Volume 5

Guests on Volume 5: David Aikman, on his novel When the Almond Tree Blossoms, and on the perpetual temptations of totalitarianism; Edward Ericson, Jr., on Solzhenitsyn's moral foundation and his criticism of modern Western culture; James Pontuso, on the spiritual dimensions of freedom; James Finn, on the United Nations World Conference on human rights; Ken Myers, on L. A. Law's Bob Jones graduate, and on how TV promotes glibness; Ralph C. Wood, on the backslidden comedy of novelist Peter De Vries; Stephen Bates, on textbooks and the First Amendment in Hawkins County, Tennessee; and Drew Trotter, on director Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence.

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Part 1

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    David Aikman on his novel When the Almond Tree Blossoms, and on the perpetual temptations of totalitarianism

    When the Almond Tree Blossoms (Word, 1993)

    David Aikman, a senior correspondent for Time magazine, wrote a post-Cold War thriller about a future American civil war. Set in the late 1990s, When the Almond Tree Blossoms reflects on what happens when societal order breaks down. Aikman's novel describes the attraction of fascism for a society in chaos, and issues a kind of warning that democratic freedom cannot be sustained without a set of core values which regulates personal and social behavior. Whereas America has a civic heritage that encourages freedom, Russia needs to develop a cultural infrastructure in order to lend stability to the political order, according to Aikman.

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    Edward Ericson, Jr. on Solzhenitsyn's moral foundation and his criticism of modern Western culture

    Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World (Regnery Gateway, 1993)

    Edward Ericson, Jr., author of two books on Alexander Solzhenitsyn, believes Solzhenitsyn's primary concerns in his writings are moral rather than political. His belief that humanity is created in the image of God drives Solzhenitsyn's fight against communism's dehumanizing ideology, and he describes himself as pro-humanity rather than anti-Communist. A new complication to freedom in post-Soviet Russia, according to Ericson, comes from a force that does threaten to debilitate the spiritual lives of people in the East: western mass culture. Solzhenitsyn describes it as "liquid manure" seeping under the iron curtain.

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    James Pontuso on the spiritual dimensions of freedom

    Assault on Ideology: Solzhenitsyn's Political Thought (University Press of Virginia, 1990)

    James Pontuso, professor of political science and author of Solzhenitsyn's Political Thought, disagrees with those who attribute communism's downfall solely to a hunger for material goods. While Pontuso acknowledges that the desire for physical well-being was certainly a factor in the recent revolution, he insists that people are rarely willing to lay down their lives for products alone. It takes more than a desire for a dishwasher to elevate someone's spirit and to inspire sacrifice, according to Pontuso.

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    James Finn on the United Nations World Conference on human rights

    United Nations logo

    James Finn, senior editor of Freedom Review, explains how cultural relativism undermined the United Nations' attempt to draft a declaration protecting universal human rights. At the June 1993 conference, many participants rejected the traditional western idea that individuals possess certain inalienable rights such as the rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Instead, cultural relativists insisted that human rights must be interpreted in light of the political, economic, and cultural systems of each country. In practice, this formulation provided a prescription for totalitarianism or extreme individualism. In order to combat further confusion, Finn wants the United States to articulate clearly what the phrase "human rights" means and to establish a human rights policy based on this definition.

Part 2

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    Ken Myers on L. A. Law's Bob Jones graduate, and on how TV promotes glibness

    L. A. Law (television series)

    Ken Myers critiques the television series L.A. Law's characterization of Jane Halliday, a graduate of Bob Jones University and Harvard Law School, and a born-again Christian. While it is remarkable that a conservative Christian even appears on the show, Halliday is a token symbol of religious diversity, rather than a character in her own right. The writers stereotype her as naive, unimaginative, and dull. Myers also mentions a recent article by TV critic Todd Gitlin, who argues that TV's rapid profusion of images discourages viewers from becoming deeply engaged with content, instead promoting an attitude of glibness or "knowingness." This concern with style (i.e. the "one-liner") over substance will make portrayal of any serious religious convictions a problem.

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    Ralph C. Wood on the backslidden comedy of novelist Peter De Vries

    Peter DeVries (1910-1993)

    Novelist and essayist Peter DeVries was a skeptic about skeptics. Though not a Christian, he used his witty writing to mock our culture's mockery of God. Baylor University English professor Ralph C. Wood discusses how DeVries's Dutch Calvinist background influenced his work. Despite an early rebellion against the repressive cultural restrictions of his Dutch Calvinist religious tradition, which later deepened into a full-scale theological skepticism, DeVries was always haunted by his heritage. He continued to call himself a "backslidden unbeliever" and ultimately became skeptical about the narrow, truncated, and provincial world of his secular colleagues as opposed to the Dutch Calvinist world of his youth.

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    Stephen Bates on textbooks and the First Amendment in Hawkins County, Tennessee

    Battleground: One Mother's Crusade, the Religious Right, and the Struggle for Control of Our Classrooms (Poseidon Press, 1993)

    Battleground, by Stephen Bates, chronicles an agonizing legal dispute over public school textbooks. The plaintiffs in the case were a group of Christian parents who wanted to exempt their children from reading certain textbooks they found offensive to their faith. Bates's book analyzes the legal and theological arguments presented by both sides. He also highlights the intense emotional responses the case elicited from its participants. Bates hopes that his attempt to be evenhanded and sympathetic to all parties will alleviate the paranoid suspicion that hysterical press coverage promotes and, instead, help observers to understand the complex nature of the dispute and respect those with whom they disagree.

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    Drew Trotter on director Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence

    Martin Scorsese's motion picture The Age of Innocence hit the box offices in 1993.

    Film critic Drew Trotter discusses The Age of Innocence, Martin Scorsese's "nineteeth-century costume picture about manners and obsessive love." Like many of Scorsese's works, this film depicts a closed society that vigorously guards its own code. Trotter wonders whether this recurring theme betrays a yearning for some principled order by which to live, but concludes that Scorsese continues to wrestle with the age-old tension between individual liberty and communal solidarity. Scorsese's vision of life is often agonizingly paradoxical: he is dominated by guilt, yet unashamed of his own evil; he ruthlessly portrays the difficulty in relationships and the resulting alienation but cannot escape the need for community.