I was asked to read a paper on the character of Shepherd Book. I skimmed and then emailed them. I didn’t feel able to make a positive long response. Here are some things I thought of it. I think it is somewhat relevant as I may be teaching the Shepherd Book graphic novel one of these days. This paper might be one way to have discussions.
For all his Bible carrying, when it comes to communicating his faith or guiding others, Shepherd Book is self-deprecating and reluctant.
Where Book does quickly step in to offer guidance is in situations needing military knowledge and police tactics (15).
Their view of fundamentalism is odd. I don’t see it that way and wonder why they do. There did not seem to be a statement of where they are coming from, though they argue about Book based on what he does. So… they are opposed to fundamentalism. They either have no experience with it or only bad experiences or a bad experience so great that it overcame any good experiences. They use fundamentalism, and words like conversion, in their own way. They quote from Psychoanalytic Review on “Bible Says: The Christianity of Fundamentalism.”
Then they go on.
But Shepherd Book’s story does not involve seeking atonement; his is a story that deals with the aftermath of conversion. Conversion completely does away with the need for atonement. If atonement is a means of transformation, conversion is a means of transferal. You cannot atone for what you cannot face in yourself. (10)
What theology are they proposing with this thought? It is not a Christian theology that I have ever heard of. Atonement, as Wikipedia will tell you, is a doctrine on how God forgives humanity’s sins on an individual and group basis. Atonement is not something people do. It is something God does.
It is part of the conversion process. As a sinner, you recognize your sin. You are sorry about that sin and decide to stop sinning, as best you know how. You ask God to forgive you for your sin. Here is where atonement comes in. Then God forgives you and makes it (for him) as if you had never done the sin. That is transformation. But it is also transferal because God took it on himself.
From Romans 3:
22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunishedâ€” 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Then the paper gives some definition for atonement and conversion.
While atonement is achieved by working through the choices and events of one’s own personal narrative, conversion involves the adoption of a narrative outside of one’s self. (10)
Again, I think they have made a word choice to use a word that doesn’t mean to them what it means to most. Atonement is a Christian word, original or not, and it means that Jesus made up for our sins. He took them so we will not be punished for them.
Is there a theology (There must be.) that says that atonement is something you do yourself? I know that LDS believe that. Is that where they are coming from?
I absolutely agree that Book appears to be running away. I agree that Book does not seem to be consistent in his faith. He doubts. He uses the Bible as a prop, not as reality. But does that make him an inauthentic Christian? I often use the Bible as a prop. I have many in my house that I don’t read on a regular basis. In fact, I use the online version more than any paper edition. So they are props. Am I not a Christian?
Book doesn’t act consistently with his beliefs. Do I act consistently with my beliefs? No, I don’t. And the Bible says that we won’t. “All have sinned.” That doesn’t just mean all non-converted or non-atoned people. It means everybody. I continue to sin, to slip, to do evil in small ways because they seem to me to be small. So did Book.
I agree that he was nothing like a preacher, as I would have expected. He was not a spiritual guide or a spiritual barometer.
The paper made a good point when it said he did not lead the people on the ship. He didn’t even quote the Bible, except to misuse it.
I wonder how much of the character of Book comes from the attitude of Glass. No, he didn’t change the words. But he decided to look with utter despair, in the episode where life support was failing. How you look when you say something, how you move, makes a lot of the characterization.
I know what Whedon said about him, but what if Book is just running? He’s not a Christian; his collar and his book are just props to keep him somehow safe.
Wow. I don’t think I can publish this discussion. I think it would be something that KJ and Ian would not like.
They say in the paper that no one can literally believe the Bible. It is flawed and we as humans (because we are so flawless) must fix it so that it will be an adequate guide. We should take out pages that we don’t like or write in new words where the old ones don’t fit. (20)
They argue that Book treats with Bible as without potential for subtlety. And as to the character Book, this may indeed be so. But the Bible is infinitely subtle, at least as much as a work of great literature is subtle. The symbolism, the allegory, the deeper meanings, all exist in the book.
But they argue that the subtlety is in taking from the Bible what you don’t like, what you think is illogical.
Now, I will state for the record that according to their definition, I am a fundamentalist. Does this mean I am an unintelligent, nonthinking human being running from my past? No. But they argue that it does. They argue that Book is a fundamentalist because he is running and looking at the Bible literally.
…I don’t think I am the kind of fundamentalist they are talking about. But it is certainly true that they are saying I am one.
It is also true that they, at least to some extent, do not know what they are talking about. (Re their definition of atonement and conversion. Re their objectification of fundamentalists and their generalizations about people who are fundamentalists.)
You know, they ought to read what fundamentalists believe before they decide to attack them. This is a straw man. The reading of fundamentalism is lacking subtlety.