The problem with Plato’s theory of forms, as I understand it, is that, in heaven, there is only one perfect chair, allowing perhaps only one perfect bottom to sit in it. I much prefer the vision that the author of Hebrews presents us:  That heaven is real, and the earth is also.  But that some things in heaven are so important that God, in his graciousness, has made copies of them here on earth, for our instruction, so that, seeing the earthly copy, and trusting in His word, we would look in faith to the heavenly original, and obtain the blessing that He intended.

Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but in the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than those.  For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that he should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with the blood of another – He then would have had to suffer since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for meant to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.

Save me from Socrates!

Or: How a little Heinlein in the diet can save a lot of time in philosophy class

I wasn’t allowed to read Heinlein growing up. No, that’s not true. If I’d discovered Heinlein on my own, I don’t think they’d have taken the books from me. But my mom threw out all her copies before I learned to read. She decided Heinlein hated Jesus. Growing up, I got the sanitized version in bedtime story format. (What, you didn’t get Space Cadet at bedtime?) My first Heinlein that I actually read was sometime after I turned 20.

It’s probably best to save Heinlein until after you’re an adult, because he always seems to have an agenda. There’s always one character whose job it is to lecture the reader, usually by having a very one-sided conversation, in which the opposing view says, “Well, gee boss, I hadn’t thought of that.” If you agree with his point, it’s great. Wow! Look at him hit that one out of the park! But if he’s preaching on some note that you don’t see eye-to-eye on (say, free love), you’re stuck watching an idiot get slaughtered in a one-sided debate.

After a while, you get a little wary of the set-up. You can see it coming and you start preparing better counter-arguments in your head. Of course, whoever is standing in as Heinlein’s preacher can’t stand against your arguments either, since he can’t hear you. So he keeps rambling on. Eventually, you have to learn to let it roll, or throw the book across the room.

Now I’ve finally gotten around to reading a little Plato, and let me tell you, the minute Socrates opens his mouth, I got an old familiar feeling. This guy is totally copying Heinlein. No wonder they called him the gadfly of Athens.

And just like Heinlein’s preachers, some of his positions are good, and sometimes… just… stupid. All he needs is somebody to come along with a reasonable counterargument. Maybe from a Christian. Because most of the time, his arguments just sound… pagan.

Book Rotation

I am trying a new campaign of reading (we’ll see how well it goes) where I cycle through the kinds of books I read. The problem is that there are so many books I think I ought to read, but they keep getting pushed out by books that are actually readable.

Non-fiction is the culprit. So many non-fiction writers seem to be operating under the misguided notion that, because what they have to say is true and important, people ought to read it out of a pure regard for the content of the book. They hold to this concept with a firm conviction that allows them to thereby insult the reader with a style that is so blindingly dull, the only way you can get through all that True and Important stuff is by a sheer act of will. And the more seriously the author takes his work, the more likely it is to be devoid of the kind of rhetorical sway that pulls you from one concept to the next. Nobody cares about the reader anymore.

The importance of non-fiction reading resembles nothing to me so much as the importance of bran in the diet. And I’m the kind of guy who likes to start his day with grape nuts.

The fact that there are voracious readers out there who never touch a page of fiction truly disturbs me. Tim Challies really disturbs me. Iain Murray, who may be one of the greatest Christian historians alive, wrote a book in 2009 called The Undercover Revolution, in which he argues that novels revolutionized the English speaking world in the 19th century (unfortunately, in his opinion, for the worse). In an interview with Mark Dever, when he was asked “how should we be thinking about novels today,” Murray responded, “I’m not sure we should be thinking about them all; we’ve got so much better things to do. And it amazes me that Christians who are called to redeem the time have got time to read novels.” Fiction changes the world, but we haven’t got time to read any. Astounding.

Maybe a better metaphor is those people whose diet consists of steak and protein shakes, as though they’ve never heard of fruit and bread and candy.

Anyway, I have to force myself to read non-fiction, especially the really important stuff that’s clogging up all the space on my shelves. So here’s the system: I read a fiction book, and then a non-fiction. Hopefully, the future joy of fiction will spur me on through the slough of brute facts. The jury’s still out.

So far, I finished up 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by M. Dever, and then tossed back (quickly quaffed?) a cheap paperback by R.A. Heinlein. Now I’m stuck in The Death of Socrates.”