the record keeper – a review

The Record Keeper is a steampunk themed webseries centered around the angels’ perspectives as events occur throughout the Bible. If that sounds awesome, it is because it is awesome. The series was produced as an outreach project by Seventh Day Adventists. Adventists seem to ascribe to a Warfare Worldview in which the forces of evil engage against the forces of good for the fate of the future. This is the premise of the series.

In this series, the main protagonists are two angels (Larus and Cadan) who had long been friends but are separated as one defects with Satan (Larus) while the other remains loyal to God (Cadan). These two periodically meet with a “Record Keeper”. At some point in the past, God has appointed a Record Keeper to create a database of the facts of events throughout history. The purpose of these records is to build an evidence file for use during a future judgment. The record keeper acts as a neutral third party. In order to eliminate bias, Satan’s angels are given temporary guarantee of safety in order to periodically meet with the record keeper to give their version of events. They agree to this as a way to make sure documentation is included in the records against God and in their own defense. In the series, it comes to light that the agents of Satan employ their own record keeper in anticipation of a future judgment of God (they anticipate defeating God at some point).

Normally angels meet individually with the Record Keeper, but, because of the closeness of the two friends, they are allowed to meet together (one representing God and the other representing Satan). The series follows their relationship as the events of the Bible unfold. Additionally, the person of the record keeper is examined, as she struggles with learning about all these events second-hand.

The series, although creative and well written, was suspended by the leaders of the Seventh Day Adventists after the leaders objected to material found within. One such objection is that Open Theist themes strongly present itself in the plot narrative. This Open Theism is a reoccurring theme, as God’s angels plot to bring about prophecies from the Old Testament and Satan’s angels plot to negate them. The entire titular role is played by a record keeper meant to store information for future examination (the first few episodes suggest for use on judgment day, the last suggests for use by third parties). The storing of information is strongly anti-platonic. Really interesting is the episode where Satan becomes concerned that one of his angel’s is “leaking information” to God’s angels, something that should not be an issue if omniscience was assumed.

Additionally, the idea that Satan and his minions even believe “they can defeat God” does not play into the platonistic concept of who God is and what attributes He possesses. The Biblical account of the angelic rebellion is just as hard for platonistic Christians to explain as it is for critics of this webseries. Instead, the series is written similar to the Bible, in which Open Theism is an underlying theme manifesting in the behavior and dialogue of all actors. The times that platonism is injected seem very forced (“One day they will invent crumpets.”).

The series excels at bringing out good ideas that should probably be explored further. Why did the angels rebel? What were their motivations? How did they see their roles throughout history? How did they experience the events in the Bible? Where were they and what did they do while these events were taking place?

The series depicts multiple reasons for angels defecting with Satan (referred to as the “general” throughout the series). One of Satan’s main appeals was his declarations against “inequality” in God’s kingdom. Satan promised equality and freedom. Larus wanted freedom from God. He viewed God’s control with spitefulness and longed to control his own destiny. Another angel defected due to jealousy. This angel had been given the same position by Satan that she was rejected for in God’s kingdom. Certainly, Satan’s own jealousy is traditionally the reason given as to why Satan defected.

In the series, the audience is exposed to angels as persons. The angels have individual motivations and desires. The angels reason. The angels are affected with strong emotion. The angels are explored as people. Angels are not considered as a homogeneous mass of automatons.

Another series highlight is that “child murder” is portrayed as God’s ultimate hated sin. This is repeated a few times, and the act is even disdained by Satan’s followers. The implications for modern abortion are obvious.

As for the movie itself. The filming is done very professionally. In addition to steampunk themed offices, the Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend serve as backdrop of this fantasy world. The actors are mostly believable. The dialogue is solid and interesting (plenty of nuances to flush out). The soundtrack includes an excellent rendition of Amazing Grace during the final episode. This is a high quality web series.

The list of reasons given by the Seventh Day Adventists as to why this series was suspended are mostly bogus, predicated on assumptions and a poor understandings of the plot. For example:

-The series does not portray Satan as “ruler of hell”, unless a poorly lit warehouse counts as hell. Satan must have some sort of base of operations. Why not a warehouse?

-Angels are seen ensuring that Jesus is born in Bethlehem through use of their power. Plenty of events in the Bible describe angels using their power to bring out prophecy. An angel slaughtering the Assyrian army is one such example (2 Kings 19:35). The Adventist leaders rightly understand that there are severe Open Theist implications. They reject the Bible due to their philosophy.

-When characters in the film say of Jesus “He’s not human” and “He cannot die”, they are shown to be wrong in the very next episode. That was the point, Satan’s angels believed (in the series) that Jesus was immortal and thus did not kill him sooner.

- The episode states “the plan required the death of God.” The Adventist leaders claim, “Deity did not die”. Peter claims contrary to this: “[You] killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:15)

Possibly the feminizing of the Holy Spirit is the strongest point that they have, but most of their complaints are shaky and amount to petty concerns. It would be a shame to throw out this gem based on trivial theological mistakes.

In retrospect, it is probably a good thing that this webseries was discontinued by the Seventh Day Adventists. Discontinuation ensures the series is not ruined with all the “fixes” suggested by the Adventist leaders, solidifying for eternity the theological implications of the series.

Trailer:

Episodes:

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johnson on allende

The Chilean coup by Pinochet (1973) supplanted the rule of Allende. Allende’s rule had been utterly disastrous. From Paul Johnson’s Modern Times:

But Allende was a weak man with a divided, part-revolutionary following, which quickly slipped from his control. While he embarked on a programme of wholesale nationalization, which isolated Chile from the world trading community, the militants of his Left wing were not prepared to accept any of the restraints of constitutionalism. They launched ‘People’s Power’, consisting of Peasant Councils which seized farms in the countryside and Workers’ Assemblies which occupied factories…

At the time Allende took over, in January 1971, inflation had actually fallen to about 23 per cent. Within months it was hyperinflation. In 1972 it was 163 per cent. In the summer of 1973 it reached 190 per cent, by far the highest in the world.9 2 This was before the quadrupling of oil prices: the Allende inflation was entirely his own doing. In November 1971 Chile declared a unilateral moratorium on its foreign debts (i.e., went bankrupt). The banks cut off credit; capital fled; with the farms in chaos, producing little, the factories occupied, producing less, exports vanished, imports soared, then vanished too as the money ran out. The shops emptied. The middle class started to strike. The workers, finding their wages cut in real terms, struck too. The official price structure became irrational and then irrelevant as the black market took over. The Left began to smuggle in arms in July 1971 and began serious political violence in May the next year.

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understanding psalms 13

Psalms 13 was written by David during his time of tribulation. Like the psalms before and after it, it is filled with images of persecution and oppression. Whereas Psalms 12 is impersonal and reflects David’s observations of oppression in general, Psalms 13 is very personal. David laments about his own specific oppressions. He wonders where God is in all of his trouble and calls to God for redemption.

Psa 13:1 To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?

King David, when things were not going well, equated this with God leaving him or abandoning him. God was said to hide His face from David. This is to be contrasted with David’s language during the good times. In Psalms 139, God is said to follow David everywhere from Hades to Heaven (Psa 139:8). It might almost be said that King David had a flare for the dramatic. David held extreme emotions and showed them without hesitation. This is one of the reasons God loved him so.

Psa 13:2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?

Here David explains the results of God’s abandonment. David’s enemies triumph over him. David has slumped into deep depression, not feeling as if salvation was soon to come.

Psa 13:3 Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Psa 13:4 Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

In these verses, David presents reasons why God should save him. He is worried that he will soon die unless God intervenes. In short, David does not want to give his enemies satisfaction of winning. He assumes his goals are the same as God’s goals. David assumes God will hold the same values as him. David assumes God values him enough to save him from death.

Psa 13:5 But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
Psa 13:6 I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.

David ends this psalm with praises. To David, God was to be praised in spite of his oppression, abandonment, and in spite of his near death. God was precious to David, and one of his only friends. God had saved David in the past, and David shows his gratitude. The praises hold a dual purpose of giving God more motivation to save David. After all, if David praises God, then God might be compelled to save his loyal subject so he is not lost to death. David compels God to save him through a cry for justice, a warning of death, and praises to God.

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understanding psalms 12

Psalms 12 is a psalm written by David. The major theme seems to be his observations on the current state of the land and his hope in a future protection by God of God’s people. It is a short psalm, but echoes a major theme of the entire book of Psalms: that God would soon come to judge the wicked and establish protection of the righteous.

Psa 12:1 To the Chief Musician. On An Eight-Stringed Harp. A Psalm of David. Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases! For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.

The first verse is a call for help. With many of David’s cries for help, he uses emotional language. David paints a picture of God’s faithful people being slaughtered by the wicked. The idea is that so many are dying that they are “disappearing” from the general population.

The emotional language seems deliberate and purposed. This is part of David’s many attempts to convince God to heed his pleas for help. Scattered throughout David’s writings are many arguments addressed to God to convince God to listen to David’s prayers. Later, David praises God for subsequently hearing David’s prayers. It can be assumed that God did eventually fulfill this psalm in David’s life.

Psa 12:2 They speak idly everyone with his neighbor; With flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

The general population, on the other hand, is filled with backstabbing people. The people speak with reassuring words, but plot against the listener at the same time. David felt his fair share of betrayals at the hand of Saul, so he knows due to firsthand experience. A double-crossing might have inspired this particular psalm.

Psa 12:3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, And the tongue that speaks proud things,

David calls for destruction on the backstabbers. David wants God to kill them.

Psa 12:4 Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; Who is lord over us?”

David points to their general claims that God does not have power over them. David shows that there was a general rejection of God’s relevance for daily life (those were the theological attitudes of the day). The people were claiming that they would be able to survive on their own ability alone, and God was an irrelevant factor in their lives. David writes this not only to expose the people as Godless, but to help stir God to wrath. David is challenging God to make mockery of the people’s claims.

Psa 12:5 “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the LORD; “I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.”

David then quotes God. The poor and needy are equated with God’s faithful per verse 1. This seems to be another theme in Psalms. The poor and oppressed are equated with God’s people while the rich are equated with God’s enemies. God will rise up and God will protect His people. The safety of the poor is equated to the death of the proud backstabbers.

Psa 12:6 The words of the LORD are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times.
Psa 12:7 You shall keep them, O LORD, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.

This verse ensure that God’s people will live in a continuous state of protection. When God rises up to kill the wicked, the idea was then that God would not just withdraw his protection. Instead, God’s protection would be long lasting.

Some try to use these verses as a claim that God would give human kind a Bible that would never be compromised by human error. This is a claim that does great disservice to the text. The text is not about some sort of written work, but about God’s actions. If it were about God giving the Bible, it would not make sense in context:

V1: The Godly men are being killed by the wicked.
V2: The wicked are backstabbers.
V3-4: They claim God has no power, but God will kill them.
V5: God will save the Godly (who are being killed per verse 1)
V6: God will surely do it.
V7: God will give us a Bible.
V8: Wicked currently surround the righteous and will in any society that allows vileness.

The “Bible being preserved” theory does not fit. The context shows the meaning to be limited to God’s words (by extension, God’s deeds) about saving the righteous. The words are quoted, no extrapolation is necessary. The very next verse is about what would happen if God’s deeds are not preserved:

Psa 12:8 The wicked prowl on every side, When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.

The last verse is a warning, and argument, and a depiction of the current state. The wicked surround David and the other righteous. The wicked will abound when people reject God. And God should continue God’s protection indefinitely to ensure wickedness just not resurface after it is initially destroyed. David is asking that God continue His protection into the future such that the current state does not reoccur.

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critical thinking and intellectual honesty

Critical thinking is crucial in forming rational beliefs about the world. Those who reject critical thinking risk highly irrational and false beliefs. Although individuals can believe truths independent of critical examination, the danger of such think is proportional to the long term effects of that belief. Although some commentators on this website have been highly irrational, they probably will not suffer the any immediate or future consequences of their irrational beliefs besides public shaming. Not everything is trivial though.

The Christian generic belief is that there is life after death, granted by God based on criteria. Broadly, Christianity is most split on questions of “Who is God?” and “What is the criteria for eternal life?” These questions have huge consequences. Sub-questions to this include “How accurate is the Bible?” and “How is the Bible best understood?” Using the elements of critical thinking helps us evaluate claims on these issues. From criticalthinking.org:

CLARITY: Could you elaborate further on that point? Could you express that point in another way? Could you give me an illustration? Could you give me an example? Clarity is the gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don’t yet know what it is saying. For example, the question, “What can be done about the education system in America?” is unclear. In order to address the question adequately, we would need to have a clearer understanding of what the person asking the question is considering the “problem” to be. A clearer question might be “What can educators do to ensure that students learn the skills and abilities which help them function successfully on the job and in their daily decision-making?”

If there is a claim “God is omniscient.” Clarity would ask: “In what way is God omniscient?” “Is this analogous to anything else?” “What would be an example of a characteristic that would make something not omniscient?”

ACCURACY: Is that really true? How could we check that? How could we find out if that is true? A statement can be clear but not accurate, as in “Most dogs are over 300 pounds in weight.”

If there is a claim that “God is omniscient.” Accuracy would ask is “What evidence exists to suggest God is omniscient?” “What would constitute valid evidence to show that?”

PRECISION: Could you give more details? Could you be more specific?
A statement can be both clear and accurate, but not precise, as in “Jack is overweight.” (We don’t know how overweight Jack is, one pound or 500 pounds.)

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Precision would ask: “The beginning of what?” “What constitutes ‘the end’?” “When exactly does God declare the end?”

RELEVANCE: How is that connected to the question? How does that bear on the issue?
A statement can be clear, accurate, and precise, but not relevant to the question at issue. For example, students often think that the amount of effort they put into a course should be used in raising their grade in a course. Often, however, the “effort” does not measure the quality of student learning; and when this is so, effort is irrelevant to their appropriate grade.

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Relevance would ask: “Does declaring the end from the beginning have anything to do with omniscience?” “Is there anything else that would enable God to declare the end from the beginning besides direct knowledge of the future?”

DEPTH: How does your answer address the complexities in the question? How are you taking into account the problems in the question? Is that dealing with the most significant factors? A statement can be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant, but superficial (that is, lack depth). For example, the statement, “Just say No!” which is often used to discourage children and teens from using drugs, is clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. Nevertheless, it lacks depth because it treats an extremely complex issue, the pervasive problem of drug use among young people, superficially. It fails to deal with the complexities of the issue.

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Depth would ask: “Is that a convenient superficial understanding of the context or is the context more nuanced?” “Is the context suggesting a different understanding of this proof?”

BREADTH: Do we need to consider another point of view? Is there another way to look at this question? What would this look like from a conservative standpoint? What would this look like from the point of view of . . .? A line of reasoning may be clear accurate, precise, relevant, and deep, but lack breadth (as in an argument from either the conservative or liberal standpoint which gets deeply into an issue, but only recognizes the insights of one side of the question.)

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Breadth would ask: “How would the ancient Hebrews have understood this statement?” “How would someone who does not ascribe to omniscience, view this statement?”

LOGIC: Does this really make sense? Does that follow from what you said? How does that follow? But before you implied this, and now you are saying that; how can both be true? When we think, we bring a variety of thoughts together into some order. When the combination of thoughts are mutually supporting and make sense in combination, the thinking is “logical.” When the combination is not mutually supporting, is contradictory in some sense or does not “make sense,” the combination is not logical.

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Logic would ask: “Does this actually prove omniscience?” “Is omniscience even the logical conclusion of that statement?” “Does God declaring the end from the beginning actually contradict omniscience because it suggests the declaration was not eternal?”

FAIRNESS: Do I have a vested interest in this issue? Am I sympathetically representing the viewpoints of others? Human think is often biased in the direction of the thinker – in what are the perceived interests of the thinker. Humans do not naturally consider the rights and needs of others on the same plane with their own rights and needs. We therefore must actively work to make sure we are applying the intellectual standard of fairness to our thinking. Since we naturally see ourselves as fair even when we are unfair, this can be very difficult. A commitment to fairmindedness is a starting place.

If the claim is that “God declaring the end from the beginning proves omniscience.” Fairness would ask: “Do I have a vested interest in this statement being true or false?” “What would a neutral third party think about this statement?” “Am I fairly understanding critics of this statement?”

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aslan on the jerusalem council

From Reza Aslan’s book Zealot:

Paul’s second trip to Jerusalem took place about a decade later, sometime around 50 C.E., and was far less cordial than the first. He had been summoned to appear before a meeting of the Apostolic Council to defend his self-designated role as missionary to the gentiles (Paul insists he was not summoned to Jerusalem but went of his own accord because Jesus told him to). With his companion Barnabas and an uncircumcised Greek convert named Titus by his side, Paul stood before James, Peter, John, and the elders of the Jerusalem assembly to strongly defend the message he had been proclaiming to the gentiles.

… According to Luke, James, in his capacity as leader of the Jerusalem assembly and head of the Apostolic Council, blessed Paul’s teachings, decreeing that thenceforth gentiles would be welcomed into the community without having to follow the Law of Moses, so long as they “abstain from things polluted by idols, from prostitution, from [eating] things that have been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15: 1– 21). Luke’s description of the meeting is an obvious ploy to legitimate Paul’s ministry by stamping it with the approval of none other than “the brother of the Lord.” However, Paul’s own account of the Apostolic Council, written in a letter to the Galatians not long after it had taken place, paints a completely different picture of what happened in Jerusalem. Paul claims that he was ambushed at the Apostolic Council by a group of “false believers” (those still accepting the primacy of the Temple and Torah) who had been secretly spying on him and his ministry. Although Paul reveals little detail about the meeting, he cannot mask his rage at the treatment he says he received at the hands of “the supposedly acknowledged leaders” of the church: James, Peter, and John. Paul says he “refused to submit to them, not even for a minute,” as neither they, nor their opinion of his ministry, made any difference to him whatsoever (Galatians 2: 1– 10). Whatever took place during the Apostolic Council, it appears that the meeting concluded with a promise by James, the leader of the Jerusalem assembly, not to compel Paul’s gentile followers to be circumcised. Yet what happened soon afterward indicates that he and James were far from reconciled: almost immediately after Paul left Jerusalem, James began sending his own missionaries to Paul’s congregations in Galatia, Corinth, Philippi, and most other places where Paul had built a following, in order to correct Paul’s unorthodox teachings about Jesus…

Nevertheless, James’s delegations seem to have had an impact, for Paul repeatedly lambastes his congregations for abandoning him: “I am amazed at how quickly you have deserted the one who called you” (Galatians 1: 6). He implores his followers not to listen to these delegations, or to anyone else for that matter, but only to him: “If anyone else preaches a gospel contrary to the gospel you received [from me], let him be damned” (Galatians 1: 9). Even if that gospel comes “from an angel in heaven ,” Paul writes, his congregations should ignore it (Galatians 1: 8). Instead, they should obey Paul and only Paul: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11: 1)…

Regardless, by the year 57 C.E., the rumors about Paul’s teachings could no longer be ignored. And so, once again, he is summoned to Jerusalem to answer for himself. This time, James confronts Paul directly, telling him that it has come to his attention that Paul has been teaching believers “to forsake Moses” and “not circumcise their children or observe the customs [of the law]” (Acts 21: 21)…

To clear up matters once and for all, James forces Paul to take part with four other men in a strict purification ritual in the Temple— the same Temple that Paul believes has been replaced by the blood of Jesus— so that “all will know there is nothing to the rumors said about you, and that you observe and guard the law” (Acts 21: 24). Paul obeys; he seems to have no choice in the matter.

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aslan defines messiah

From the very recommendable book “Zealot” by Muslim author Reza Aslan:

Messiah means “anointed one.” The title alludes to the practice of pouring or smearing oil on someone charged with divine office: a king, like Saul, or David, or Solomon; a priest, like Aaron and his sons, who were consecrated to do God’s work; a prophet, like Isaiah or Elisha, who bore a special relationship with God, an intimacy that comes with being designated God’s representative on earth. The messiah was popularly believed to be the descendant of King David, and so his principal task was to rebuild David’s kingdom and reestablish the nation of Israel. Thus, to call oneself the messiah at the time of the Roman occupation was tantamount to declaring war on Rome.

And:

Some believed the messiah would be a restorative figure who would return the Jews to their previous position of power and glory. Others viewed the messiah in more apocalyptic and utopian terms, as someone who would annihilate the present world and build a new, more just world upon its ruins. There were those who thought the messiah would be a king, and those who thought he’d be a priest. The Essenes apparently awaited two separate messiahs— one kingly, the other priestly—though most Jews thought of the messiah as possessing a combination of both traits. Nevertheless, among the crowd of Jews gathered for the Feast of Tabernacles, there seems to have been a fair consensus about who the messiah is supposed to be and what the messiah is supposed to do: he is the descendant of King David; he comes to restore Israel, to free the Jews from the yoke of occupation, and to establish God’s rule in Jerusalem.

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