Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On Roman Catholicism

Photo Credit
Since this week we commemorate Reformation Day, I'd like to do at least one post that sort of ties in with the theme, and then possibly another one on Friday. Taking the time to remember this great movement, perhaps the greatest movement in church history since the coming of Jesus Christ, is certainly vital for every protestant believer, whether or not you fall on the Calvinist side of things or like to take a non-Calvinist leaning. Truly, though Calvin is a great and amazing part of the movement with his love for Scripture and study, the Reformation and Christian Reformed are two different things entirely. The Reformation was a return of the proper balance of grace and works in the Christian theology, a time where sola scriptura was poured out like a torrent on masses of hungry people, and the Scripture was made available to the regular man as well as to the priest.

Yes, most of us know the Reformation inside-out as far as the Luther and Calvin and Zwingli are concerned, though the familiarity of this time period is sadly drifting to less than what it should be. So I'm not going to be dwelling as much on that in today's post. If you'd like a refresh from last year, I wrote a review on Joel Beeke's Reformation Heroes, touched on the 5 Solas, and talked about Douglas Bond's The Betrayal. But today, I'd like to talk about the Roman Catholic church. Not specifically in contrast to the Reformation, but our understanding of the Roman Catholic church in books in general.

When I first heard that some people were made greatly uncomfortable by Roman Catholic characters in stories, I was a bit surprised. I had never thought of the issue seriously before, but I do certainly understand why. After the Reformation, which exposed some seriously erroneous doctrines on the part of the Catholics, it goes against our Protestant roots when a character becomes a monk or a nun, and dedicates themselves to God for a life of celibacy. Prayers to Mary, signing the cross, and vowing candles to various patron saints are common expressions of religion when Catholic characters find themselves in dire straits, and we know from Scripture that praying to Mary and vowing candles will never buy God's favor. But the question is, should Roman Catholic characters and actions bother us in the books we read?

I argue that books with Roman Catholic characters do not need to make us uncomfortable, and the rest of this article deals with why.

1. The Roman Catholic Church was, for a long time, the main Christian Church.
At the beginning of the Christian church, congregations were not Catholic. There were individual congregations, sometimes coming together to make rulings on important doctrines. Then it shifted to a more central Church government, and we had the Celtic church, the Catholic Church, and the Orthodox church. Unfortunately the Celtic church was badgered into submission, and we were left for the most part, as far as Western Christianity is concerned, with the Catholic church. The Popes chose kings and emperors, started wars, ruled the populace, and dispensed eternal grace with all the regality of political sovereigns; and for centuries up until the Reformation, we find that the Roman Catholics kept Scripture alive, however hidden within the cloister walls. Then the Reformation unleashed it, and the Catholic church with its errors was left behind by masses of dedicated Christians.

But that doesn't negate the fact that the Catholic church did exist. And for most countries and most Christians, it provided the only religious education for years. Which brings us to our next point.

2. The Roman Catholic Church was a legitimate time period in history.
The fact is, we should be reading about Catholic characters on occasion. Catholics were a legitimate part of history, especially before the Reformation, when they kept Christianity alive in many parts of the world. They evangelized (albeit imperfectly) and shepherded the people (though many times unbiblically) but all the same, they existed, and it isn't necessary to worry when a book we're reading acknowledges that fact. Cadfael is very Catholic; that makes sense, because it takes place during the time of Crusades. All of Robin Hood's men made vows and signed the Cross and prayed to Mary, but they were jolly and manly souls all the same. Just because the character don't turn protestant, should we not read the story?

Take Haggard's The Brethren. One of the characters takes a vow to become a monk, and though Christians should not be taking vows to monks, I don't fault him for it. In essence, he was dedicating himself to the service of the Church, the only Church he knew. And the point the author was trying to make was not that the Catholic church was right (because he is quite against the Catholic church in Lysbeth) but that the characters were devout in their religion. (note that I'm basing this assumption off the CLP edited version, and can't speak to the original.)

When an author writes a book, they should write with truthfulness and objectivity in the nation, culture, and time period which they are portraying. Lest my readers think I'm arguing for religious tolerance, let me state very clearly that I do not agree with the Roman Catholics in many, or even most of their doctrines. I do not believe that they are just another 'denomination' of the Christian church. But I say that when we're reading a book, when we're evaluating a book, we must be careful to judge the Catholic characters within the context of the time period and purpose for which they are used.

3. The Roman Catholic Church is still a legitimate part of today's history.
All right, you say. It may be fine for a character to be Catholic before the Reformation, but what about after? Surely then, it's wrong, once people could understand the truth.

Not necessarily.

For instance, if you're going to read an Irish story, then some of the characters probably should be Catholic. That is still their culture, and it would be a strange and rather biased story to ignore the fact.Proper apologetics does not deny that error exists. Nor does it  simply ignore error and say nothing about it. The Catholic still exists, and people are still Catholics, and it's not wrong to acknowledge that, even though we don't excuse or endorse Catholicism. Proper story-writing acknowledges that men make different religious choices, though a Christian story makes it clear that not all men make the right ones. We should not be wishy-washy in presenting absolute truth, but nor should we deny occasions when man turns to error instead.

Our goal should be to read every book, even fiction stories, with an attitude of evaluating to take it captive to the standards of Jesus Christ. Let us not say that a book was not worth reading merely because one of the characters was Catholic. We must take the Catholicism a little deeper, and ask ourselves "Did the author put in Catholicism to promote false doctrine, or to faithfully portray a legitimate time period in history?" In other words, if a book is presenting Catholicism as the truth, and trying to convert the reader, then red flags definitely should go up in the reader's mind. But when an author is putting it in for the purpose of being honest with history, then we should respect that and take it in the context it is meant to be written in.

The purpose of the Christian bibliophile is not to ignore all books that disagree with them, nor to read books that suppress facts for the purpose of making Christianity look better. Our faith is able to stand up to any culture, and time, any religion, any attack. And therefore, when we find a modern story in which one of the characters is Catholic, that's not necessarily wrong, because--people still are Catholic in today's society. And Christians still need to know how to deal with them just as much as they did during the Reformation. The Reformation didn't give us permission to deny Catholics' existence; it merely freed us to pursue the truth, and try to show them the error of their ways.

Side Note
I have many friends who used to be Roman Catholic. I don't recommend books with Catholic characters to them. That would be insensitive to their spiritual journey, and cause a stumbling block which I certainly wouldn't want to do. For some readers Catholic characters would be more of a spiritual detriment than a historical edification. Let me not, by my choice to read about Catholics, cause my brother to stumble. It may be a historical fact, but we must be sure that we do not cause baby Christians to fall into error over things they aren't ready to evaluate or handle yet.

As Protestants, we do not endorse the Catholic church, nor do we hold them as just another different kind of Christian. Many of them do not know the grace of Jesus Christ. But at the same time, we can still read books with Catholic characters without finding it disturbing that the author included that element, for it is our goal to gain a broad and educated perspective on the different worldviews that shaped the events of history, and the theological errors that are still infiltrating the culture today.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, October 25, 2013

Let Them All Laugh

Back in March of 2012 we had a three part series on The Mark of Excellence, and in the very last article I made the argument that for a book to be good, it must have humor. Humor gives hope, and any book without hope is neither very uplifting, nor very Christian.

Humor, whether or not the author is a Christian, or the character is a Christian, gives us a breath of assurance that someone can see the silver lining, the rainbow, the happy ending. In Christ, we Christians have a happy ending. And we should live in the hope of a happy ending, with a smile on our faces and a joyful word on our lips. Humor is essential in an excellent book because it gives us hope for the future.
It is only a godless man, and a godless story, that has no hope. ~The Mark of Excellence, Part 3
But a few paragraphs doesn't do justice to the beauty of humor in stories, and so today I wanted to delve a little more into the subject of comedy in books. The different types of comedy, the standards that we as Christians should have in reading comedic materials, and the purpose that the 'comic relief' serves in a story.

The Importance of Comedy

You see, every story in some form or another deals with darkness. There would be no conflict without sin, no character growth without lack of character in the first place, no victory if there were not something to fight against. And when we read of darkness, we are reminded of our separation from the Lord's perfect peace. If an author merely wrote of the darkness, we as the reader would be left in the hopeless consequences of the character's wrong choices, or the abuse that they received at the hands of others. And that's why we need humor throughout the plot.

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. ~Psalm 30:5

This is the principle humor illustrates. Though the characters are fighting against sin and sorrow, joy should always come in the morning. Humor gives us hope that joy is coming.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” Psalm 126:2

By the end of the story, whether or not the author is explicitly Christian, the reader should be able to draw the theme 'the Lord has done great things for them, to bring them out of their troubles'. With the end of trouble comes a return of joy and laughter.

In book form, the return of joy and laughter is often put in the hands of a certain character, that is responsible for giving life and joy to the characters during their darkness. So first let's explore the comedic character, and then we'll take a look at different types of humor.

The Comic Relief
A comic relief is the fancy writer's term for 'the person that makes everybody laugh'. As soon as they come in the room you have an expectant smile on your face, waiting for them to crack a joke. And generally everybody loves the comic relief. They make us smile, they lighten our spirits, and they lighten the spirits of the main character.

You don't kill your comic relief, some people claim. If you do, you kill your breath of fresh air, and your source of hope. Even in the darkness the characters are clinging to at least one person who can see the sun above the clouds. Whether or not authors should actually kill their comic relief is an arguable point, I suppose, but if they do, or if they kill the character's sense of humor, then they absolutely must create a new comic relief to lighten the mood.

It's only fair to us as readers. We can't be so emotionally distraught wrecks that we can barely get to the next chapter. For lack of a literary example, take the Kendrick brothers' film Courageous. When they were plotting out the scenes, they have one very tragic plot line. They marked the sad scenes with one color and the happy scenes with another, and realized that all the sad scenes were grouped together with no comedic relief. So they mixed them up a little more, by giving their comic relief characters a few more scenes. And you really get that balance when you watch the movie. When we're reading books, we can sense when the author cracks a joke to give us some relief from the tension, and we grasp at it, because if they can crack a joke, then obviously not everything is as bad as we thought it was. This is the vital role that the comic relief character plays.

Now if a book is out of balance in this area, it certainly isn't wrong from a biblical or principle standpoint. It's okay to read books that are bleak and tragic messes from midpoint to the final climax, if you so desire, though I would argue that such books don't present an accurate portrayal of hope and redemption as set forth in Scripture. But the ideal book that follows biblical story-telling format, inserts 'beats' or 'scenes' of hope. And these 'beats' of hope most likely come from a specific character.

But the comic relief isn't always the droll joke-cracker. Sometimes joking just doesn't fit with the story mood. So if an author can't use slapstick, does that mean there can't be any humor? Absolutely not. The comedic relief can use a couple of different types, and we're going to look at them below.

Types of Comedy
Obviously there are many different kinds of humor and we can't cover all of them, but we'll look at a few that most often appear in books.

Banter. This type of humor often takes a subject that two characters disagree on, and makes them go back and forth to the great amusement of the audience. See where the source of disagreement and darkness can be turned to a source of laughter? Often found among siblings in families, you'll find this type in a lot of children's lit, and in stories where two unlikely partners become good friends over the course of time.

Risqué is what most people think of when they see the work 'comedy', unless you're a period drama fan, in which case you think of irony. Risqué humor makes crude jokes and sex inferences, and you can't read a strictly comedic book without finding some of this kind.

Dry/Ironic/Sarcasm is generally a statement that means the exact opposite, and is intended to crush the person the character is talking to. Only to be used carefully, and sparingly, but it can be used to good effect.  Take Mr. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility. He's always saying crushing remarks to his wife (at least in the 90s movie) and the whole audience is howling. More on this kind of humor in a moment.

Parody. Parody takes something and basically makes fun of it, by creating a ridiculous or exaggerated picture of the object under discussion. One rising young authoress recently took the opening scene of Pride and Prejudice and successfully created a homeschool version of the conversation, which illustrates the principles of parody in a brilliant manner. You can find that parody here.

Slapstick makes a huge joke out of mock, exaggerated violence, or people getting hurt. I can't think of any books at present that illustrate this, but most of the Goblin town scenes in Peter Jackson's new adaptation of The Hobbit could safely be called slapstick. Slapstick is also highly evident in most Disney films. If my readers can think of any books, I would love to know! Since slapstick is my least favorite type of comedy besides risqué, I'm sure that explains my lack of examples, as I generally avoid that sort of thing.

If you want to study many more types of humor, the articles here and here can further your researches. :)

Humor in Scripture
You find a lot of humor in Scripture. Actually, Scripture is full of irony and sarcasm, and the more you read it, the more you find it. Specifically in the book of Job. When I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation one year, I got to read the whole book of Job at once, and I wondered what was wrong with me. Every day I found myself laughing again and again. The sarcasm is rich and plentiful. And this illustrates a concept we were talking about earlier. The darkness of struggle and suffering must be counterbalanced by humor, for humor gives hope.
Job illustrates that the greatest pain and the greatest humor often go hand in hand. He lost everything: his children, his servants, his possessions, his health. He has done nothing to deserve this, and what's more, he's been dubiously blessed with three self-righteous friends to show him what he did wrong. He's wrestling with his theological knowledge about God, and trying to make it reconcile with his sufferings. But throughout the story of Job you'll find humor, specifically in irony. In chapter 11 Zophar gives a harsh tirade on Job's wickedness, and finally offers a sop of comfort, saying that if he puts it away then he'll regain the life he lost. And Job's response in 12:1? No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you." What a one-liner! And there are plenty more where that came from. Several times in the Scriptures where a person or nation is at their darkest moment, there will be someone to give a breath of laughter. Most often this happens in irony and sarcasm.

People hope when they laugh. Somehow, no matter what we are going through, we recognize that laughter is meant to be a good thing, and a gift from God.

Safeguards of Comedy
When we're evaluating humor in the books we read, we have to set standards based on Scripture. Granted, we don't have to be a bunch of strait-laced dolefuls, but when it comes down to it, if we take seriously the mandate in Scripture to hate what the Lord hates, than we must be very careful not to excuse inappropriate or hurtful humor just because "it's funny". Ephesians 5:3-4 says "But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving." And though filthy humor and sexy jokes can be funny, they are humorous to our flesh, and not the kind of humor we should be indulging in as Christians. Humor should not use questionable things to make people laugh. It must be appropriate, and as Ephesians says, 'sexual immorality and all impurity must not even be named among you.' Instead of laughing, we should be grieved when things that God calls sin are mocked, or good gifts He has given us are trampled and made light of.

Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. ~Ephesians 5:7-11

The goal of biblical humor in all books is not to gratify the lusts of the flesh, but to give hope. Hope of happy endings, hope of victory, and hope of Christ. When humor follows correct guidelines in the books we read, then we are given an accurate portrayal of the way the Lord works. He never leaves us to despair, but restores joy and laughter after the night of darkness.  That should be the type of humor we look for in the books we read.

What are your favorite books to make you laugh?

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Count of Monte Cristo

Write a huge jaw-breaker of a book, with nine hundred pages and a main character that has not one, not two, but eight aliases throughout the story and you're sure to have a crowd-pleaser. People love complications. They even love jaw-breaker books on occasion. And in the end, a book with revenge, murder, love, opium, and poison will hold their attention for a very long time, no matter how long the author takes in going about his plot. Such is the case with Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, and this is the book we're going to be exploring today. It's sensational. It's controversial. It's huge. What makes a better book review than that?

 The Plot

Edmond Dantes stands fair to receive everything he could ask for in life--a stunningly beautiful fiancée, a ship of his own to command, and a fair start along the way to becoming a good and prosperous Frenchman. But the course of true love never does run smooth, or we would have only 9 pages to read instead of 900. Arrested just as he's about to be married, Edmond Dantes is taken unjustly to the fortress of the Chateau d' If and sentenced to solitary confinement for life on the charge of being a Bonapartist traitor.


 Six years into this infernal torture, another cell mate connects to his cell--the Abbe Faria, who begins plotting with Dantes for their escape. When they're not digging a tunnel, Faria begins imparting his extensive knowledge to Dantes and eventually tells him of an island with a load of treasure that is theirs to claim if they can escape. But as day passes to day, Faria grows weaker and eventually dies; leaving everything he has to Dantes. In a bold move, Dantes places the body of the dead man in his prison cell and fastens himself into the bag used as a shroud so he can escape. And escape he does.

Sworn to avenge himself on the traitors who accused him and the magistrate who would not give him a fair trial, Dantes claims his treasure on the island of Monte Cristo and sets himself up in Parisian society as the Count of Monte Cristo. But his is a diabolical revenge, for he does not do the dirty work himself. He simply sets the evil passions of the men who wronged him against each other, ferreting out their secrets sins, exposing their most hidden shames to the public. For he does not want merely to kill them. He wants them to feel every drop of torture for sending him to solitary confinement; for letting his father starve to death; and for taking away and marrying the woman he loved so dearly.

This is revenge at its finest. But lest you think that's all there is to it, read on.

My Thoughts

When I first picked up this book from the library at fourteen, I was quite excited to conquer something so huge, all 500 pages of it, and then found to my disappointment that 500 pages was only the abridged version. Well, I read it anyway, though it left off a great deal that it shouldn't have. One does not simply abridge The Count of Monte Cristo. However, a few years later I picked up the full version, and altogether it was best in the end that I read the abridgement first. Some of the themes in the full book I probably wasn't ready for at fourteen, and much better able to handle later on.

One of the side benefits of Monte Cristo is that it taught me the history of Napoleon like no textbook ever did. Before I read the book I had some hazy idea that he was the guy who fought the battle of Waterloo, but his history is so intrinsically connected with the plot of the book that you can't help remembering it when you're finished--his fall from power, and exile to the island of Elba, and then his return and last grab for the throne. That's a well-written story, and how a novel about Napoleon should be written, not with chapters and chapters of history before we get on to the plot again. The history and the plot are intrinsically entwined with one another in Dumas's work, and a pleasure to read.

But of course, most people reading this review are wondering what I thought of the Count and all the objectionable parts. Revenge? Poison? Murder? In just a moment we'll be addressing those. Believe it or not, the revenge didn't disturb me nearly as much as some of the other elements. The opium dreams were rather lewd, and I skipped over them; sensuous elements are just as bad in dreams as in real life. I was also shocked read in a review that one plot had lesbianism in it, specifically the running away of Eugenie Danglars with Louise d'Armily. While I can see where some might think this is the case in the latter chapters of the book, and I see some grounds for suspecting it, I have not found the evidence to be conclusive as yet. Also, many characters are in numerous adulterous relationships, but the mistress plot is not necessarily condoned, and I think it's fairly obvious that the characters who participate in this are not worthy of emulation. But due to violence and adult thematic elements, a certain amount of maturity should be evident in the reader before handing it off to them.

Even more disturbing than that was Chapter 48, in which we learn that the Count of Monte Cristo thinks he has sold his soul to the Devil in order to become an agent of Providence. If one takes the Count as the hero of the tale, this idea would be very disturbing, but when we see his flawed character, and the flawed ideology that is driving his whole life, to have him state that he sold his soul is quite disturbing, but also absolutely necessary to the plot so that the reader can see his mistaken line of thinking.

Providence is a heavy theme in this book. The Count of Monte Cristo is an agent of providence. Providence does this and does that; numerous characters refer to it. It's a superficial reference at best; the characters don't seem to much care what Providence would have them do, only that Providence controls the lot of their lives. This is where the reader has to bring in some ulterior discernment that the book itself doesn't have. We can see where bad choices lead in the story, and eventually the characters do as well, but we see it long before they do.

And now we come to the revenge plot. Many people are concerned that The Count of Monte Cristo espouses revenge; to be honest, that thought never crossed my mind when I read the book. Perhaps it was the presupposition I brought to it that revenge was already wrong, but though the adventures were grand ones, I never overlooked the sin for the sake of the sensation. The whole plot is to show that revenge is evil, and though the main character comes to this realization very late, the reader should be reaching that conclusion half-way through or even sooner. The sad waste of opulence for the purpose of revenging a past that can never be reclaimed jeopardizes both the present and the future. And if anything, this story teaches that living in past wrongs will prevent you from moving on to make a better future for yourself and those around you. The characterizations are brilliant. The young men and young women, older men and older women. This author and his plot lines are so rich that it truly would be tragic to miss at least one perusal of them. Albert, Villefort, Maximillian, Valentine, Nortier--they are all acquaintances worth making, and this is novel, for all its flaws, is probably one of the only French novels I would heartily recommend.

Be sure, if you've read the book, to check out the fascinating character relationships graph at the bottom of the Wikipedia article's plot synopsis. The characters are numerous, and their connections to each other have great bearing on the plot. I was able to keep track of them all with only a little difficulty, but the chart was fascinating to look over, and though it has spoilers, may help  readers who find the numerous threads confusing.

Unfortunately there is no graph to help with the conversation; it can go for a whole page or two without referring to which speaker is which, and a lot of times you'll find yourself back-tracking to decipher who said what. Sometimes Dumas doesn't even use a new paragraph every time the speakers change--he merely puts a hyphen like I just did and goes merrily on with the new speaker's text. This can be somewhat confusing, but it's not impossible to work through, and doubtless there are some editors who have corrected that.

The Count of Monte Cristo has inspired numerous spin-offs, movie adaptations, and imitative works, not the least of which is Jules Verne's stellar novel Matthias Sandorf. While I don't think Verne resolved the revenge plot quite as well as Dumas did, it's still worth reading and a fantastic story. But be sure to read the original inspiration first.

And I suppose the final conclusion to be reached after reading this book, is that if a beautiful fiancée can be called Mercedes, then I should not be offended at the unsuspecting person who once called me Chrysler instead of Schuyler. :)


Lady Bibliophile


Friday, October 18, 2013

What Every Christian Needs To Know About The Qur'an

In our family, we've always heavily emphasized apologetics, whether it be creation/evolution, doctrines of the Christian faith, or defending the Bible against other religions. In fact, this year we just finished a 42 week apologetics series with my brother's Bible study, a crash-course on defending the Christian faith.  1 Peter 3:15 says "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect."

What good fortune when apologetics can combine books and doctrine together. :) And that, specifically in the area of defending Christianity against false religions, is the focus of today's post.

The biggest religion opposing Christianity in today's world is certainly the Muslim faith.  Some of us have grown lenient in our view of Muslims, while others watch with a nail-biting worry as they expand in influence and size. Few of us are actually equipped to deal with this problem, and that's where James White, with a fantastic new book called What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an, steps forward to give Christians a defense for our faith.

Muslims are a lost people, and we have with us the true message of salvation. Imagine not knowing whether Allah will let you into heaven, or hoping against hope that you will not die in blasphemy to him, which is the unforgiveable sin in the Muslim faith. Your good works must outweigh your bad, and even if they do that doesn't always mean you will see paradise, for Allah has ordained when you were born whether you would go to heaven or not. Even if you live like a saint all your days, if he chose that you should go to hell, go there you shall. What a horrible, grievous, twisted kind of predestination that holds millions in fear for their souls. And we have hope to offer them. We must be passionate about doing it.

But having hope is not enough. Muslims speak a different spiritual language than we do, and simply telling them the good news about Jesus Christ will not outweigh strongholds of thought that they have believed in for years. We need to understand not only our side, but their side as well, so that we can truly offer them hope. More on that in a moment. But first, let me explain the premise of White's book.

The Book

What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an is 287 pages, and 11 chapters, and each chapter deals with a specific doctrine that is vitally different between Christians and Muslims. Muslims believe in Jesus Christ, but they do not believe that he was divine, nor do they believe he was crucified. Also, they believe that Christians are polytheists because of our belief in the Trinity. But when you read the Qur'an, Muhammad believed that our Trinity was not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the Father, Mary, and Jesus Christ. These misunderstandings of the Christian faith on Muhammad's part only add to the tension in our dialogues with each other.

Muhammad believed that he was a prophet in a long line of prophets; taking on the mantle of spiritual guide inherited from Moses and Jesus. He also believed, as do Muslims today, that Scripture prophesied about his coming. Muslims believe that the Qur'an is inspired, inerrant, and not the words of Muhammad, but words straight from the mouth of Allah.

White hits every issue--the history of Muhammad, definitions of Muslim terminology, Jesus and the Qur'an, Muslims and the cross, the common accusation that Christians corrupted Scripture, (which is the number one defense Muslims will bring up in discussing their faith with Christians) and the Muslims' claim to the perfection of the Qur'an. He is both thoughtful, and objective, proving the Qur'an wrong from the Qur'an itself, and quick to extend a hand of grace to the other side.

This book will inform and equip you in the common key areas of the Christian and Muslim faiths. It is not fluffy; it's thoughtful and rich with insight, and comes endorsed by such Christian leaders as John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, and Abdul Saleeb, as well as others. It's a high-quality work, and a good example of how Christians can honorably prove other faiths wrong, while still respecting the human on the other side of the equation.

My Thoughts

White's book is not merely a defense of Christianity against Muslim attacks. It's an objective, step-by-step examination of the various doctrines in the Qur'an. Too many of us, when we are faced with another religion's holy book, either dismiss it as entirely too complicated to be grasped, or entirely too false to be given much thought to. But White says in his introduction, "I learned as a young person that the single best way to honor the truth and to show honor to those you seek to reach is to "hear them in their own language," that is, to enter into their worldview and their theology." 

He says that it behooves us, as Christians, to be informed in our arguments against the Muslim faith, and not accept shoddy reasoning just because we presuppose that we're already right. The Muslims are real souls going astray, and they believe in their faith--however misguidedly--just as passionately, and sometimes even more passionately, than we believe in ours. Therefore we need to approach their book with an objective standard, and evaluate it with all the pursuit of excellence with which we would wish them to evaluate our Holy Scriptures.

Now some of you, at this point, may be thinking that a book about the Muslim faith really isn't up your line, and one about the Qur'an is probably pretty technical. This book is work to read. But it's not impossible to grasp, and Christians need to be willing to work to equip themselves for the times in which they live. We live in an age of increasing Muslim influence, and it is imperative that we take the time to learn their theology, their worldview, and their view of the Christian faith, so that we are properly equipped to witness to them of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

And so, James White's What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur'an is a vital read for the Christian bibliophile.


Lady Bibliophile

**This book was given to me for free by the Bethany House Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give a favorable opinion, and all views in this article are expressly my own.**

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Situational Ethics and How to Deal With Them (Part Three)

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to our final installment in the series "Situational Ethics and How to Deal With Them". New to this series? Catch up on part one and part two, to get the full picture. :) This issue--the idea of proper moral resolution in the books we read--is a vital one in our culture today, and it is essential that we have a biblical understanding of it, not only in the world around us, but also in the books we read.

The idea that morals are absolute certainly isn't a popular one. Part of this is because we are creatures of the flesh, and absolute right and wrong makes us face a some point the denial of our desires. Another reason is the conflict waging in our souls between yielding to God as the ultimate authority, and wanting to take His authority for ourselves. Since this is an all-too-human struggle, we find it not only in ourselves, but also in the human characters we read about.

Situational ethics--the idea that right is dependent on the situation itself--is often described as 'mercy'. Sadly, this false mercy gives the idea that, as long as our intentions are pure, we should not be held responsible for the results of our actions. And this is very far both from God's grace and from His justice. It should be our goal to fill our minds with stories where His redemptive plan is clearly portrayed: either by a character choosing wrong and receiving grace after repenting from it, or a character choosing wrong and being punished for it, or a character choosing right and being rewarded for it. While there are many facets to these options, at least one of these should drive the plot and character resolution in the story.

In today's post, to wrap up our series, we'll be addressing the issue of whether or not to keep reading when an author inserts situational ethics as the moral resolution. But first we need to look at a final point before we can address that properly. Because there are some commonly misunderstood plot resolutions that are considered situational ethics, but actually aren't. And we'll be looking at those first.

Not Situational Ethics
Situations do not dictate principles. That's why it's important to know your principles before you get in bad situations, so you don't make a wrong choice under pressure. However, situations can in some cases dictate applications of those principles, and it's very important that we learn how applications can vary while still remaining true to the laws that God sets forth in Scripture.

Take Sherlock Holmes and The Abbey Grange.(Holmes gives abundant opportunity for introspection on today's topic.) The murderer killed in self-defense, after a woman was attacked, and he himself as well. He offers to stand by his crime; he refuses to run away, in spite of his innocence, after a way of dishonorable escape is offered to him. And in the end, Holmes finds him not guilty, so long as no one else is taken, and lets him go free to marry his love after a year of separation.

Take also another Cadfael novel, by Ellis Peters (with names removed for sake of spoilers.) The young man who commits the murder did so out of love for his master, and is exacting a painful penance for the deed. At his heels is a relative of the murdered man, sworn to avenge his master if the murderer ever slacks off on the penance he has set for himself. And soon enough he does, and stands at the mercy of the avenger and Hugh Beringar. Beringar hands the murder over to the avenger; and the avenger, in spite of his anger, chooses mercy.

Were either of these situations wrong, simply because a criminal was not handed over to the traditional forms of justice? I would argue not.

Sometimes God may give someone (in this case, a character) a direction to act against man's law in order to give life  or freedom. This is a legitimate plot twist in stories, if man's law is unjustly going to take life. Peter, when standing before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5, was faced with a government order that violated his conscience. But his answer, in verse 29, was that "We must obey God rather than men." And so is sometimes the case in stories as well: when man's law is going to violate justice, and the main character has an opportunity to save the victim, then I don't have a problem with them taking that opportunity. Jonathan helped David escape from his father when his father was violating the law and seeking to kill him, and he was counted both as a friend and as a good man.

Then that gives rise the question, if a character is taken up unjustly by man's law, shouldn't they just choose to suffer unjustly? Not necessarily. David was unjustly hunted down by Saul, the king of the land, and though I suppose he could have stayed and allowed himself to be unjustly killed, he made his escape and hid. Suffering for religion is one thing; but escaping the law for the sake of a crime you didn't commit, like Alan and Davie in Kidnapped (though I'm not sure you can exactly call Alan innocent) is quite another. Throughout history, men have fled for the sake of escaping harshness, or injustice, and this is not an improper moral resolution.

But in the action of the character taking man's law into their own hands, the compromise must never, ever include violating God's law.  That's where the problem comes in, and that's normally what books do. We sometimes take man's law into our hands. We never should reinterpret the Lord's law.

And ideally the disobedience, however justified, is resolved  in the story as well, though that can't always be the case. The law of man shouldn't be broken lightly, and even in cases where it is justifiable,  I think we should always be a little bit uncomfortable when that happens. It is not a normal thing, and should not occur often. As Forerunner's commentary says:

Of course, God's spiritual law is of prime importance and takes precedence over all other law. As Peter said, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) when a conflict between the two occurs. Though breaking man's laws may not always be sin, a rebellious attitude against what God appoints over us will in time lead to transgressing God's law.

If every book we reads has a character 'justly' choosing to break man's law, then we're going to get the idea that we can take the law of man into our hands on a regular basis, and that's a dangerous pit to fall into.

There are a couple of safety guards we can bear in mind when a character takes man's law into their own hands. Ideally after this situation happens, the character should be absolved by an authority figure, whether someone they look up to and receive guidance from, or even better, the law itself. In any case, there needs to be a clear indication that the character is violating man's law for the express purpose of obeying God's law. Also, there should be another character that they hold themselves accountable after the fact so that they aren't becoming an authority unto themselves.

Those are my present thoughts on the subject, but it's a knotty issue, and I would welcome more discussion on it.

When the Author Resolves It Wrong
Most times when a story is resolved incorrectly, it's wisest in the end to pitch it for good. This is important for our spiritual protection. Better to throw away something that causes us to stumble than risk being spiritually blinded or crippled in our understanding of truth.

One indication that we have of whether to keep or throw away a book is our level of attachment to the main character. If we're so attached to the hero we don't care whether they did wrong or not, then we should cut our affections down to a proper size, or if we can't do that, then pitch it. Right away. This kind of love will only weaken us, and it shows that we're not in a fit mental state to properly draw the right conclusions. It is possible to be emotionally connected to a character and still make correct moral judgments about their actions, as long as we have our love in correct line with the Word of God. But when our love goes beyond all bounds of right and wrong, then we're placing that love on too high a scale, and we need to root it out.

The more blatantly the author resolves a problem without caring about the violation of biblical principles, the more we should be cautious about continuing to read the book. The people shaping our minds through the written word need to be careful, even if they use situational ethics for the sake of the plot, that they resolve it in a proper manner. If they don't, then they shouldn't be the authors shaping our minds. I bought a book once without looking through it quite as rigorously as I should have, and brought it home only to realize that not only did the characters get away with everything they did wrong, the whole plot was a situational ethics romp from beginning to end. There was nothing good to be gained by reading it, and it was a terrible waste of money; fortunately the shopkeeper allowed me to return it, or I would be one regretful owner of a book that was a successful blueprint for every way you could handle sin incorrectly.

However, there are a couple of exceptions to the rule, as far as getting rid of books that don't handle the situation correctly, and we'll finish by running over those.

Sometimes the author doesn't intend to put in consequences, but you can see that the character is punished for what they did, even though the author and the characters don't know it themselves. A prime example of this is Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now. Most of the characters know they have sinned and gotten what they deserved, (in the book, I might add; the movie unfortunately took out all moral conclusions.) But there are a couple, who, even though they are miserable, have no idea that they did anything wrong. But the reader can see why they're suffering, and in that case it's not always necessary to get rid of the book. Ideally the character should know it. But in cases where they don't, as long as the reader can see the consequences then it might be worth keeping.

Second, if you learn something right, even though the author handled it completely wrong, well, then you'll have to evaluate whether it's fruitful to keep or not. We tend to learn by someone else's example, whether good or bad, and it is possible in some instances for an author to draw a completely wrong conclusion and the reader can still draw the right one. However, this option is only for readers who strictly evaluate the books they read, compare it with Scripture, and draw their own conclusions. If you read with discernment, then there are occasions when reading a book that does not line up with your worldview will give you a good exercise in apologetics and strengthening your stance. Though I would point out that this should not be an everyday exercise, and the majority of your reading diet should be that which builds you up and points you to the truth. But if you read merely for entertainment, and don't take the time to process, then you must be extra careful only to choose books that will show the right conclusion.

Situational Ethics in war is another post for another time. But for this series we're going to wrap up here with the reminder that God's law is absolute, and the consequences for breaking it are very real. The books we read should be in agreement with the way He works, and our characters should be accountable to the same rewards and consequences that we are in real life. However, as we have seen today, there are times when we legitimately show mercy, when man's consequences go beyond what God would justly give.

In the end: right is right, regardless of the situation the character finds himself in, and God honors those who trust Him enough to act according to right, whatever the odds against right may be.

With that, we'll close for now, and I'll be back Friday with a book review. :)

 Lady Bibliophile

Friday, October 11, 2013

Situational Ethics and How to Deal With Them (Part Two)

Welcome back, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to the second part in our three part series on Situational Ethics and How to Deal With Them. :) I have books by several different authors to illustrate the various points in this series, and in writing down notes this morning, I grew more and more excited over this concept, as there are so many interest aspects to include! In fact, there were so many that I couldn't fit them all in, and had to save them for the next post. :)

Types of Situational Ethics

We're going to look at three areas today that often fall into the trap of situational ethics. These are the most common and widespread, and while there are other issues like adultery and sexual immorality that could be delved into, I'm going to make the assumption that there's not as much gray area there and save it for another time. Thievery, lying, and murder are three key areas that many Christians are willing to turn a blind eye to if necessary. The following are examples of situational ethics to show you how to pinpoint the violated principles, and then hopefully you'll be able to take the same mindset and pinpoint similar problems in other books you've read.

Situational Ethics in Murder

The Situation

Once the murderer confesses in Ellis Peter's Dead Man's Ransom, the last chapters spin down into a disappointing spiral of trying to get the murderer out of the consequences of his act. In the end, Cadfael and another nun stand by while the murderer is taken into Wales. Granted, he's unconscious at the time and were he awake he would never have consented, but not even the young folks who perpetrate the deception get punished. The book ends in a checkmate, and Hugh Beringar, in despair, decides to let everybody off the hook and leave well enough alone.

The Violated Principle

In a story like this, we would be tempted to focus on the side details instead of the main facts: the young man was remorseful, he did it for love of someone, he was wounded and in pain when he was forced to make his confession, and in the end it wasn't his choice to escape to Wales. He was drugged and sent off by his cousin. But these are very clever blinders to disguise the fact that (1. His murder was extremely deliberate, even if hastily decided upon. You can't go into a man's room and smother him by accident. (2. Even though the murderer was not the one committing the situational ethics, since he bore no part in his escape, the people who stood by and watched it done were very much alert and knew what they were doing. Whether the murderer should have been hung after repenting is up for debate; certainly the death penalty should never be dealt out lightly. But the people who deceived and lied to get him out of the trap should certainly have received some form of punishment.

Situational Ethics in Thievery

The Situation:

The really best example of a stealing plot gone wrong is the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. Milverton may be the dirtiest blackmailer in all of London, but breaking into his house to search steal his letters, then watching a murder committed, and finishing it off by returning home to lie to the police are a whole line of blatant law violations.

The Violated Principles

Shouldn't a nice detective trying to help a lady in distress be enough excuse to break a few laws? And after all, if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time when murder is committed, you're really better off keeping quiet about it so as to avoid any misunderstandings.

Actually, in this story the violated principle came a lot sooner then the night of the climax. They began when the woman wrote some indiscreet letters and then hired Holmes to get them back so her husband wouldn't find out. One bad lie only leads to another, and this case was one bad spiral, until you're left at the end vaguely trying to grasp what it was you liked about this detective in the first place.

You see, situational ethics always start with a little compromise. And every compromise after that to the character and the reader is excusable. So it's important to go back to the root of the problem that started the compromises in the first place and then we'll be able to get a clear picture of why the other compromises were wrong.

Situational Ethics in Lying

One of the most famous and classic examples of lying and situational ethics is Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place, when she lies about the radios and the Jews. Excusable, we say. The Jews are God's chosen people, and lying to save them is more than enough reason to get away with a little bit of truth stretching.

But Nollie didn't. And many others didn't as well. When the soldiers came in, and some of the Ten Boom family couldn't bear to lie, God always, always saved them from the wrath of the soldiers. This is a hard case to judge, but I think we see that yes, you can lie with the best of intentions, but you can also tell the truth and God will honor that integrity. It all comes down to whether or not you believe God's sovereignty is inviolable as we discussed in the last post.

When Situational Ethics Occur

Sometimes, however hard we try to justify the characters actions, give them the benefit of the doubt, and do every last thing we can to put them on the side of right, there's nothing left to do but face the fact that they've violated God's law, and there is no way to get around it.

And like it or not, it's at that time that we have to remove the emotion from the judgment. It doesn't matter if the violator is a fourteen year old boy, or a teenage girl with no parents, or a handsome young man on the brink of marriage. If they've done wrong, then they've violated God's law, and all the cuteness or the love or the tragedy doesn't excuse that.

Let me make haste to say that by removing the emotion, it doesn't mean that we can't have any sympathy for the wrongdoer. Of course we can, and of course we should. Every one of us finds ourselves in situations where we have done wrong and we need mercy, and we should show love and grace to others with the same love and grace that have been shown to us.

However, emotions throw us for a loop. They throw characters for a loop as well. In fact, it's often when emotions are out of control that a character makes the decision to go the wrong path. Every good author makes the reader become emotionally involved with the characters, so we're going to support them in every choice they make, unless we look beyond the emotion and to the truth.

We'll be covering this more in the last post, as it's too complicated to do justice to here, and there are a lot more factors weighing into it than simply removing emotional connection. Besides, it is possible to be emotionally connected to a character and still make correct moral judgments about their actions.

What do you do when you just plain don't know if the compromise was wrong or not? Sometimes the law of man was violated, but the character had noble intentions. This is where we start heading down a slippery slope. First, we must never let a character off the hook because of good intentions. But if there are times when we think they are legitimately let free of their crimes, then we must look at their resulting actions.

Jesus, time and again in Scripture, said "Your sins are forgiven." If we were to insist upon everyone receiving what they deserved, we would all be in hell, and I for one am very grateful that I don't have to receive the consequences for my sin. And if we are given grace in real life, then it seems that characters should also be given grace in fictional stories. So what is the key to balance grace and justice?

I think we find the root of the matter in another phrase that Jesus used several times in the New Testament. "Go thy way and sin no more." Oftentimes a book with poor situational ethics simply says "Go thy way". But a book that truly shows Christian grace must also add "and sin no more". Because that is what Jesus teaches when he gives us grace. Grace isn't a license to continue sinning. It's a pardon, and a charge to follow our Lord and leave our life of sin.

Situational ethics, in the end, is empty and valueless grace. A grace that simply gives the character a free ride out of their consequences because they 'just couldn't help it'. But true grace when the character makes wrong decisions, is the grace that says "You have done wrong. But you are pardoned. Now go, and leave your life of sin." Grace does not gloss over the wrong, pretend it has never been done, or excuse the character based on motivations. It pardons, and then it erases the sin and commands the violator to turn from their wrongdoing.

And that is the grace we should be filling our minds with as we read.

Next time we'll be addressing the issue of what to do when an author handles their story wrong and inserts situational ethics as the moral resolution. Do we keep reading? Do we read the book again?  Also, there are some commonly misunderstood plot resolutions that are considered situational ethics, but actually aren't. And we'll be looking at those as well.

But for now, I will close and wish you a weekend full of good books and happy reading!


Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Situational Ethics and How to Deal With Them

Hello friends and fellow bibliophiles! It's time for another series from the poll you so kindly voted on earlier this year, and the subject this time is Situational Ethics and How to Deal With Them. This is certainly an ambitious subject, but essential for every book lover to face. Why? Because every book has moral conflict. At least, every good book does, and it would be a rare and ill-crafted story not to have any moral conflict all.

If a book has moral conflict, then it follows that it must have moral resolution. No resolution can be a resolution in itself, but without exception, in a properly plotted story, the moral resolution is an intrinsic part of the character's growth. Sometimes the resolution is even part of the physical plot of the story, and therefore, since it is so clearly tied up into the message of the book, it is essential that we get a proper moral resolution. But it's often in the moral resolutions that we face this dangerous pitfall of 'situational ethics'. Situational ethics is the idea that "right and wrong depends on the situation you find yourself in". Sadly, many Christians embrace this idea, and it is vital that we come to a proper understanding of it.

Today we'll be defining our terms and looking at the overarching ideas. Then we'll get into the nitty-gritty situations that seem to break the rules, and evaluate them from Scripture. Ellis Peter's Cadfael novels are the perfect books to use as examples for the various points, but if you've never read Cadfael, there's no need to worry. All will be clearly explained as we go along. :)

Defining Our Terms
We're going to be using "Moral Conflict" and "Moral Resolution" fairly often during this series, so I'd like to take the time now to lay a really solid foundation with their meanings, as this will be essential for the rest of the series.

Moral Conflict
A moral conflict is when a character is faced with the choice of breaking God's law or keeping it: choosing right or choosing wrong. This conflict often comes about in moments of high tension, mostly when life is at stake. How the character deals with the conflict will show their worldview and level of Christian maturity. The conflict always has a resolution, though especially in cases of situational ethics, the resolution isn't always a good one.

Moral Resolution
A moral resolution is the consequence or reward a character receives for how they handled the moral conflict. What happens when they break God's law, or what happens when they keep God's law, is a moral resolution. Ideally the character will be rewarded for making the right choices, and hindered in their goal or punished for making the wrong one. Also, sometimes a character makes a wrong choice, and that's part of their character arc. Proper moral resolution comes by repentance in the case of deliberate wrongdoing, or forsaking the error of their ways and turning to right if they acted out of ignorance.

In the case moral resolutions when the author is using situational ethics, the character will be rewarded regardless of whether they choose right or wrong. The author believes in these cases that the situation dictated the response and the character couldn't help themselves, and therefore they shouldn't be held responsible for their actions.

Situational Ethics
When we say 'it depends on the situation' in trying to judge right and wrong, we've bought into a cultural phrase that violates the principles of God's Word. And all too often, that's what we say when we read a difficult book in which the author makes some poor resolution choices. How many bibliophiles, when we talk about difficult moral conflicts, say "It depends on the Bible", regardless of the situation? Granted, that's what the majority of Christians believe. But in our speech, and when it comes down to the final crunch, we often make the situation the measuring stick instead of the ultimate standards found in Scripture.

Books need to deal with hard-hitting issues. They need to dig to the dregs of human conflict, and the farthest efforts of Satan's dominion, and counter-act them with the truth of God's Word. However, a book that presents a shaky moral resolution to a heavy conflict, a resolution dictated by the conflict itself, is a dangerous book to read without counteracting it with the Lord's truth.

Situational ethics is a false reality. It's a reality the world created for itself to avoid having to keep God's law , and we need to be extremely careful that we as Christian bibliophiles are not falling prey to the world's thinking patterns in our judgments.

So when we read a story in which the character is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and doesn't know which behavior is right to chose, there are three principles we can keep in mind as we evaluate whether or not their reaction is right:

1. God's law is inviolable.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments."-John 14:15

Jesus was very clear during his time on earth that he did not come to remove the necessity to keep the law. Though we are unable to keep it ourselves, and we find our righteousness in him, we still must keep his commandments through the strength of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
--James 2:10

The Bible also teaches that God holds Christians accountable to keep the whole law. If we fail at one point, we've failed at all of it. Again, we find out righteousness in Jesus Christ. But after we have received his grace, we are all the more accountable to obey his commands.

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
 -Hebrews 10:28-29

It is our duty as Christians to hold the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus in high honor, because we deserve the punishment that he took upon himself. And therefore, when we read a book where the characters offend the law of God, and they get away with it, we are reading a book that teaches that humans can get away with violating the law of God. This attitude will begun to rub off on us over time if we aren't careful to keep it in check from the start.

2. God's holiness is inviolable

God's law must be inviolable because His holiness is inviolable. He cannot look upon or participate in the slightest compromise, for then he would be less than holy. Nor can sin have fellowship with him. Therefore, a book where a character sins and still retains unbroken fellowship with God is not an accurate portrayal of God's holiness and His inability to accept our sin in His presence.

Now we all sin, and we all break fellowship with God, and therefore it isn't necessarily wrong to read a book where the author makes their character deal with the moral conflict in the wrong way. We all succumb to situational ethics; we all break God's law. What is important is that the moral resolution does not contain situational ethics. Since Jesus kept the law and reconciled all mankind to the Father, so characters can be reconciled to the Father when they return to Jesus Christ and the keeping of His commandments. Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and Scripture says time and time again in the Old and New Testaments that if we love him, we will keep his commandments, as found in the whole counsel of God.

Therefore, the books we read must be careful to hold God's holiness and His law sacred, whether in the way the character handles their conflicts, or the resolution they find from their conflicts.

3. God's sovereignty is inviolable

When a character chooses a course of action because 'there is no other way' and 'the situation requires it' we as the reader are being subtly taught another violation of God's character: that His sovereignty is not enough.

God is powerful enough to make right prevail in all situations. He is in all, and through all. The power of life and death are in his hands. And when we make a character lie or steal or kill out of fear of what man will do to him, then in that instance he is operating under the belief that his fellow-men have more power over him than God does.

Nothing evil can befall us, unless it comes first through the scarred hands of Jesus Christ, as one speaker I heard said so well. The books we read must reinforce that idea in our minds.

Entertainment is powerful. Our view of God's law, His holiness, and His sovereignty, are greatly influenced by the books we read. Fiction has an even greater power, for it puts flesh to the principles, and we imitate the characters we read about more than we will ever know. In this area of situational ethics, we must be careful to read books that show us how to biblically handle tough moral conflicts. It is possible as well to get benefit out of books that do not handle conflicts properly by filtering the conclusion from a Scriptural perspective. But that's another post. :)

In the end, though God's law is clear-cut and simple to follow, our emotions and compromises make it oh-so-difficult to obey. What happens when there just is no way out of a bad situation other than a small compromise? Sometimes we're put in situations where life must be taken, and there is no official law to declare the offender guilty. Other times we read of characters that must save life, and to do that they tell lies to get out of their situation. Stealing is wrong, of course: but what about 'borrowing' things, when there is no other option for the sake of national security?

Good questions. And we'll be looking at some of them next time. That will all be Friday here on the blog, and I look forward to discussing this topic further in the comment section! :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, October 4, 2013


Pollyanna sparks almost as much debate as Elsie Dinsmore among bibliophiles. When I first found that out it surprised me, for I loved her book growing up with all my heart and soul, and read it again and again and again. Every year, or sometimes more than once a year, I would go through the familiar adventures of her friendships with Jimmy Bean and Mrs. Snow and Mr. Pendleton, whether in book form or by my favorite audio cassette tape. It's been so long now that I don't even remember where I originally heard of her--she's just been there for years, and I have a well loved copy to prove it.

It was only a couple of years ago that I discovered to my great grief that some people did not like Pollyanna. I loved her cheerful spirit and her unquenchable determination to be grateful for everything God sent her in life. Her simple spirit can be a little jarring next to complicated 19th century British lit, but she's an American classic, and well worth reading.

The Book
When Pollyanna Whittier's father dies, she is left an orphan and goes to live with her stern Aunt Polly. Grieving over the death of her father, and stuck in a house with a woman who doesn't like children, Pollyanna clings to her father's admonition to 'rejoice and be glad' in all circumstances, trying her best to play the Glad Game in her new surroundings. As Pollyanna's innocent cheer brightens the hearts of sour men and woman, the Glad Game spreads from one person to the next, until her loving gratefulness has touched the hearts of almost everyone around her. Then Pollyanna suffers a tragic accident and can no longer play the Game herself, and the people gather round to try to heal her spirit by showing her all she has done for them.

My Thoughts
Pollyanna is such a charming Americana tale. From the little girl's hilarious descriptions of the Ladies' Aid in her church (which I'm afraid have been remembered too well in our family) to Nancy's pessimistic view of Mondays, something about the little details and problems that Porter puts in--the everyday things that Pollyanna finds reasons to be glad about--give a realness and charm to her optimistic view of life.

Eleanor Porter has only one drawback in her writing which I can see, but it's not a big one. Her characters stutter too much, and sometimes you're waiting in agony for them to figure out what they're trying to say. This drawback doesn't appear as much in the Pollyanna books, but in her Miss Billy novels it was a rather noticeable flaw. Certainly not an insurmountable drawback, and a small point all things considered.

By far the most beautiful chapter was when Pollyanna told her minister about her father's rejoicing texts:

"The—what?" The Rev. Paul Ford's eyes left the leaf and gazed wonderingly into Pollyanna's merry little face.
"Well, that's what father used to call 'em," she laughed. "Of course the Bible didn't name 'em that. But it's all those that begin 'Be glad in the Lord,' or 'Rejoice greatly,' or 'Shout for joy,' and all that, you know—such a lot of 'em. Once, when father felt specially bad, he counted 'em. There were eight hundred of 'em."
"Eight hundred!"
"Yes—that told you to rejoice and be glad, you know; that's why father named 'em the 'rejoicing texts.'"
"Oh!" There was an odd look on the minister's face. His eyes had fallen to the words on the top paper in his hands—"But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" "And so your father—liked those 'rejoicing texts,'" he murmured.
"Oh, yes," nodded Pollyanna, emphatically. "He said he felt better right away, that first day he thought to count 'em. He said if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it—some.
He must want us to do it--some. Indeed. I loved Pollyanna, because she made the choice to rejoice and be glad no matter what came to her in life, and others followed her example so well that they in turn could lift her up when she could not do it on her own.

If anything, this book shows two things: number one, that all Christians can make the choice to rejoice, because God is in sovereign control over every circumstance. And number two, that Christian young people can be an example to others no matter their age or the age of the people they're ministering to. Sometimes God even uses children (in fact, often He uses children) to show how simple obedience can be, and such is the case with Pollyanna.

The Glad Books
Eleanor Porter didn't stop with Pollyanna. I loved Pollyanna Grows Up and her romance with her man. They were perfect for each other, and it was a most enjoyable happily-ever-after tale, perfect for a pick-me-up. But Eleanor wasn't the only one to write about Pollyanna. After her death several authors were commissioned to continue Pollyanna's adventures, ending up with a series called "The Glad Books".  There were fourteen in all, including the original two. Unfortunately, I've only been able to read four of the continuations. But Harriet Lummis Smith was a fantastic author, and her Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms and Pollyanna's Jewels were absolutely genuine and kept in spirit with the other books, carrying on with Pollyanna as a wife and mother. By all means, if you can get hold of any of these books, be sure to pick them up, for they are rare finds in today's market.

The Movie
I have faint remembrances of watching the Hayley Mills movie adaptation of this story. But by far my favorite is the British Masterpiece Theatre adaptation, released in 2004 and starring Georgina Terry as Pollyanna. The Brits took the liberty of changing the story from its American setting to a small British town, but they followed the story so faithfully and added such nice expansions that I quite forgave them the country switch. After all, if they can make a movie that stays truer to the spirit and plot than we can, the more power to them, I say. Also, this movie is a good example of screenwriters who chose to add some enhancements to the plot that only bettered the original story, and made it come more alive. Timothy's love for motorcars and his bumbling romance with Nancy may not be in the original story (though he did marry Nancy in Pollyanna Grows Up) but they fit so charmingly with the rest of the tale that I quite like the additions.

By all means, if you enjoy Pollyanna's story you will love this Masterpiece Theatre version. It's a fantastic family-friendly film, contains lots of quotable British wit, and dramatizes the story so beautifully. In fact, if you don't like Pollyanna in book form, you may just like it on the silver screen with a nice British accent to slip it down easy. :)

Lady Bibliophile
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