1 May 2013

This book could change your life

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle,  Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
A few years ago I wrote a post called The Bias of History.  It was quite a good post, I think, so feel free to click away and read it.  I'll be here when you come back.

Ah good, you did come back. (Insert smiley face).

As I explored in that post, all writing has a bias.  Sometimes it is blatantly obvious, and if the author's worldview is similar to yours, then that probably won't matter to you in the slightest.  When I read a book written by R. C. Sproul, chances are that I'm going to agree with him.  Most of the time, at least.  Rick Warren, not so much, although I certainly don't disagree with everything he says, and I have learned things from his writings.  Mostly I agree with Charlotte Mason, not so much Rudolf Steiner.  Sometimes you will choose to read a book that comes from the opposing view just to get a balanced approach.  Sometimes it's a case of 'Know thy enemy'.  Sometimes, you feel so comfortable in your beliefs, you can read something from a different point of view without it making even a dent in your armour. 

All this is very well.  The problems arise when you start reading a book, and realise that if you continue, the thoughts contained therein could very well change your life.  Forevah.

I've been seeing an example of this in recent days in a discussion of Richard Hannula's book, Trial and Triumph: Stories from Church History by a group of Catholic mamas.  This book is scheduled by AO to be read as church history during the six years of primary school.  Jemimah and I have found the biographies of these courageous Christians to be inspiring and enjoyable, and that is no wonder; I don't know where Richard Hannula worships, but the chances are that it is Evangelical and Reformed.  There is no threat to me and my beliefs when I read this book, and I would not have considered it to be anti-Catholic in any way.  For the Catholic mothers, the reality was quite different.  Instead of a book of church history, some of these mothers believed that the book's aim was proselytism. They cite some sections as troubling, and others as unmitigated heresy.  They find the book's bias troubling, and feel that it teaches doctrine, not history.  I think the concern for many of these caring mothers is that they bias displayed by this book was covert, not overt, and, as such might go unrecognised by their impressionable children.  I'm guessing that the last thing these parents want is for their dear ones to suddenly convert to Protestant Christianity (whatever I might think about that).

I was confronted with a similar form of covert message last weekend when our family went to the cinema to see the new version of Jurassic Park in 3D.  Sometimes it is difficult to remember that this film is SciFi, not science. Even so, the movie seeks to tell us many things. That there are inherent dangers with biotechnology.  That even though DNA cloning is possible, it may not be safe.  That we shouldn't mess with nature.  Clearly, in a movie about dinosaurs, there are also evolutionary assumptions.  That the world is four and a half billion years old.  That there is an ancestral relationship between birds and velociraptors. That God is irrelevant:
"God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs."

"Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth!"
When our kids watch films like this, and worse, real, official scientific documentaries by respected presenters like outspoken evolutionist, Richard Attenborough (although there is always hope), then there is a real risk that the knowledge might just 'change their lives'.  After all, everything you see on telly is true, right?

Recently, I've been reading Who Made the Moon?: A Father Explores How Faith and Science Agree by Sigmund Brouwer aloud to my family.  It's a wonderful book, exploring whether the Big Bang is incompatible with a Creation viewpoint among other things.  I'll review the book when I've finished, because there is a lot I want to say about it, but that's not what I want to talk about here.  

In the first few pages of the book, Sigmund Brouwer tosses in a grenade.  It's this:
(T)o get a feel for what it's like to hit a hornet's nest with a bar and watch the results, all you need to do at a gathering of believes is blurt out this question: was the world created in six literal days? 
In the first draft of this book, I was... hoping to deftly avoid the inevitable polarization.  That is not the case with the finished draft. 
First, that would be dishonest.  You should have my disclosure right now: while not denying a six-day creation is within God's power, after years of searching, I see the harmony of science and the first two chapters of Genesis in a different light, without discarding the historical accuracy of the gospel.
Can you imagine me reading these words aloud to my family?  Can you appreciate how I felt when I realised that if I continued with the reading of this book that there was a very big possibility that I - or one of my family - might come to the final pages with a very different idea of one of the very big questions of faith?  I can tell you that I had a minor inward panic.  I admitted as much to my family.  As a group we then needed to make a decision about what to do next.  And as a team, and knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we decided to continue reading.  We decided because whether or not you believe in old earth creation or young earth, six literal days or six periods of time is just not that important.  It's not a basic tenet of our faith like the authority of Scripture, or the sovereignty of God, or the Trinity, or the atoning work of Christ.  These things define our faith.  They are what we essentially believe. If we felt this book challenged one of these, then we would have closed the book for all time at the end of that paragraph.  No book is that important.  Especially when my daughter is involved.  That is not the reality that I want Jemimah to be teaching her children, and her children's children.

I am aware that when we finish this book, some of our opinions on things we thought we were sure about might have changed.  Already, I don't feel quite so sure.  That makes me feel rather strange, you know.

Because Mr Bouwer has made his bias - his worldview - known to me ahead of time, I can choose to continue reading this book to the most important people in my life.  I can go and see Jurassic Park because having seen it before, I can raise the issues with my impressionable 11 year old before she sees the film, and again, if necessary, at the end.  I can tell you, though, that if I were Catholic, I probably would not have my children read Trial and Triumph.  Certainly not to themselves without discussion.  To me, that would be messing with something far too important.

Where we draw the line on certain issues will be different for every family.  If you believe in evolution, you probably wonder what I'm getting hung up about.  I feel the same when people raise bilingualism in Canada, or Vladimir Putin, or whether or not you should indent a paragraph.  I have no opinion.  Perhaps you do.  And if so, then you will be looking for this bias when you read books with your kids.

The secret, as Sun Tzu says, is to know know your enemies and to know yourself as well.  Know why you believe.  Know what is important to you.  Know what you are not willing to compromise.  That way,  you will always know that the change in your life at the end of the book will be to make it better.

You probably won't be imperilled in many battles, either.  That's always rather a relief.


  1. I will be most interested to read your full review of that book. I have many friends who are young earth-ers while I myself am ambivalent. Like you said, it's not a central tenant of my faith. Whether it's literal or not doesn't affect it's truth, which is that God made it by whatever processes He chose.

    And I think that as uncomfortable as uncertainty can be, it's the place where new ideas emerge or old ideas become stronger.

  2. Wow, Jeanne, you managed to cover a great deal in this one! Thank you for lots to think about.

  3. Wow what a great post Jeanne! I am also interested in yiur review of the book when you're done.
    P.s. hoping to catch up on yiur blog as I fell off the face of blog land recently :)

  4. Thanks for this post, Jeanne! I was part of that discussion about T&T, and I feel like you really understood my point as a Catholic--thank you for that! I agree with you about the difference in covert and overt bias; I feel like when an author is up front about his perspective, reading the book is like having a conversation with someone I might disagree with--and I can learn a lot from those kinds of conversations. It feels much more authentic to me. When the bias is covert, I feel like I have to be on my guard and can't enjoy the stories, even at the "unbiased" moments--and that concern is even more pointed when I'm handing the book over to my children to read (or even reading it along with them). It is a grave responsibility we have as mothers, isn't it? :)

  5. Three words for a book worth looking at: The Genesis Record

    Other than that it was VERY interesting reading your post, but I shall have to give that book a miss. { said with a little giggle }

    I also do quite love that little quip of wisdom from The Art of War. Have always loved it. :o)


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