Saturday, November 17, 2007

Some of the Parts by Gerry Rzeppa - An Appreciative Review

Intro

Not long ago, I received an offer via e-mail of a new book which is a response by Gerry Rzeppa to the "New Atheists": Dawkins, Hitchens, et. al. Sharon Rzeppa, Gerry's wife, had come across my Richard Dawkins parable and was kind enough to send me a copy.

There are quite a number of good book-length replies to the arguments of Dawkins etc., exposing the flaws in his assumptions, methodology and logic and so on. In that regard, I think the interested reader is now amply provided for. I myself have recently made a serious response available as an MP3 download or as a presentation via Google Video: "Is Belief In Divine Creation Rational?" (and you can find links to other good material from there).

Telling Stories

In the parable, though, I took a different approach. Jesus himself told many parables. In his parables, transcendent truths were explained using everyday illustrations. The heavenly was captured through the mundane. What is not understood by many of Jesus' interpreters, though, is that in telling parables it was not his unambiguous aim to explain truth. In fact, oftentimes through telling parables he intended to conceal truth.

Does that sound strange to you? Then you have a lot to learn about parables! Jesus' disciples themselves were confused as to what Jesus was aiming at, and they asked him why he spoke the way he did. Their question, and his answer, is recorded for us in Matthew's account of Jesus' life, in chapter 13, verses 10 onwards:

10 And the disciples came, and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?"
11 He answered and said unto them, "Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. "
12 "For whosoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever does not have, from him shall be taken away even what he has. "
13 "Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. "
14 "And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive: "
15 "For this people's heart is grown fat, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. "

The prophecy of Isaiah referred to by Jesus is one which is invoked more than once in the Bible (e.g. Acts 28:26, from a time about three decades later). It does not, then, refer only to what happened whilst Isaiah was alive. It contains a principle which is at work throughout the ages. Parables do not only teach us, but reveal us. They don't just pass on informaiton to us - they demonstrate information about us. What we understand from them depends not merely or even primarily upon our intellect, but upon the state of our heart. A well-told parable might leave the most brilliant mind completely confused - whilst being plain and simple to a little child.

Truth Concealed

I did not write my Richard Dawkins parable only so that Professor Dawkins and others of his ilk might see themselves in a mirror. I wrote it also so that they might not see themselves; I believe that Jesus was setting his followers an example. It is no surprise to me when I get e-mails in my inbox seeking to refute the parable with such brilliant arguments as "But I've seen photos of him!" and "Dawkins doesn't claim to be an omnipotent immaterial being!". When light is shone, not everybody comes in to it - some are driven further into darkness. Yes, that's deep. Yes, it's not always the appropriate response. But it is what the Bible tells us is indeed part of the purpose of God. The professor did read my parable; his angry response speaks well enough for itself. One commenter on Dawkins' own website said:

Don't you hate it when the Dark Side gets so clever?

To which the professor replied:

Clever?

What's clever about it?

Even the accent sounds more like Peter Atkins than me, although I admit it is at least better than the one they used on South Park

Richard


(http://richarddawkins.net/article,626,Does-Richard-Dawkins-exist,Anonymous#21307)


"Some of the Parts"

All of that now brings me to Gerry Rzeppa's "Some of the Parts". When Sharon offered me a copy of the book, I was expecting it was going to be an analysis and rebuttal of Dawkins' arguments in the manner of those already published. I was wrong! Gerry instead offers us an illustrated poem / story - short enough to be read in a quarter of an hour; but deep enough to leave you thinking for a good while afterwards. At first when I realised what its genre was I was fearful - such things are very hard to pull off and you have to be brave even to try! I need not have feared.

I really enjoyed Gerry's response. He tells us a story - and it's a story which brilliantly captures the antithesis between Christianity and atheism. Joyful submission and hyper-skeptical folly; intelligent trust and angry fist-shaking are both beautifully portrayed within the lines. The book does not present an intellectual argument - it tells instead a story which, like the parables of Jesus, has the power to confound the wise whilst comforting a child. Is that because it's a foolish, childish tale? No, it's because it isn't written to be an intellectual argument; it contains only some of the parts - the rest being supplied from the pre-understanding of the reader.

Gerry's tale is woven around a small boy, whose mother dies. Coming in from the rain (which I didn't realise the symbolism of in my first reading), he meets a mysterious figure called "The Maker". The Maker thinks thoughts. Our hero is led on a journey - the story is in parts. On his journey, he learns about the Maker's thoughts - present and future. Thoughts cannot be seen, or touched; and yet those thoughts are worth more than everything that can be.

Rzeppa's story is one which anyone whose thoughts run along Dawkinsian lines will not understand. Should they come across it, they will mock and deride it - a childish poem, full of silly fantasies, no rational arguments in it. But if you, like me, love the living God through Jesus, then you'll find that Gerry's tale is itself more than the sum of its parts. Such stories are mirrors - in them we see ourselves. Mockers will find mocking; less cynical hearts will find food for thought and challenge. What is in this allusion? What does this symbol really mean? The story is undergirded by Christian teachings, particularly man's creation in the image of God - but how much they are appreciated depends on what you bring with you as you read; did I bring more or less than Gerry as I read it? Is my understanding of that truth the same as his?

It's a short story. The response to the "New Atheists" needs to be manifold - replies must be made at different levels. Gerry's simple tale won't go down amongst the volumes of deep philosophy; but it will bring appreciative smiles to those who listen to it with ears to hear. Thank you Gerry and Sharon for sharing it with me.

Browsing another website, I found a Google advert leading me to Gerry's own website for the book, where you can read it online and order a hard copy: http://someofthepartsbook.com/

David

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