Review: The World Jones Made

The World Jones Made
The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read (a long weekend) by the sci-fi master Philip K. Dick.

Set on a post war earth, the government has adopted and enforces the policy of Relativism to maintain stability. This is never really defined, but seems to be something along the lines of either there is no absolute truth, or truth is flexible, dependent on the viewpoint of the individual. In light of this, it is forbidden to express judgement as this goes against the truth of others. There is a clear resonance with Postmodernism with its suspicion of meta-narrative and encouragement of tolerance and anything goes (‘if it feels good do it’). Dick explores what the world look like if this way of thinking was taken to its politically logical conclusion, and concludes that the lack of expressed conflict and truth would lead to blandness and stagnation – rather than encouraging variety and multi-culturism, uniformity and conformity dominate. This is echoed in the sub-plot, the life of a group of genetic mutants kept alive in the Refuge and introduced in the first pages of the novel. Their lives are marked by frustration and purposelessness, with them not knowing who they are and why they exist (more I can’t say here without spoilers).

Into this world comes Floyd Jones of the title of the book. He is a mutant who, it appears, has the ability to see one year into the future. This in itself is a fascinating concept which Dick explores – who hasn’t wanted to see into the future, but would this be a beneficial or good thing for the person with that gift? Who is better off, the person with this talent or the one who remains ignorant?

The existence of Jones causes a crisis. How can Relativism exist alongside someone who is able to see into the future and so actually know Truth? The main character of the book, Cussick, is forced to confront this question as part of his work for the state as his life and Jones’ intertwine.

I’ve read a number of Philip K. Dick’s books, and always found them entertaining and provocative. This was no exception. More straightforward than some of his latter works, it was still stimulating and worthwhile reading and reflecting on, particularly in light of some of the current trends in the West today as it grapples with exposure to other world-views and the clashes when they come together.

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God Talk

This last week I have been reading two very fascinating books; ‘How (Not) to Speak Of God’ by Pete Rollins and ‘The Jesus I Never Knew’ by Philip Yancey. Both of these set out to get us to question the image we have of God.

Yancey’s book describes how he realised that his vision of Jesus did not marry with the description found in the Bible. Rather than reading it through the sanitised lens of children’s stories and Christmas Carols he re-learnt to read it through the eyes of First Century Palestinians. It takes great courage to put aside what you were taught to believe by those around you and embrace doubts and questions in re-reading the Gospels afresh.

Rollins encourages us to do the same, but from a philosophical point of view. He argues that although God has revealed himself through Jesus and the Scriptures, the accuracy of our knowledge of him is always constricted by language and intellect; we can never say for certain that we have completely understood the Bible as demonstrated by the many interpretations that can be found of what it says even within Christianity. Furthermore, if God is truly god, then it is impossible to contain him within the text of a book. Although the Bible’s contents are true, they can’t be the whole truth, saying everything that there is to say about him. Rollins balances this with an important clarification, although there are many different ways in which the Bible can be interpreted, there aren’t infinite ways. The Bible places boundaries around what it can be taken as meaning, e.g. although there are many different ways of understanding The Cross, the Bible doesn’t permit us to say that Jesus didn’t die on the Cross – it places a boundary that says he died on Good Friday and was raised on Easter Sunday.

So what does this have to do with us? Isn’t this just scholarly talk, important to those in academia’s ivory towers but of little relevance to us living in the real world? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe it has a lot to say about the way we talk to others about Jesus. It is tempting to see evangelism as telling non-Christians the truth that we have discovered. Rollins and Yancey, however, warn against the arrogance of such an approach. Instead they encourage us to engage in dialogue with others and explore together what the Bible might mean, being open to learning from each other. Not only does this demonstrate grace and humility, but also it shows an honesty which I believe should mark the followers of one who called himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. And maybe, just maybe, it will help us find a way as Christians to actually reflect the unity in the church that Jesus called for, as we learn to appreciate our differences for what they are.

A church newsletter article for 27.03.11

Truth and Memory

Just stumbled accross this quote by Sir Humphrey from ‘Yes Minister’ fame. Made me laugh and had to share it…

“It is characteristic of all committee discussions and decisions that every member has a vivid recollection of them, and that every member’s recollection of them differs violently from every other member’s recollection; consequently we accept the convention that the official decisions are those and only those which have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials; from which it emerges with elegant inevitability, that any decision which has been officially reached would have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials, and any decisions which is not recorded in the minutes by the officials has not been officially reached, even if one or more members believe they can recollect it; so in this particular case, if the decision would have been officially reached, it would have been recorded in the minutes by the officials and it isn’t so it wasn’t.”