Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thoughts on the Scriptorium Daily

Evening all!

Eric awhile back recommended the Scriptorium Daily as a good blog, and one related to Biola. So I have looked at it occasionally. There are some good articles, interesting thoughts. I wanted to react to two articles briefly. First, by John Mark Reynolds regarding J. K. Rowlings revelation that Dumbledor in the Harry Potter books was gay.

The first comment I would make was my surprise about how Christian he felt like the books are in overall structure and theme. I have not read the books, but know people who have. And the ending of the seventh book especially has some strong Christian parallels. It's just that, after hearing the books so demonized, to have him say that was surprising. I do not necessarily disagree, and this is in no way a protest. I am just saying I was surprised.

However, another comment he made was about the relationship between J. K. Rowling and her books at the present time caught my attention. Reynolds said this:
"No offense to an excellent author, but Dumbledore no longer belongs only to Rowling. He also belongs to her readers who have been given a series of books in which Rowling was free to say what she wanted to say. She wrote about Christianity openly by Book Seven, but if Dumbledore was gay, she decided to hide it. She hid it so well that there is no evidence of it."
Reynolds goes on to talk briefly about the obvious implications for Scriptural interpretation and authorial intent, but I don't think he addresses fully the problems that he is creating. To simply say that because there is no explicit evidence of Dumbledore's homosexuality in the books, therefore it doesn't matter what the author now says, to me overlooks the inherent ambiguity in many texts. It is simply a fact that some texts can be read from two very different perspectives, and in fact it is only the clearly expressed authorial intent that can settle it. For instance, we don't know against whom Paul was writing in his letters to the Romans, the Colossians, or in the Pastorals. There are verses where a better understanding of the enemy could better inform us as to his meaning and emphasis. I feel like the lack of clear evidence in a text one way or the other leaves options open rather than closing them. And authorial intent leaves them certain. I say that books still belong to Rowling, just like Paul's still belong to him. And yes, I am against homosexuality.

Now, the second article I wanted to comment on is the article called "Faith is Nothing," by Matt Jenson. I disagree. I think faith is something. I see his argument as a futile philosophical reduction that ignores both the Biblical text (see all of Romans 4, not just the beginning) and the theology of what the goal of salvation actually is. I think faith is something, and that it's being something is no way a threat to God's work, sovereignty or anything else. And I think that Luther, Calvin and Edwards (not to mention Paul) would agree with me.


eric O said...

I'm gald that you are reading Scriptorium Daily. Even when I don't agree, I always find it enjoyable. I hope that's the case with you. At least you found it interesting enough to blog about.

I read both of Reynolds posts on Rowling and, while I agree with your point about authorial intent being dominant in interpreting a written work, I see two places where Reynolds leaves open for Rowling to make Dumbledore's homosexuality a part of the Harry Potter story. In the first post Reynolds says, "Unless Rowling writes a new book (a prequel?) and changes the canon ...," and in the second post he says, "Plato made Socrates sex desires part of the story. Rowling did not. It is too late (unless she writes another book) to change this." Now, I haven't read even one page of Harry Potter so, I can't comment on the evidence or lack thereof for Dumbledore's sexuality. But, it seems clear, at least to Reynolds, that there is none, one way or the other. If that is so, then I'm inclined to agree with Reynolds that we can't interpret Dumbledore's sexuality from the books that we have. If there is no evidence then it is hermeneutically irresponsible to posit homosexuality onto that character. But there is a way for Rowling to make it clear that Dumbledore is homosexual and Reynolds has alluded to it in the two quotes above. She can write another book. If she does that, she can make the character's sexuality known (overtly or subtly) and then it will become an expressed part of her intended meaning. But if it is unexpressed in any way, as Reynolds seems to claim, then, even if Rowling says the character is homosexual outside of the story, then we can't take it out of the text. We can only put it into the text. That's a dangerous hermeneutical step, unless, of course, Rowling writes another book and makes it clear for us.

Regarding Matt Jenson's post, I fully agree with you. Faith is something. It is something enormous! I think Jenson probably thought up this phrase while reflecting on the self-denial and utter dependence that is integral to faith and then ran too far with it. What he says in the body of the post is mostly good but the phrase, "faith is nothing," just doesn't work. His final few sentences reveal the problem. He says, "If my life is located in someone else, in the object of my faith, what reason could I possibly have to become preoccupied with myself and my faith? Faith is, after all, nothing at all." If faith is something that unites subject and object, i.e., I am the subject, Jesus is the object (or the other way around, as Jenson says earlier in his post) and faith is some sort of connector between us then, faith is definitely something. The argument, certainly, is about the nature of that something but, whatever it is, it is certainly not nothing.

Mark McD said...

Thanks for your response. One question, though. Why doesn't Rowling's statement serve the same function as another book? Her writing another book would not change the other existing books, in which "there is no evidence" of Dumbledore's orientation. I think in Biblical terms, it would be difficult to see some of the OT prophecies unless the NT writers had pointed them out (Matt 2). As I said, I don't see either Reynolds or you addressing the issue of textual ambiguity. Writers communicate in dialogue with their context. And sometimes the full meaning a writer desires comes with the interaction the writer expects in the mind of the reader. For instance, the plagues in Egypt appear to be random in the text. But a study of Egyptian religion reveals that the author is commenting on God's sovereignty over Egyptian religion. Also, in Revelation 3 Jesus says certain things to the church of Laodicea. The comments are interesting but not significant. But when we study the Laodicean culture and economy, we see that Jesus is referring to those things. The text was ambiguous and gave no "clear evidence". But our study, not of the text but of the context, leads us to a clearer understanding of the text. And if we have the author to speak to that issue, I would think it would have validity. But as I said, what difference is there between the voice of the author in a news conference and her writing another book? A new book would not change the old books. It seems like to me that only a revision of the old books with clear evidence would address the concerns you have.

Mark McD said...

I am glad you agree about faith. I don't think we are wanting to say that faith is meritorious. I just think we go to ridiculous and un-Biblical extremes in order to maximize God's work and minimize anything we might do. I see no virtue to a system that makes human activity meaningless and without worth.

eric O said...

A few things to follow up on the Harry Potter question. I am starting to see your point more clearly. However, I'll say 2 things:
1. When dealing with the context (as in the Egyptian plagues and the Laodicean Church), we are still inside the world story. We are not in the Canon, but still inside the general story, that is, the history of the ancient world. In terms of a fictional world like Harry Potter, there is nothing outside of the context of that world to look to, unless something is added. Rowling's comment was made outside of the fictional world, about the fictional world, but it doesn't affect the fictional world as given. If I read the books and never heard the interview, I would have no reason to believe that Dumbledore was a homosexual and the interview would not be able to enlighten me as to the fictional, Harry Potter context because it was made outside of that world. That's why a prequel or sequel would be needed. Which brings me to 2.
2. Your comment on how Matthew 2 enlightens us on the understanding of certain OT prophecies is exactly what Reynolds and I think can't be done with Rowling's work. God, the author of the OT and the NT, had Matthew clarify or highlight things from the OT in the NT that illuminate our understanding. It's all within the story. Rowling, because there is nothing in the text to clarify or highlight, has to illuminate us as to Dumbledore's sexuality with another text that would spell it out. Saying Dumbledore is homosexual in a press conference is like God telling the angels who the next Pope will be. Those of us in this world will never know it until it becomes a part of the history of this world.

Mark McD said...

I will give one more comment on this and then move on. The hope with discussion on something like this is not to win, but rather that through disagreement, the issues can be more clear. Sometimes I think that the discussion would be less significant if Rowling had revealed that Dumbledore had been a boy scout, rather than a homosexual. If she had said that, then we might look back on the books and understand better the significance of his attempts to start a fire or tie a knot. I must confess I don't understand the importance of your distinction between the real world and a fictional world. In both we have an author and a text. In the case of Exodus, we have the real ancient world that the author knew about, which he uses as the backdrop for his book, and which the author intends for his readers to understand in order to more clearly understand what he is intending in the book. In the case of Rowling, we have a fictional world that the author invented, which she has more fully developed in her mind than she has included in her books, and which she can more fully reveal in order to help her readers more fully understand what she was intending in her existing books. To echo John the apostle, there are probably many details that she thought of as she developed her story that she chose not to include, but which are fully consistent with the characters and plot as she portrayed them. Since she is the author, she has the right to more fully illumine the readers regarding her intentions. And she speaks from that world and within that world because that world exists first and foremost in her head. The books that exist are an expression of what's in her head, and so on that world her voice is authoritative.

Mark McD said...

By the way, I decided to include a recent photo. I got a hair cut, so I might look a little different. But its pretty much the same old me.