Columbia University is having a campus wide discussion about the offensive and sexually repressive material found in . . . classical literature.  I’m not joking.

You can click here to read the whole article, but an excerpt will probably work for now:

During the week spent on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.

Warning:  Belief might be offensive to some.
Warning: Belief might be offensive to some.

This is the biggest load of academic garbage I think I’ve seen in a very long time.  What is more, I can’t believe this student’s peers didn’t call her out on it, rather than advocating, as the op-ed continues, that professors be given special training in helping students with trigger warnings about the content of their classrooms.

Let me tell you what I am not saying in this blog post.  One, I am not saying that sexual violence and ethnic diversity are not issues that need to be confronted.  They are.  Universities are great places for awareness, education, and prevention education to take place.  Sexual violence is a real issue and deserves real discussion, rather than this kind of issue avoidance.  Two, I am not saying that Greek and Roman history is the only historical background for western civilization.  There have been contributions to the modern world from all regions of the globe, and a good instructor will recognize this.  Three, I am not saying I like Ovid.  I studied Ovid in college and never really liked him that much because I thought of him as a dirty old man.  I still do.

What I am saying, though, should be noted as well.

1.  Western civilization–literature, entertainment, politics, fashion, economics and religion have an incredible debt to Greece and Rome–classical civilizations that still impact almost everything we say and do in the United States. Therefore, it is reasonable for a university to have as a part of its core curriculum a study of the ancient western world.

2.  The world is hard, and having a bachelors degree from a university tells employers and other academic institutions that the bearer of the degree has demonstrated a certain level of endurance and strength in overcoming obstacles and barriers.  I don’t think we want institutions to hand out diplomas to people who have not demonstrated that toughness.  To create such ‘trigger warnings’ prepares a student to expect this in all avenues of life, and that would be a false expectation.

3.  The Columbia op-ed authors have missed the point.  This young woman has complicated issues that need to be handled by professionals who can help her.  She has been made a victim by someone else, and that is not her fault.  However, It is not the the professor’s fault either.  What they seek to do is pin the responsibility for issues on the classroom environment, and that is a misplaced view.  A classroom is not the place for therapy or comfort.  It is a proving ground, an arena of competition where the individual is challenged, not comforted.

Anything worth reading–or watching–will have trigger points for someone, in some way or another.  That is what makes it great literature.  It is true of Ovid, Homer, The Bible, Suetonius, The Koran, The Bhagavad Gita, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Steinbeck, Hitchcock and Star Wars.  The first book that ever made me cry was “Fathers and Sons” by Turgenev, which I read for a Russian history class.  A university is not a high school.  A university student is being shaped into someone who can handle the world without kid gloves.  Some students at Columbia University apparently wants to put gloves on everything.

image from wordsonimages.com


What are your favorite books?

Many bloggers have a single blog where they list their top 10, top 25, top 100 or 1000 books.  I’ve found that I just can’t do that because there are so many wonderful books out there that I’ve read.  I also find that my predisposition toward a book, like a film, is to like it.  A book has to work hard to make me not like it because I have so much goodwill toward the writer.  I always want the writer to succeed.  So, instead of listing my top books ever, I am instead putting together a series of blogs that cover my top three books in certain categories.  Today I launch with the top three most significant books in the world.  In my opinion, at least.

The Bible

Without a doubt, it is the single greatest influential piece of literature, religion, philosophy and history in the whole world.  Yes, that includes the non-Western world too, for there are probably more Christ-followers in China than in the United States and Asia and Africa are now filled with Bible teaching churches.

For many of us the Bible is more than literature, it is a way of life and the guide to knowing God.  However, if we just think about it as a literary piece, it is the greatest literature ever.  Whether you believe it or not, the stories in the Bible are gripping, heartbreaking, inspiring, and usually very crisp.  Most of us forget how short Jonah is, or how brief the gospels are.  Besides, we could barely speak if we stripped our language of every metaphor that emerged from the Bible.

The Iliad, Homer

The Iliad Cover
War, Women, and Wandering

Okay, we’ll throw in The Odyssey as well.  For the ancient Mediterranean world, The Iliad and The Odyssey served an analogous function to the Bible today.  It was memorized, adored, quoted, and believed as a religious guide.  Most everyone rejects the religion of the stories today, but the narrative necessity of great heroes like Hector and Achilles, tragic kings, battles, and then the epic journey of discovery that is Odysseus’ destiny are the pillars of a great deal of storytelling.  One can scarcely wonder what world literature would be like if The Iliad and The Odyssey never were.

Confessions, St. Augustine

Thomas Cahill, in his classic work How the Irish Saved Civilization, points out that St. Augustine’s Confessions was the first time, really, that anyone ever picked up a pen and wrote the word “I” and meant it as the subject of a book.  Not many people today have read St. Augustine, and those that do usually gravitate toward his theology.  Certainly there is theology in Confessions, but it is the first true autobiography, so the next time you pick up that overpriced hardback at Costco where a celebrity spills his or her guts about all their trials, tribulations and debauchery before finally cleaning up their act you need to thank St. Augustine because he literally invented that genre.  He also gave us, in Confessions, one of the most interesting prayers ever uttered:  “Lord, make me sexually pure, but not yet.”

In the coming weeks I intend to blog about my favorite books from other genres–history, preaching, classical literature, sci-fi, fiction, and so forth.  But these are, in my opinion, the most important and influential books in the world.  I would be interested to know what you think are the three most influential books?


image from simania.co.il


The Bible is an amazing book, but do those of us who are Christ-followers expect too much out of it?

That is on my mind this morning as I spent some time meditating on this passage from the Fourth Gospel.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.  John 5:39-40

Jesus said these words to those religious leaders who were questioning his authority.  Jesus was always in an argument with some kind of religious leader or another.  If I break it down, here is what the Lord seems to be saying.

  • Searching the Scriptures is good, because they reveal Christ.
  • It is impossible, though, to find eternal life in the Scriptures.
  • An overly high expectation of the Scriptures can hinder our awareness of God’s presence in our lives.

What exactly is Jesus saying?  Is he saying that the Bible gets in the way?

Of course not.  That is not what he means at all.  The Bible is how we can know and experience God’s interaction with human beings in the past and learn what the Lord has said and done.  It is also how we can hear what the Lord wants us live like as we allow the Holy Spirit to speak through the written word.  Jesus is not nullifying any of that.

But here is what he is saying–overly religious people sometimes study the Bible with a desire to know and categorize everything about God so that they can have control.  This is what we might call systems of thought or dogma.  The Bible cannot be categorized and tab filed so that there is a pat answer and a knowable outline for what the Lord will do.  He is bigger than that.   The Bible is a wild book that casts faith as an up and down adventure filled with unpredictable turns and twists.

No part of the Bible claims to be the end all or the final word.  Not even the Pentateuch does because it finishes with the wide open expectation that God was just getting started good with Hebrews as they entered Canaan.  Likewise the gospels end with the resurrected Christ who is just now unleashing his plan on the world.  Paul tells us that we see through a smokey glass right now, but it is only in the future that we will see clearly.

The religious leaders of Jesus day had so systematized their theological thought that they had decided they knew exactly how God would act an what he would do.  This blinded them to the presence of God right in front of them.  We can do the same thing with our systems of dogma–whether it is dogma about salvation and election (yeah, that’s you Calvinists) or about free will (your turn Arminians) or end of the world drama (dispensationalists, that’s your cue) or anything else.  It is fun to study and speculate, but when we decide ahead of time that we already have all the answers, we miss the very moment when God does something completely unexpected.



I did NOT watch the ballyhooed Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate yesterday.  The reason is I know all the arguments already, on both sides, and find that arguing about things like this to be silly.  People on the pro-creation side will claim victory and send out Twitter quotes and people on the pro-science side will do the same, each attempting to make the other one look stupid or silly.  I do not think it is reasonable of science to attack spirituality and I do not think it is reasonable for people of faith to attack science.


So here are some Greenbean perspectives on the issue.

1.  The Bible is not a science book.  In fact, to attempt to twist the Bible into a science book is to minimize its meaning and alter its message.  For example, the point of Genesis is not to tell us how God did anything.  The point of Genesis is to inspire us with awe at the wonder of all that God has done.

2.  God has revealed himself in the universe, and he has given human beings the ability to study, learn and discover.  Therefore, when we learn, study, and discover anything about the universe we are learning about God, and God is bigger than our theological constructs and our limited worldview.  To study the universe (at its largest or smallest expressions) is a noble and worthy goal.

3.  Even though  there are clearly moments when science can be evil (atomic weapons, poisons, human experimentation (i.e. during the holocaust)) in the end science is good and beneficial to the world and for humans.

4.  Even though there are clearly moments when religious faith can be evil (jihad, crusades, power abuses and manipulation) in the end faith is good and beneficial to the world and for humans.

5.  When scientific data describes things that the Bible or faith does not (i.e. evolution, age of the world, etc…) the response of people of faith should not be “No, you’re wrong,” but instead it should be, “Wow, that is interesting.  I wonder what else we might discover if we keep looking.”  Truth is truth, and as people of faith we are called to pursue all truth regardless of its origin, and facts are truth.  To ignore facts is to deviate from truth.  Embracing truth will inform our faith and help us appropriate a knowledge of Christ that is deeper and richer than what we had before.

6.  Science cannot explain everything.  As wonderful as it is, there are aspects of humanity and creation that are mystery.  Love, behavior, emotion, desire, life and and even self-awareness itself are beyond the ability of science to fully comprehend.  Science can describe these and inform our understanding of the processes (such as neuroscience and psychology) but it cannot give us insight into the biggest question of all.  Why?

7.  People of faith and people of science need each other in order to provide balance to the human experience.  In the absence of science superstition and magic replace reason and logic and this is no good for anyone.  In the absence of faith people become fatalistic and materialistic, and this is no good for anyone.  Both results in violence and ignorance.  History teaches us that when superstition reigns people die (witch hunts, human sacrifice, holy wars, etc…) and society is stunted.  This is the worldview of Islamic terrorists.  Contemporary culture teaches us that when people believe and live as if human beings are only animals with no spiritual connections or consequences that they kill and abuse wantonly, and psychopathic behavior erupts.  An example of this is the phenomena of school shootings.

8.  Arguing solves nothing.  I believe in apologetics–defending the faith and offering answers to questions–but not in an environment that is clearly more for show and sport than for spiritual advancement.  Solid apologetics are done everyday by pastors, teachers, academics, and anyone who takes the time to be informed on issues and then who speaks with love and compassion, not with ‘gotchas.’  All debating does is drive the wedge ever so much deeper into an already frighteningly divided society.

9.  Literature, art, music and coffee shops are the best places to have these discussions.  It is one of the reasons I write about the dark side of science (The Deep Cove stories), about the traumas of faith (The Land Begins to Heal, the Haunting of Pastor Butch Gregory and other Short Stories) and why there is so much pain in the world (yet untitled unpublished novel).

So these are some of my perspectives.  I’d love to hear some of yours, so long as we keep it all civil.

Image from npr.org