter of perspective and motive. Are you promoting wickedness or describing it with the understanding that it is wrong? My novels describe evil characters as what they are. Some are redeemable human characters…others are angelic and unsaveable. I try to approach them the same way the Bible does. A wicked man can be saved. But an angel cannot. That’s truth. I don’t contradict what the Bible says is truth, not even for a fiction story.

BT: As you know, many Christian parents are very uncomfortable with their kids reading fantasy novels or watching scifi movies or playing any kind of computer games that feature wizards, witches, necromancers, or any of that sort of thing. Of course, Christians run the gamut on these things. The Old Testament obviously forbids, under penalty of death, anyone having anything to do with witches, contacting the dead, etc. And both the Old and New Testaments teach that light has no fellowship with darkness and that we, as Christians, are to not love the world or the things of the world. In light of these things, what are some general guidelines or principles that Christians should keep in mind when it comes to their entertainment choices?

JS: Obey the scriptures. I would say, however, there’s a big difference between describing something in a story and promoting that evil thing or action as being good. Are witches good? No. Is necromancy good? No. Is murder good? No. Is Fornication/adultery good? No. Are these things all discussed and described in the Bible? Yes! Does that make God’s Word wicked? No. In the light of Scripture, these things have their rightful place…they are discussed, but also condemned as wrong. I’ve never seen more idolatry than when studying the Scriptures, descriptions of terrible murders and evil things…yet, they are cast in the appropriate light as being wrong and condemned by God.

A fiction story or movie or whatever can cast these same things in the appropriate light as being evil and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem in our day is that Evil is called Good & Good is called Evil…that’s the problem with much of our entertainment today.

BT: Let’s take some specific concerns and questions and apply some of what you said to each of them. Is it a sin to read fantasy?

JS: It is not a sin to read fantasy…but it would be a sin to read something that encourages you to have sinful thoughts. I mentioned Game of Thrones earlier. Game of Thrones has some sexual stuff going on that is wicked and descriptive to the point that your fleshly mind will begin thinking things it should not. When I got to this in the book, I realized I couldn’t keep reading it. To say someone committed incest is not the same as describing the ordeal for the reader. The Bible speaks of incest between Lot and his two daughters after the destruction of Sodom…it does not describe the matter in any sort of detail for us.

It would also be sinful to agree with the views of any fictional story or movie that contradict God’s word or which disavow God’s principles. You might, as a preacher, study false religions in detail, their views of God and Salvation, etc…they are false. Is that sinful? No. What would be sinful is to agree with them against the Bible…to change our view from truth to a lie because of what we read. That could happen with fantasy, or anything else you read or watch or listen to.

BT: Is it a sin to watch Star Wars? We know that Star Wars has a lot of Buddhist and New Age influences behind it. Should Christians stay away from the Jedi, the Force, and all things Star Wars?

JS: Again, you might read or watch Star Wars and have no problem understanding that it’s make-believe and carries a false view. However, if you start dressing like a Jedi and claiming to be one with the Force, you’ve probably got a big problem. You might think I’m being funny…well sort of. But there are people who believe in the Force.

Have you ever read the beliefs of Scientology? It’s all science fiction: waystation on mars, Thetans and stuff…pure sci-fi. But it’s now a religion.

That brings me to the question: is it wrong to consider other views in the world?

We are surrounded with all manner of beliefs in the world. God never said to shut our eyes or ears to the world around us…however we are called to believe the TRUTH, and not LIES. Can I watch Star Wars and believe the truth, and not be deceived by false views? I can. Can you?

Paul’s concerns about things sacrificed to idols comes to mind…he said, it’s not sinful to eat that meat, because an idol is nothing in reality. The god behind it doesn’t even exist. But the perception of others when you ate that meat was a problem. You could become a stumbling block. If you’re grounded in truth, watch Star Wars and understand it’s not the truth. It’s just entertainment. It’s fairly wholesome and has a message about good vs. evil that makes easy sense. Talk about it with your kids…let them know what’s not true. Help them understand.

The Serpent Kings saga is another exciting tale from Somers

BT: Is it a sin to read Harry Potter?

I’m going to end up repeating myself on these because they all have the same issues. Is witchcraft good? Nope. Absolutely not. There is no such thing as White Witchcraft either. Anything that promotes or encourages witchcraft is bad. We should stay away from it.

The problem I think is misunderstood about Harry Potter is that it doesn’t present a form of witchcraft described by the Bible. Harry Potter treats magic like a natural power inherited from parents. It treats it like the force in Star Wars frankly, which is not what witchcraft is at all. Witchcraft, Wicca, etc…is a religion and practice that involves consorting with demonic spirits (even when the witch doesn’t realize this) in order to do what they hope to accomplish.

The biggest problem with Harry Potter is that children may not get the difference, because it is called “witchcraft” in the story. If this is seen positively and then explored by them as they grow up, they’ll find something entirely different from Harry Potter, but they could become entangled in it before realizing.

BT: Is it a sin to play World of Warcraft or Dungeons & Dragons?

Same answer here also…we must be grounded in truth because we are faced with all manner of beliefs in this world. Is it a sin to send your children to public school where they will be drenched in Evolution? No, but it would be a sin to allow those teachings to go unchallenged in our homes…we must be grounded in truth and help our children and others to be grounded also.

BT: Other than your own books (which I do highly recommend – without reservation), what are some other authors or works that you’d suggest Christians check out?

Wayne Batson has some good fantasy novels. There’s also Jonathan Rogers. And I also enjoyed the Mistborn series quite well by Brandon Sanderson.

BT: Any closing thoughts for parents especially?

Ground yourselves and your children in the Word of God. Understand the truth and it will protect you from the lies we encounter in the world everyday. The world is drenched in lies…fiction is seen as entertainment primarily. While it can influence people to false beliefs, I think this is only the case when people aren’t discerning about those beliefs. If you don’t know something is false, you might believe it. If you don’t know the truth of God’s Word, you are more likely not to recognize those false views.

If a Mormon came to your house claiming Christ as the way, you might believe he knew the Biblical Christ if you hadn’t studied the word. But when you do, you realize that Mormon believes in a false Christ made up by men. Which Jesus are you talking about?…you’ll only know when you find him described by God’s Word. The same goes for all of our views as Believers. We should believe and follow what God says is true. We should not believe what contradicts God’s word.

The truth can make us free…but only if we are grounded in it! Can I read Richard Dawkin’s God Delusion? Many Christian pastors have studied this book. Are they swayed by it? Not if they are grounded in truth. They recognize and identify the lies in it, and remain grounded in truth. That’s an extreme example. Can I watch a dinosaur movie and not be made into an Evolutionist by watching it? Sure I can, and I’ll even discuss where it’s wrong on Creation with my kids in the process.

BT: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I know you’re a busy man, but your wisdom will help a lot of my readers, I know.

JS: I hope it’s helpful. Thanks for having me over (digitally that is).

*****

For more on James Somers, check out his blog and his Author Page at Amazon.

You can also check out my take on this subject at “Is it Wrong to Read Fantasy Literature?”

PragerU Goes After Modern Art

PragerU takes off the gloves in a scathing video that excoriates modern art. The video features artist Robert Florczak who laments the modern era’s decline of objective (or at least semi-objective) artistic standards in art in favor of an emphasis on personal expression. The result, in Florczak’s view, is that art has moved from the “beautiful” to “a competition between the ugly and the twisted.” The video is controversial and will undoubtedly get a rise out of some of my readers, but Mr. Florczak makes some valid points worth considering.

Keep this video in mind the next time you visit an art gallery or museum.