London’s Theology of the Wild

I was reading out loud to my son on Thanksgiving holiday. We were snuggled into sleeping bags and blankets by the fire. Two sentences into his 1915 legend White Fang, Jack London writes:

A vast silence reigned over the land.  The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness.  There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness—a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility.  It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life.  It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild…

On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over,—a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again.  It is not the way of the Wild to like movement.  Life is an offence to it, for life is movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement.  It freezes the water to prevent it running to the sea; it drives the sap out of the trees till they are frozen to their mighty hearts; and most ferociously and terribly of all does the Wild harry and crush into submission man—man who is the most restless of life, ever in revolt against the dictum that all movement must in the end come to the cessation of movement…

On every side was the silence, pressing upon them with a tangible presence.  It affected their minds as the many atmospheres of deep water affect the body of the diver.  It crushed them with the weight of unending vastness and unalterable decree.  It crushed them into the remotest recesses of their own minds, pressing out of them, like juices from the grape, all the false ardours and exaltations and undue self-values of the human soul, until they perceived themselves finite and small, specks and motes, moving with weak cunning and little wisdom amidst the play and inter-play of the great blind elements and forces.

Striking in its language, London employs the words of a systematic theology to describe the Incomprehensible Other of the frozen Wild: “silence,” “incommunicable wisdom of eternity,” “crushed weight,” and vast stillness. London writes of the Yukon and the Klondike as the scholastics wrote of the mysterium tremendum. The majestic immanence of the Wild reveals a horrifying transcendence.

At the end of chapter three, at a key narrative turn that could spell disaster for the protagonist before even coming into existence, London introduces a holy tautology: “But the Wild is the Wild…” Evoking the tetragrammaton of the Hebrew scriptures (“I Am is that I Am”), White Fang introduces readers to that which was, which is, and which is to come. The Wild is. The Wild is the Wild.

London is laying out his theology. The functional atheism of the Gold Rush cannot restrain the divine attributes of the frozen Wild. London’s characters are sinners in the hands of an angry Wilderness, at the mercy of its harshest elements. Where Captain Ahab faced an omnisciently cunning white whale, or Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley faced the Wholly Other of alien space, in London’s cosmos John Thornton (Call of the Wild), Weedon Scott (White Fang), and the chechaquo (“To Build A Fire”) face the most dangerous and omnipotent antagonist in the Wild. The divine presence is everywhere communicated in nature, and London writes of the eternal stillness of the frozen Wild for this purpose.

Salvation Among the Wolves
Riding the line of this boundary between divine nature and mortal tragedy are the protagonists, Buck (in Call of the Wild) and the eponymous White Fang. Early on, we discover that White Fang is actually a wolfdog, sired by a wolf father and wolfdog mother. This hypostatic union of feral wolf and domesticated dog is the main plot arc for White Fang, as the union of these two natures war for supremacy in the protagonist. Buck, who does not incarnate the two natures, tells the story of when a dog is predestined to remember its instinctual life in a wolf’s world.

Continue reading

A Response To The Horror in Florida

FloridaVigilThe recent tragedy at the Florida high school has once again left Americans in agony to deal with the violence within our culture. Christians are often forced to deal with these headlines in a mix of their faith, the latest claims screaming for their attention on social media, their own cultural biases, and more.

I’ve found the following links helpful for thinking about the recent tragedy.

Nikolas Cruz And the Unmasking of Sin and Evil
Tom Ascol writes concisely:
“The reason that people carry out murderous rampages is not because of poverty, mental illness, guns, lack of education or any other social ill. At the root of such actions is the consistent outworking of sin—blatant rebellion against God.”
Founders Ministries Article Continue reading

Society’s Need For Hell

“In the fifth place, that endless punishment is rational is proved by the history of morals. In the records of human civilization and morality, it is found that that age which is most reckless of law and most vicious in practice is the age that has the loosest conception of penalty and is the most inimical to the doctrine of endless retribution. A virtuous and religious generation adopts sound ethics and reverently believes that “the judge of all the earth will do right” (Gen. 18:25); that God will not “call evil good and good evil nor put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isa. 5:20); and that it is a deadly error to assert with the sated and worn-out sensualist: “All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and the wicked” (Eccles. 9:2).

The French people, at the close of the eighteenth century, were a very demoralized and vicious generation, and there was a very general disbelief and denial of the doctrines of divine existence, immortality of the soul, freedom of the will, and future retribution. And upon a smaller scale, the same fact is continually repeating itself. Any little circle of businessmen who are known to deny future rewards and punishments are shunned by those who desire safe investments. Continue reading

Obama: Contra Secularists

President_Barack_Obama

Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King–indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history–were not only motivated by faith but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This quote is from the President’s “Call to Renewal Keynote Address,” on June 28, 2006. Emphasis mine. I used this in my Rotary address earlier today!

British Marriage Equality and Marriage Without Sex

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From The Telegraph:

…Lobbyists naturally believed that all you had to do to allow gay marriage was to extend to same-sex couples exactly the same law as applied to existing, heterosexual marriages.

Too late, they discovered, this cannot be done. Civil servants, confronted with the embarrassing task of working out what defined the consummation of a homosexual relationship, faltered. Since homosexual acts have no existential purpose and no procreative result, consummation is a meaningless concept. From this it followed that the Government could come up with no definition of adultery in a homosexual marriage. A law designed to be equal, is not. Under the Bill, non-consummation will not be grounds for divorce in same-sex marriage. Nor will adultery.

By accident, then, the Government is introducing, for the first time, a definition of marriage which has no sexual element. Yet it refuses to face the logical consequence of this surprising innovation. If sexual intercourse is not part of the definition of same-sex marriage, why should blamelessly cohabiting sisters not marry one another in order to avoid inheritance tax? Why should father not marry son? Why shouldn’t heterosexual bachelor chum marry heterosexual bachelor chum? What, come to think about it, is so great about the idea of monogamy, once sex and children are removed from the equation? Does the word “marriage” any longer contain much meaning?

And if Equality is the highest of all moral aims, how can the Government possibly justify not extending the gay right to a civil partnership to heterosexual couples who, at present, have no such privilege? If this Bill becomes law, all these matters will be litigated over, right up to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Against such outcomes, as he painfully well knows, Mr Cameron can make no provision.

Possibly the House of Commons, where mere politics reigns and virtually no time has been permitted for debate on the Bill, will fail to think through these issues, although revolt is growing. But precision and fairness in framing our laws are subjects in which the House of Lords rightly claims a key role. The Government faces trouble there. Continue reading

Malick: Only in Russian Characters

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…combine the romantic and innocent side, with the insolent and daring side. For some reason, you only ever see that combination in Russian characters

on filming To the Wonder

To-the-Wonder-4

So, for example, he recommended that Kurylenko read The Idiot with a particular eye on two characters: the young and prideful Aglaya Yepanchin, and the fallen, tragic Nastassya Filippovna. “He wanted me to combine their influences — the romantic and innocent side, with the insolent and daring side. ‘For some reason, you only ever see that combination in Russian characters,’ he said to me.”

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As prompts for the actors, Malick shared representative works of art and literature. For Affleck, he suggested Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. (Affleck read Martin Heidegger on his own, having known that Malick had translated one of the German philosopher’s works as a grad student.) For Kurylenko, he also recommended Tolstoy and Dostoevsky — specifically, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Idiot. “Those books were, in a way, his script,” she says. But he did more than give the actors the books; he suggested ways to approach the texts and characters to focus on. So, for example, he recommended that Kurylenko read The Idiot with a particular eye on two characters: the young and prideful Aglaya Yepanchin, and the fallen, tragic Nastassya Filippovna. “He wanted me to combine their influences — the romantic and innocent side, with the insolent and daring side. ‘For some reason, you only ever see that combination in Russian characters,’ he said to me.”

source

How to Speak Truth to Power?

Aside

Michelle Obama: “He [Jesus] was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day.” (source: ABC news)

True. But the question is, how did Jesus speak truth to power? As Spartacus, or as Julius Caesar?

Both Spartacus & Caesar “spoke” to the powers of their age. Spartacus did it as a rebel and insurgent, leading a revolt. And Caesar did it as the power, controlling and squashing those who abused authority they derived from him.

So in which way did Jesus speak to the Pharisees, the “Temple system,” and the political powers of 1st Century Judea? As Lord or Servant? And how should the followers of Jesus follow Him today?

Keller on “Explosive” Contextualization

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From his forthcoming Center Church:

To illustrate what is needed for effective contextualization, let’s turn to the world of demolition. Say you are building a highway and want to remove a giant boulder. First, you drill a small shaft down into the center of the rock. Then you put explosives down the shaft into the core of the stone and detonate them. If you drill the shaft but never ignite the blast, you obviously will never move the boulder. But the same is true if you only blast and fail to drill—putting the explosives directly against the surface of
the rock. You will simply shear off the face of it, and the boulder will remain. All drilling with no blasting, or all blasting with no drilling, leads to failure. But if you do both of these, you will remove the rock.

To contextualize with balance and successfully reach people in a culture, we must both enter the culture sympathetically and respectfully (similar to drilling) and confront the culture where it contradicts biblical truth (similar to blasting).