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Documentary, Movie Reviews, Pro-life - Abortion, Watch for free

The Missing Project

Documentary 2019 / 75 minutes RATING: 8/10 2019 was the 50th anniversary since Pierre Trudeau’s government first legalized abortion in Canada. To mark the occasion a number of pro-life organizations came together to make this film. This is, in part, a history lesson, detailing the country’s sad descent to where the unborn today have no protections under Canadian law. The Missing Project begins by explaining the divisions that exist among pro-lifers, between what’s called the “abolitionists” and the “incrementalists.” As ARPA Canada’s André Schutten clarifies:

“In Canada, the pro-life movement is very split on the question of, 'How do we implement a law?' So some people within the pro-life movement are adamant that we can only ever advocate for a total ban on abortions [abolitionists]. Whereas others, including myself and my team, we certainly believe that we can make incremental changes [incrementalists].”

One of the film’s strengths is how it gives time to representatives from both these sides. Whatever camp pro-lifers might have fallen into, it was a confusing time after the abortion law was struck down in 1988 and the Mulroney government proposed Bill C-43. No one knew at the time that this would be the last abortion restricting legislation proposed by a Canadian government. Some pro-lifers opposed it, hoping for much more. In a horribly ironic twist, these pro-lifers were joined in their opposition to the bill by abortion advocates who didn’t want any restrictions at all. They say hindsight is 20/20 but that isn’t true in this case. Pro-lifers today still fall on both sides. We hear some arguing the bill would have done almost nothing, and then get to hear from one of the bill’s crafters who argues that it would have at least done more than the nothing we’ve had in place since then. Bill C-43 was defeated in the Senate on a tie. After hearing from the various sides, viewers will probably be grateful that they weren't Members of Parliament at the time, and didn’t have to decide whether to vote for or against this bill. After the historical overview, we start hearing about the many things that have been missing in the public debate about the unborn. First and foremost, there are all the missing children, millions killed before they saw the light of day. Missing, too, is any media coverage of their plight. While that violence is committed behind closed doors, Jonathon Van Maren notes the media also have no interest in covering violence done in broad daylight against pro-life demonstrators.

"...abortion activists often take their core ideology to its logical extent, which is that they can react with violence to people they find inconvenient - that's the core message of the abortion ideology."

A missing answer At one point an atheist lists herself as one of the missing voices in this debate. It is odd, then, that while she was given time to make her argument – that we need to present secular arguments so as to reach atheists like her who don’t care what the Bible says – we don’t hear anyone making the argument for an explicitly Christian pro-life witness. There are many Christians in the film, but no one answering this young atheist, explaining that if we are only the chance product of an uncaring universe, why, from that worldview, would anyone conclude life is precious from conception onward? She believes it, but not because of her humanist stance – it's only because God's Law is written on her heart (Romans 2:14-15). So not only is it our joy and privilege to glorify God in all we do (1 Cor. 10:31), even from a very practical perspective, proclaiming the triumph of the Author of Life is the only answer to a culture of death. Conclusion That said, this is a film every Canadian Christian should watch because there is something here for everyone. Even if you've been involved in the pro-life movement for 20 years, you are going to hear something you’ve never heard before.  If you don't want to watch, because the death of 100,000 children a year is simply too depressing a topic, the filmmakers made sure this film is also encouraging. For example, about two-thirds of the way through, when we could really use a brief reprieve, the director gave us a moment of delight. Dr. Chris Montoya explains how we know a baby is able to learn from the time of the first detectable heartbeat. I won’t give it away, but it involved a tuning fork and thumping mom’s tummy. In a film full of muted horror, this was a moment of wonder – a kid at two months can already respond!  Another reason The Missing Project is encouraging is because of the challenging note it ends on. We learn there are things that can be done to help these babies. We don’t have to just toss up our hands in despair.  Another reason for hope is that, although God is not mentioned, Christians can fill in the blanks. We can see God at work in these various organizations, and it isn’t hard to imagine how His people can ally with and make use of these groups to offer our own Christian pro-life witness. So watch, learn how to spot our culture’s pro-abortion lies, be challenged, discover all the opportunities, and then go spread the truth that every one of us is made in the very image of God, right from the moment of conception.  The Missing Project can be viewed, for free at WeNeedALaw.ca/MissingProjectFilm where you can also find discussion questions and tips on how to host a movie night. Check out the trailer below. For more, you can also check out the 50 individual interviews that started this project – one for each year abortion has been legal in Canada. You can find those on the Life Collective website and also on YouTube here. Some of these individual interviews do raise an explicitly Christian perspective.

Politics

Electoral Reform: paper and pen beat bits and bytes

As we progress ever farther into the digital age there is going to be an increased push to have voting go from paper to digital, with voting done on, and tabulated by, computers. Part of this push comes from those who just think it a natural progression. After all, isn't everything going digital? Others think it will increase voter turnout, especially if we open things up by allowing voting over the Internet (then you could vote from your own home). But another reason for this push to digital comes from the complicated ways that other countries do elections. In Australia's 2016 federal election, because of their ranked ballot, it took more than a week for the country to find out who had won. If voting had been done electronically this could have been resolved almost right after voting concluded. But there is a problem with electronic voting that makes Canada's present paper and pen voting method vastly superior. If we want people to be involved and invested in the democratic process, then the one thing we need them to know is that the results reported at the end are, without a shadow of a doubt, legitimate. That’s true of the Canada’s present federal system…and in a way that should be the envy of every other country. Our paper ballots leave a paper trail that can be checked and double check and triple checked too. In fact, in most ridings there are people with at least 3 different perspectives counting each vote: the (hopefully neutral) Elections Canada staff a Liberal Party scrutineer a Conservative Party scrutineer In addition there are often scrutineers from the smaller parties like the New Democrats and the Greens (though they don’t have the manpower to scrutinize at every poll). This independent triple check keeps the system entirely transparent – if Elections Canada, the Liberals, and the Conservatives can all agree on the vote total (and they do 99% of the time) then we know that the result are trustworthy. Compare that to United States, where electronic voting tabulates the vast majority of votes and there is no paper trail. Every election there are reports of computer errors – someone voting Republican and their vote being given to the Democrat candidate, and vice versa. Some of these errant votes are caught – one famous example occurred when, in a precinct where just 412 people voted, presidential candidate Al Gore received a negative vote count of minus 16,022 votes. Someone, it seems, had hacked the machine. Errant totals like this are easy to spot, but if a machine can be hacked once, why should we trust all the others? And how many of the other vote totals might be the result of simple computer error? American voters can only wonder how many less obvious errors may have escaped notice. Long ago Joseph Stalin said something to the effect of: "The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything." Americans’ dependency on electronic voting machines means their system is based on trust – trust that the machines our counting properly, and trust that the people making and programming these counting machines are competent and honest, and trust that their security is flawless. Meanwhile in Canada our hand counting approach recognizes that it is foolish to trust overmuch, that we are fallen and depraved creatures. Of course election officials have never stated it in such explicitly biblical terms, but that is the difference nonetheless. Instead of trust, we have verification, with two, three and even more vote totals from the different parties available to check against the official results. From a Reformed perspective then, the Canadian hand count is vastly superior to the American voting machine count. On the federal level Canada currently has the most trustworthy, and therefore best, vote-counting system in the world. We need to let our friends and neighbors know that when it comes to voting and verification, bits and bytes don't beat pen and paper.

Music, News

That morning I listened to Kanye West

I’ve never been a Kanye West fan. About a year ago, I was flipping through the radio channels while driving. I came across a station playing one of his songs. It was one of the most vile, misogynistic songs I’ve ever heard. As we were eating our dinner, I told our kids about what I’d heard earlier in the day. Knowing Kanye better than I did, they weren’t surprised. But they sure were surprised to hear their dad listening to Kanye West last Saturday morning. I was rather surprised too. His new album had just dropped and the title led me to listen. Jesus is King blew me off my feet. How could it happen that the same man responsible for that horrible song could produce an entire album in praise of the Saviour? Who is/was Kanye West? Kanye West is an American recording artist who’s mostly worked in the hip-hop/rap genre. He’s been hugely popular and is one of the most successful musicians of all time. Jesus is King is his ninth studio album. The previous eight each went platinum. Moreover, he’s been awarded 21 Grammy awards since the beginning of his recording career in 2003. As far as his personal life goes, West was raised middle-class by his mother, an English professor. He briefly attended university but decided to chase a music career instead. He was involved in several romantic relationships over the years. He married reality-TV star Kim Kardashian in 2014 and they have four children together. His first album College Dropout included the song “Jesus Walks.” This song already indicated some spiritual inclinations. The song speaks of spiritual struggles but also features the profanity found in so many of his songs. Over the years, he’s claimed to believe in God, and in 2014 he even claimed to be a Christian. However, in the meantime, he continued making music putting those claims in question. For example, his 2013 album Yeezus included a blasphemous song entitled “I Am a God.” In short, while there have been spiritual themes in some of his past work, much of what Kanye West has produced up till now has been profane, wicked, and even sacrilegious. He’s represented the dregs of what hip-hop has to offer. What happened? Early in 2019, West began a new musical endeavor known as Sunday Service. Every Sunday, he and a number of others would get together to perform gospel music. While it began as an event for family and friends, eventually it turned into something bigger and Sunday Service began touring around American cities. That was the first sign something seemed to be changing with West. Through the end of 2018, it was well-known that West was working on a new album entitled Yandhi. It wasn’t going to be a gospel album – in fact, it wasn’t going to have any notable spiritual emphasis. However, in August 2019, West’s wife Kim Kardashian announced that the direction of the new album had changed and it would now be entitled Jesus is King. Around the same time, West began attending Placerita Bible Church in Newhall, California. This church is a non-denominational congregation. Besides what it says about baptism and eschatology, their doctrinal statement is mostly sound. The pastor, Adam Tyson, is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, an institution founded by John MacArthur. Like MacArthur, Tyson’s doctrine of salvation is biblical/Calvinistic. According to Tyson (in an interview with Apologia Studios), West began attending the church and then asked to meet with him for instruction. West gave a sound Christian testimony and indicated a good understanding of the basics of salvation through the gospel. What he really wanted from Pastor Adam Tyson was instruction about how to begin living as a Christian. Tyson has been instrumental in guiding Kanye West’s spiritual journey. In the last while, Adam Tyson was invited to preach at several Sunday Service events. I watched a video of him preaching at a Sunday Service in Detroit. Using Isaiah 6:1-5 as his text, he gave a faithful and unambiguous presentation of the gospel to at least several hundred people. Kanye West provided a platform so the gospel could be preached. Tyson was also involved in the final production of the Jesus is King album. West told Tyson that he was finished with rap and hip-hop and didn’t want to do it anymore. But Tyson encouraged him to use his gifts in this genre to advance the cause of the gospel. Moreover, he helped him ensure the final product would be free of any serious theological errors. Jesus is King Having listened to the album a number of times now, let me make a few comments. Musically speaking, not everything here is going to be to everyone’s taste. In other words, there are hip-hop and rap elements. Yet it has a different feel to his previous work. I first listened to the album through Spotify, but since I don’t have the premium account, the stream would periodically circle back to his previous work. The difference was noticeable, not only in comparison with his previously foul lyrics, but also with the music. Even though I can’t put my finger on it, something has changed in the sound of the music. One of my Facebook friends noted she’s never listed to Kanye West and never will. I urged her to just listen to the first track on the album. “Every Hour” features lively African-American gospel choir singing – no hip-hop or rap at all. The last song of the album “Jesus is Lord” also breaks the stereotype. This short track features West singing of Christ’s Lordship accompanied by tuba, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, French horn, and euphonium. The lyrics are mostly sound. Check out these rhymes from “Closed on Sunday”:

When you got daughters, always keep em’ safe Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate … Raise our sons, train them in the faith Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake Follow Jesus, listen and obey No more livin’ for culture, we nobody’s slave

Stand up for my home Even if I take this walk alone I bow down to the King upon the throne My life is His, I’m no longer my own.

The last bit echoes the biblical teaching of Lord’s Day 1, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, there’s some immaturity and imprecision in various tracks. Assuming he’s become a Christian, he’s just a young Christian and so we can’t expect the accuracy or theological profundity of Shai Linne and Timothy Brindle. Moreover, while the album is mostly clean in terms of language, there is one use of the word “damn.” It occurs in “God is”:

I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup I know God is alive, yeah He has opened up my vision Giving me a revelation This ain't 'bout a damn religion Jesus brought a revolution

Could that be a legitimate use of the word? I’d like to be charitable. After all, there is religion that is damned – the religion of self-salvation and works righteousness. What shall we say about these things? For many people, their first inclination is to be skeptical. Me too. After all, how many “Christian” celebrities have we seen over the years? How many proved to be genuine followers of Christ for the long haul? The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9) reminds us that there are those who hear the Word, show some promise, but are either seed sown on rocky soil or the seed choked by thorns. Kanye West anticipates this response on the album. In “Hands On” he predicts that many Christians aren’t going to believe he’s the real deal. Despite that, he asks listeners to pray for him. Even as we have might have concerns, that’s a request we can enthusiastically embrace. One of the big questions people are asking is: what happens to all the old music West produced? He was asked this directly in an interview with BigBoyTV. His reply was that no one goes to an Apple iStore to ask for an iPhone 4 – Apple doesn’t offer the inferior product. He says his old stuff is behind him and he won’t be performing it anymore. From now on he claims he’ll only be performing gospel music to the glory of God. True, for the moment, his old music is still available for sale -- though, to be fair, when it comes to music sales there are more players involved than just the artist. There are indeed still inconsistencies and troubling things about Kanye West. Just in the last month, he boasted in an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music's Beats 1 that he’s “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time.” While he’s attended Adam Tyson’s church in California, he lives in Wyoming and isn’t currently known to be a member of any church. He’s a public figure and, unlike many other fledgling disciples, his life is on display for everyone to dissect and analyze. There’s a lot of pressure on him and one can only hope that influences like Adam Tyson will prevail. Why should we care? Simply because God can do amazing things, even with the vulgar and profane. Let’s watch and see what happens. Whatever the case may be, we shouldn’t look up to Kanye West as a Christian leader – he’s untested. Finally, if nothing else comes from this, even if West proves to be a false disciple, at least the truth about Jesus Christ was broadcast by him and others for a time: Jesus is King! So, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. Kanye West picture is from Shutterstock.com.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Being a witness: an interview (of sorts) with Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) has long since been retired from his earthly duties, but the Presbyterian pastor, philosopher, and apologist was still up for an interview (of sorts) on the desperate need for a clear Christian witness in the public square. The text in bold is his own words, taken from his book A Christian Manifesto.

****

JON DYKSTRA: A Christian Manifesto was your last book. Why did you feel the need to write it? FRANCIS SCHAEFFER: It was intended as a rallying cry for Christians, to stand up against the world’s humanist worldview, by offering up God’s own. The basic problem of the Christians in this country…in regards to society and in regards to government is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals. They have gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally, abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality – each thing being a part, a symptom of a much larger problem. [We] have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in…. the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole. This shift has been away from a worldview that was at least vaguely Christian…toward something completely different – toward a worldview based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance.  The phrase “separation of church and state” has been used to push Christians to the sidelines in politics, and we have, for the most part, gone willingly. Christians have forgotten that the Lordship of Christ covers all of life and all of life equally. That includes politics as well. A Christian Manifesto is a call for Christians to reenter the public square as Christians. It argues that the Christian worldview is absolutely vital to civil society and we need to share it with them. JD: Why is it vital? FS: Because it is foundational! In the American Constitution we have the phrase “certain inalienable rights.” Who gives the rights? The State? Then they are not inalienable because the State can change them and take them away. Where do rights come from? Now Christians know there is Someone who gave these inalienable rights, but if you don’t recognize the Giver, how can you recognize His gift? If we ignore God and build our law on humanist assumptions we are left with rights that have no foundation. And if we can’t explain the basis for these rights, how can we complain when they are taken away? That’s why a secular worldview is the road to tyranny. JD: How should Christians respond when their government ignores God? FS: Be a witness! We are where we are today in large part because of the many voters who held to two bankrupt values – personal peace and affluence. Personal peace means just to be left alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world, or across the city. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity – a life made up of things and more things – success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance. Even as voters demand peace and prosperity, we Christians need to stand on principle. We need to speak, even when that is going to cause us trouble, and cost us materially. JD: But are Western Christians prepared for the cost that comes with being a witness? FS: Many are scared. That's because obedience can be scary. I know many among your readership had grandparents involved in hiding Jews from the Nazis. What your grandparents understood is that when we recognize Christ as Lord of All then at a certain point there is not only the right, but the duty to disobey the State. That’s why your grandparents were willing to risk the wrath of Man – because they valued the approval of God. And they understood that when Jesus says in Matthew 22:21: “Give to Caesar what it Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” it is not:

GOD and CAESAR

It was, is, and always will be:

GOD and CAESAR

The civil government, as all of life, stands under the Law of God. JD: You’re talking here about there being a time and place for civil disobedience. What cautions or considerations would you share when it comes to resisting a government imposing wicked laws? FS: Samuel Rutherford suggested that there are three appropriate levels of resistance: First, [the Christian] must defend himself by protest (in contemporary society this would most often be by legal action); second, he must flee if at all possible; and third, he may use force, if necessary to defend himself. One should not employ force if he may save himself by flight; nor should one employ flight if he can save himself and defend himself by protest and the employment of constitutional means of redress. JD: Here in the West we are still free to make use of the first possibility, taking legal and political action. What would you say to Christians who are hesitant to speak out against our society’s humanist worldview, and downright scared about presenting the explicitly Christian alternative? FS: I would tell them the world needs to hear a Christian witness. And until we share that, anything we do is only treating the symptoms. Then I might quote to them a few lines from Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming:

You’ve got gangsters in power and lawbreakers making rules When you gonna wake up, When you gonna wake up, When you gonna wake up And strengthen the things that remain?

A version of this article first appeared in the March 2008 issue.

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

3 provocative, powerful, PG-rated, dystopian novels

The best dystopian books warn us of an undesirable future that seems far too likely for our peace of mind. The most famous examples are 1984 and Brave New World and while these are very important books, both have sexual content that make them problematic to discuss in a high school setting.

But there are fantastic alternatives that are every bit as challenging and thought-provoking and yet don’t bring in the sexual content. The most “explicit” of the three below is Time Will Run Back in which sex is mentioned but only in the context of the government mandate that no one can pair up for longer than a month, lest they form familial bonds that compete with the bonds they should have to the State. Nothing titillating here.

What we’re left with are provocative PG-rated stories and that’ll allow parents and teens to enjoy and discuss them together.

*****

WINTERFLIGHT
by Joseph Bayly
1981 / 216 pages

In this dystopian novel, Joseph Bayly takes us to a not-so-distant future in which abortion for disabled children is mandatory, euthanasia is compulsory soon after 75, and Christians are so confused about Romans 13 they think God wants them to submit to even these demands.

When Jonathan and Grace Stanton’s six-year-old son Stephen falls off his bike, they don’t know what to do. The fall was minor, but their son has hemophilia and he needs treatment. But the law says he shouldn’t exist: had his condition been diagnosed prenatally the State would have required that he be aborted. Stephen survived only because he mother never visited a doctor during her pregnancy, and when the time came a friend helped her have a home birth. Now the Stanton’s wonder what the State might do, even six years later, if they bring their son in to see a doctor. Do they dare find out?

Winterflight was written almost 40 years ago, but it got my heart racing – it all seemed far too probable for my liking. Abortion is already being used to “cure” genetic disabilities like Down Syndrome and while it isn’t mandatory, pressure from doctors and culture are such that in some countries 98% of Down Syndrome children are killed before birth.

When it comes to killing the elderly, we don’t demand their deaths at 75, but we are already exploring the cost savings that can be had from their early departure. In countries where euthanasia has been legal longer, there are regular reports of involuntary killings. In Canada, attempts are already being made to make involvement on some level mandatory for all doctors.

But what hits closest to home is Bayly’s portrayal of the confused Christian response to these government abuses. When Grace’s elderly father is told he must report soon to be euthanized, their misunderstanding of Scripture has them thinking that they need to obey the governing authorities even in this, since those authorities are appointed by God (Romans 13:1). But at the same time, in saving their son, the Stantons show that on some level they do understand we must sometimes defy the State.

Is their confusion realistic? We’d never march ourselves off to the local euthanasia clinic just because the government demanded it. But why would we resist? Do we understand on what biblical basis we could reject such demands from the “governing authorities”? During World War II there was confusion on this point among some good Reformed Dutchmen. Among those who joined the Resistance, some felt guilty about it because they were worried that in acting against the Nazis they were resisting God’s chosen rulers.

The confusion persists today. Even as we know the government shouldn’t mandate euthanasia – even as we recognize that there are limits to their power – many Christians will still turn to the government asking it to solve our problems. We understand the government has limits, and yet we’ll also ask them to do more and more. We are confused.

And that’s what makes this book such a fantastic read – the discussion it’ll prompt is one we need to have.

Cautions

There are just a couple cautions to note. First, there is a small bit of language – I think “damn” might be used two or three times.

Second, without giving away the ending, when the book was first published some Christians misunderstood the ending as being prescriptive – they thought the actions of the book’s confused Christians were what we should do. So it’s important to understand that’s not so. These are confused Christians, under enormous pressure, acting in a confused way and the author is not endorsing their actions. In fact, the book is primarily about warning us not to do as they do.

Conclusion

This is a fantastic dystopian novel, as prophetic as they come, and certainly unlike any other Christian fiction you’ve read.

The topic matter is weighty, but because there’s nothing graphic this could be appropriate for as young as early teens. However the younger a reader might be, the more they’ll need a guide to steer their interaction with the story, and particularly the not-at-all happy ending. It would also make great book club material, with fodder for some fantastic discussions.

*****

TIME WILL RUN BACK
by Henry Hazlitt
368 pages / 1951

As novels go, this is intriguing. As economics textbooks go it is downright amazing.

Like 1984…

In Time Will Run Back author Henry Hazlitt envisions a future in which the communists won and have been in power for more than 100 years. As Henry Hazlitt himself acknowledges, his novel bears some similarities to 1984 (published two years earlier) since both take place in a dystopian future in which the government manages every aspect of citizens’ lives. But Hazlitt didn’t read 1984 until after he had finished the first draft of his own book, so no plagiarism was involved. Instead, as Hazlitt puts it, authors like Orwell, Aldous Huxley (and his Brave New World) and himself were:

plagiarizing from the actual nightmare created by Lenin, Hitler and Stalin….All the writers had done was to add a few logical extensions not yet generally foreseen.

In Hazlitt’s envisioned future the government has not only taken over the capitalist West, but they’ve wiped away any memory of capitalism, even editing Karl Marx’s books so that no one could deduce from them what sort of economic system it was that Marx was writing against.

Into this setting Hazlitt places the ultimate outsider. The world dictator’s son, Peter Uldanov, has grown up far away from his father, isolated on a Bahama island. When his mother and father split, he agreed to let her take Peter, so long as she agreed not to teach Peter anything about history, politics or economics. So when the world dictator calls his now adult son to Moscow and informs Peter that he is to succeed his father as dictator, father first has to bring son up to speed in these three key areas.

Peter’s education takes up the first third of the book, though there is some palace-intrigue as well: the second-ranking member of the ruling Politburo is eager to see Peter dead, but doesn’t want to be caught doing the deed.

…and Screwtape Letters

This first third bears more than a passing resemblance to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, with Peter’s teacher filling the role of the elder Screwtape explaining to his younger devilish charge why they do things the way they do them. For example, at one point Politburo member Adams and Orlov, the editor of the world’s state-approved and only remaining newspaper, explain to Peter how what is carried in the paper has nothing to do with the truth, but instead has to do with what is useful for the masses to hear. It turns out “what is useful” can be hard to determine.

“It is for the Politburo to decide, for example, whether we shall say that the production record is very bad, in order to exhort and sting everyone to greater output; or whether we shall say that it is very good, in order to show how well the regime is doing and to emphasize the blessing of living under it.”

“These decisions are sometimes very difficult,” Adams put in. “We often find that a zigzag course is best. For example, if goods are shoddy and fall apart, or if too many size nine shoes are made and not enough size eight, or if people cannot get enough to eat, there may be grumbling and complaints – or silent dissatisfaction. We must make sure that this unrest does not turn against the regime itself.”

“Therefore,” said Orlov, “we must lead the complaints. We must ourselves pick scapegoats to denounce and punish.”

In the middle third of the novel Peter takes on the role of the ultimate benevolent dictator. He wants to help his citizens, so he tries desperately to figure out ways to make socialism work. He has the help of his country’s greatest minds, and near absolute power, so he is in the best sort of situation to make it work. But try as he might, they can’t make it work.

The biggest trouble Peter keeps running into is trying to figure out the value of what they are making. They have no money (since no one buys anything, but is instead given what they need) so they can’t use price to calculate how valuable one product might be compared to another. And if they can’t calculate value, then they also can’t determine if the country is producing more overall this year vs. the last. Sheer tonnage is one proposed measure – that could use that to compare how much grain they grew from one year to the next. But even this falls short, because grain can come in different qualities. How then should they evaluate things if one year more grain is produced but of a lower quality, and in another year there is less but of a higher quality? Which was the better year?

After ruling out tonnage as a helpful means of measuring output, one alternative after another is proposed only to have the shortcomings of each then exposed. The alert reader will see where this is leading: what this socialistic  economy lacks are markets in which the value of a product is assessed by consumers as a whole.

In the final third of the book Peter gets more desperate and more radical in his efforts to make real improvements and give citizens real freedom, and he ends up discovering some economic principles that really help: open competition, property ownership, and the rigorous prosecution of cheats and swindlers. To help his citizens he is forced to invent capitalism!

Conclusion

Though the book is most obviously about communism, the warning Hazlitt offers here – that freedom and prosperity cannot co-exist with an economic system that prioritizes equality of distribution – is directly applicable to communism’s democratic twin, socialism.

This book sat on my shelf unread for many years because I didn’t believe a world-renown economist could also be a credible novelist. I was wrong. There is a conversation here and there that gets bogged down by the economic lesson Hazlitt is trying to teach, but overall this is not just readable, but engaging and entertaining, able to stand up to comparisons with 1984 and Brave New World, which themselves are not read for their wonderful prose, but rather for their insightful investigations of human nature in the face of tyranny. So this is a readable, intriguing and important novel with a few slow bits. And as an economics textbook, there is none better – Hazlitt makes a strong and compelling case for the free market.

The e-book can be had for free here.

*****

THE GIVER
by Lois Lowry
1993 / 208 pages

The Giver is a book that is not specifically Christian, but has been studied in Christian schools and is stocked in our Christian school library. Why?

Lois Lowry’s novel is a brilliant dystopia – a vision of the future where things have gone horribly wrong. What makes it so brilliant is that in the brief space of a children’s novel, Lowry shows, as dystopian novels always do, how the desire to make a utopia leads to disaster.

The original Utopia (which literally means “no-place”), by Thomas More (an English Catholic writing around the time of the Reformation), is a vision of an ideal, perfectly regulated society, where people live their lives with leisure and work balanced, and the wealth is fairly shared among all. All these features are appealing, but given human nature, any attempt to build society through regulation will result in the stomping out of individuality and the oppressive power of whatever authority we trust to organize everything. Basically, there is a kind of idolatry of human systems and power. Of course, we know that idols always disappoint, and idols always demand horrible sacrifices.

That’s what’s going on in The Giver. Lowry builds up a picture of an ideal, well-organized society where everyone has his or her specific role set by 12 years old. All the angst of adolescence in our society has been taken care of through this selection of each person’s career by the community, as well as by the suppression of the disruptive disturbance of teenage hormones. The result is a village in which there is no significant crime; in which each person is given a specific role and, in return, has all his or her needs are met from cradle to grave by the community; and in which both the physical storms and emotional storms have been subdued by technology.

This “sameness,” as the narrator calls it, has been maintained for generations. Even the memory of the relative chaos of our own society has been wiped out, but the elders of the village have ensured that the past is not entirely lost, so that in the event of crisis, the elders can learn from it. This is where the main character, Jonas, comes in. At twelve years old, he is given the unique role of the Receiver of the community. What does he receive? The memories of the village before the “sameness” – from the Giver.

Jonas’s unique knowledge enables him to see what a terrible place our own world is – with war and other suffering – but also what emotional ties like family and romantic love were lost with the oncoming of the “sameness.” His own crisis comes when he sees what sacrifices his seemingly utopian village demands to keep its stability.

Why would Christians want to read this? The Giver shows us both the beauty and the cost of human emotion and desire, but also the foolishness of playing God in trying to wipe both out by human power. What we need is not liberation from our own humanness, but liberation from the sin which has corrupted our humanness – by the death of Christ – and the redirection of our emotions and desire – by the work of the Spirit. Lowry may not explicitly put us before God’s throne, but she does a fine job of knocking down one of the idols that serve as a stumbling block blocking our view of His glory.


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