Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Fellowship Of The Ring

The Lord Of The Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien

Finished Reading: 04.2009

The first of the highly epic fantasy trilogy, I am watching the corresponding movie adaptations after reading each book. Admittedly, this is my first time reading the series, though I had seen the movies when first released eight, seven and six years ago, so Elijah Wood and Ian McKellen are Frodo and Gandalf for me, and there isn't anything I can do about it and that fiery red eye is watching at me.

If a plot summary is even appropriate, it would start by stating that Frodo Baggins is a wee hobbit with big feet, a gentle half-sized creature resembling a human, living in a land of round doors in earthen homes, a place called the Shire. He comes to be in possession of a simple gold ring with cryptic markings revealed only by fire, the bearer of which wields great and horrible power while wearing the ring on his finger. It also makes him disappear, which is scary for both he and those around him. Frodo must journey to the place where the ring was made, for only there can it be destroyed - the dark land of Mordor. Along his journey he has the help of various friends of different sorts: men, wizards, elves, dwarfs, hobbits and female elves too. Together they form the Fellowship of the Ring (well, not the female elves), the likes of which has never been seen. Their quest is great and dangerous as they travel through beautiful mountainous lands and majestic cities, meeting foes and friends along the way to the ominous Mount Doom (scary drums in the distance).

Tolkien has created a high descriptive, highly involved world with its own creatures, languages, fonts and even a fold-out map which is glued to the back cover as a guide for the reader. The third book (to be reviewed later) contains appendices and indexes on the background and history of the characters and creatures we encounter in the story. The comprehensiveness is enormous.

The Fellowship of the Ring starts us in the lands from which the main characters come from. Frodo and the hobbits are of the Shire, and it is here that the story unfolds, in the middle of an 111th (elevendy-first) birthday party, of all things. Along the way we pass through glimmering Rivendell and shimmering Lothlorien, home to the beautiful elves and their girly blond hair; and then through the dark mines of Moria, home to the hearty dwarfs and their scraggly beards. The evil forces are largely unknown to most of the Fellowship at this point, though they encounter the persistent and sinister black riders and herds upon herds of disgusting orcs waving swords and shooting arrows. Sauron's fiery eye is watching, and Saruman is looming in lands unknown.

My favorite character is Gandolf the grey, an old wizard and the primary guide to Frodo. He is very wise and wields magical powers, but he seems to hold back and is unsure of his abilities, appearing not to be as powerful as one might think a wizard should be, which keeps him mysterious. He is thoughtful and caring, loving and good. He sacrifices himself to save the others from the Balrog, a beast evil enough to finally test Gandolf's powers in the shortest epic battle sequence that I have ever seen, though it takes place on a grand stone arch bridge hewed from the very living stone. He is cast into the darkness of the fiery underground pit, and there is much sorrow, but the story continues with two more volumes!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Reason For God

Belief In An Age of Skepticism


Timothy Keller

Finished Reading: 03.2009

This book explores the most common reasons why people do not believe in God. While not attempting to prove that God exists through reason alone, Keller shows that most logical arguments against God don't actually work if we follow through with them, fully working out the logic. The skeptic usually goes into pondering the existence of God, not wanting there to be a God, and so he can reason anything against it. The author wants us to consider faith outside of science and what is provable, whether our skepticism is based on direct reasoning against God or ignorant doubts. This book is relevant to Christians because it is good to ask hard questions about what we believe, as we should not choose our beliefs and then not think upon them again.

Split into two sections, the book begins with seven chapters describing common claims against Christianity, and ends with seven chapters of claims for the truth of God. Following are my comments on some of the ideas presented.

There is a new kind of young Christian emerging particularly in cities, with whom I identify. This type of Christian does not feel a strong affiliation with a traditional mainline denomination, perhaps one reason being that he does not view the world in as black and white a fashion as his parents and grandparents traditionally did, separating their Christian world from the rest of the world, creating a Christian bubble. This type of Christian cares about the world as the one world it is, inhabited with different kinds of people; not two separate worlds in which one we cling to and one we shun. Keller recalls, when first struggling to grasp in his own life, that, "(t)he people most passionate about social justice were moral relativists, while the morally upright didn't seem to care about the oppression going on all over the world (xii). The Christianity he was presented didn't click with him.
The new, fast-spreading multi ethnic orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been, and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics than Democrats have been (xx)." These Christians don't fit in the traditional molds that have been carved out of the last century and are looking for something new.

Keller makes important points that I agree with, such as:

"Most people in our culture believe that, if there is a God, we can relate to him and go to heaven through leading a good life....Christianity teaches the very opposite....Jesus does not tell us how to live so we can merit salvation. Rather, he comes to forgive and save us through his life and death in our place. God's grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and acknowledge their need for a Savior (19)."

"If you have known many wise, loving, kind, and insightful Christians over the years, and if you have seen churches that are devout in belief yet civic-minded and generous, you will find the intellectual case for Christianity much more plausible. If, on the other hand, the preponderance of your experience is with nominal Christians (who bear the name but don't practice it) or with self-righteous fanatics, then the arguments for Christianity will have to be extremely strong for you to concede that they have any cogency at all (52)."

"It is often the case that people whose lives have been harder and who are 'lower on the character scale' are more likely to recognize their need for God and turn to Christianity (54)."

"In short, hell is simply one's freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity (78). All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself... (C.S.) Lewis writes: ...All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn't be Hell (79)."

"Imagine two people arguing over the nature of a cookie. Jack thinks the cookie is poison, and Jill thinks it is not. Jack thinks Jill's mistaken view of the cookie will send her to the hospital or worse. Jill thinks Jack's mistaken view of the cookie will keep him from having a fine desert. Is Jack more narrow-minded than Jill just because he thinks the consequences of her mistake are more dire? I don't believe anyone would think so. Christians, therefore, aren't more narrow minded because they think wrong thinking and behaviour have eternal effects (81)."

"If there is no God, then there is no way to say any one action is 'moral' and another 'immoral' but only 'I like this.'... if there is no God, then all moral statements are arbitrary, all moral valuations are subjective and internal, and there can be no external moral standard by which a person's feelings and values are judged (153-4). If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If you insist on a secular view of the world and yet you continue to pronounce some things right and some things wrong, then I hope you see the deep disharmony between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists (156)."

"If you don't live for Jesus, you will live for something else. If you live for career and you don't do well, you will feel like a failure. If you live for your children and they don't turn out all right you could be absolutely in torment because you feel worthless as a person. If Jesus is your center and Lord and you fail him, he will forgive you. (172)."