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Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Power of Scripture

It must make the secular humanists grind their teeth at night. Mitch Albom wrote a recent best-seller entitled The Five People You Meet in Heaven. The protagonist dies and meets five different people in the afterlife; people who help him understand what his life was about. The success of the novel would be unremarkable, except for a couple of things. First, the book’s plot is shot through with New Testament imagery. Second, Mitch Albom is Jewish.

Why would Albom write a novel that re-tells the Gospel? Because people desperately need to hear it and they know it. Disney’s Hyperion imprint bought the manuscript, reviewers gushed over the book; Hallmark even created a made-for-TV movie adaptation, but no one seems to have realized the origins of the novel’s success. For those who haven’t read the novel and would like to, be warned that the plot is given away in the next few paragraphs. For those who want to consider what this means, keep reading.

To see how Albom did it would take a book, but we can briefly consider each of the novel’s five encounters. Some may think it a stretch to see in the Blue Man, the first encounter, a rendition of the Old Testament relationship between Yahweh and His Chosen People, but when the second encounter involves a soldier whose remains are hung in a tree, our suspicions grow. The third encounter is set at a diner, where a son tries to communicate with his father, with a mediator named Ruby, after the blood-red mineral; clearly a Last Supper resonance.

The fourth encounter with its wedding sequences reminds us of Christ the Bridegroom, especially since the wife he meets carries the French rendition of the name Daisy – the flower which has always symbolized the Christ child. The final encounter, though, puts the icing on the cake. Here he meets an innocent, a girl with the Filipino name for “star” standing on a white rock near a river. The white rock, the river, and the pure woman crowned with stars are all found in Revelation, as is the wedding feast from the preceding encounter. Supporting details make it clear these scenes were not accidental.

But his is not the only popular book to leverage the message of Scripture. While many people have attacked Dan Brown’s novel for it’s incredible historical inaccuracies, and rightly so, few have noted that he endorses three very Biblical principles: sex is holy, marriage is holy and women should be treated like an image and likeness of God (i.e., goddesses). True, these principles are dressed up in pagan garb, but their Scriptural relevance is no less weighty in the new disguise.

Once one gets used to reading the symbols, it is remarkable how much popular literature and movies simply re-hash the New Testament (the first Matrix movie, for instance, or the first edition of Blade). But this is nothing new. Consider Les Miserables, possibly the most successful novel of the mid-1800’s. A criminal, imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread (Eucharist), escapes from jail and is set free from the police during his flight by a bishop’s silver. “Jean Valjean, my brother,” whispers the bishop as he sets him free, “you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you… and I give it to God.”

From that moment on, Jean Valjean is the major Christ figure in the book (there are several), pursued relentlessly by the Old Testament law, which finds its embodiment in the son of the prostitute, the police officer Javert. Valjean will rescue the daughter of a prostitute and raise her as his own. He will even toil through the sewers of Paris, just as Christ descended into Hell, in order to assure the marriage of the virgin he saved to her promised bridegroom. Meanwhile, Javert will complete the book and the baptismal imagery by drowning himself in the Seine thereby releasing Jean Valjean forever.

The stories that move us most deeply are not the bodice-rippers or the Vagina Monologues. They are, instead, those works that answer our crying need for God. “Sophisticated” readers simply require the Gospels to be hidden a little more deeply, so that we are not frightened by His too-near presence. Thus, despite all the well-founded worries to the contrary, there is something comforting in the fact that Albom and Brown are so popular. All hope is not lost. As Christians, you would think we would know that.

This essay is based on information that can be found in “Effective Habits of the Five People You Meet in Heaven” and “Fact and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code”, both by Steve Kellmeyer.


Enbrethiliel said...


What a fantastic post!

blog said...

Computer news

analysis: Microsoft, Yahoo Take Aim At IM Competition

Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. on Wednesday said they would let instant-messaging subscribers communicate across their networks for the first time, a move seen as a response to competitive pressures building from market leader America Online Inc., EBay Inc. and Google Inc.

Microsoft and Yahoo said they would provide customers in the second quarter of next year with the basic communication services of text communication, computer-to-computer voice calls and presence, which is the ability to see who is available on the network. The deal does not apply to higher-level services, such as tying IM to search, online music or photo sharing; nor do the companies plan to enter an advertising agreement.

Instead the deal focuses on providing consumers with the ability to communicate across two of the top three instant-messaging networks. Instant-messaging subscribers have long complained about the inability to chat across networks, unless someone is willing to join multiple services.

"It's about providing a service that users really want," Dan Rosensweig, chief operating office for Yahoo, said in joint news conference with Microsoft.

As to why the companies didn't provide interoperability sooner, the complexity of linking two networks with 10s of millions of subscribers was one hampering factor, as well as the business implications of opening up a network of customers to a competitor, the companies said.

Keeping customers on a closed network creates a captured audience for online advertising and makes it easier to lure subscribers to other services.

Nevertheless, company officials insisted that more open instant messaging has been a longtime desire by Microsoft and Yahoo, which expect the combined network to make their IM services more valuable to each other and customers.

"This is a situation were one and one will equal three," Blake Irving, corporate vice president for Microsoft MSN communication services, said.

Nevertheless, the deal is seen more as a result of a changing market in Internet communications. For one, AOL, a division of Time Warner Inc., is firmly established as the market leader in instant messaging in the United States, which is the world's largest consumer market, with 49.2 million subscribers in August, according to web metrics firm ComScore Networks. MSN was second with 24.4 million and Yahoo third with 22 million.

In addition, online auctioneer EBay has agreed to acquire Internet telephony vendor Skype Technologies SA for $2.6 billion. Skype's voice over Internet protocol software has been downloaded 163 million times worldwide. EBay competes with Yahoo and Microsoft in online retail.

Google, on the other hand, launched in August its own instant-messaging service Google Talk, which includes PC-to-PC voice calls. As the new kid on the block, Google has a tiny portion of the IM market. Nevertheless, Microsoft has identified Google as a top competitor on the Internet.

"The most important objective for an Internet portal is to make itself attractive to advertisers: the bigger your base of registered users, the bigger is the audience that you can offer to advertisers," John Delaney, analyst for market researcher Ovum, said in a research note. "By combining their IM user bases, MSN and Yahoo ‘raise the bar’ that Google would need to clear to establish dominance as an IM provider, to a very high level."

With all the major web portals offering web mail, Internet telephony and instant messaging, experts also believe they are gradually building a communications platform that could one day seamlessly integrate email, voicemail and IM, making it all accessible through multiple devices.

The heart of such a communications hub would be the contacts directory, experts say. Besides grouping people by their relationship with the IM subscriber, such as a family member, friend or colleague, the directory also establishes whether they are reachable. That could one day be expanded to add how the person wants to be reached, by PC, cellular phone or some other device.

Knowing whether people are available, how to reach them and where they are could one day open up a lucrative advertising market.

Microsoft and Yahoo, however, appear to be taking a cautious approach, since the deal does not go beyond basic services. Also, the deal essentially creates a larger proprietary network, and will not, on its own, lead to an open system, such as email.

"I would not say this is a sign of great openness," Joe Wilcox, analyst for JupiterResearch, said. "It's more like establishing diplomatic relations between two countries, rather than opening borders."

As the market leader, AOL's next move is important. The company has refused to open its IM network in the past, but is also in talks with Microsoft to combine their Internet operations, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"Assuming there may have been, or may be, talks between AOL and Microsoft, the timing of the (Yahoo-Microsoft) announcement may have been intentional to influence those presumed discussions," Wilcox said. "AOL has to decide does it want to work with the Microsoft camp, go its own way or form a strategic alliance with someone else."

AOL did not return calls for comment.

Customers of Yahoo and Microsoft are expected to be able to sign in with one user ID and password for either network, and automatically have access to subscribers of both companies. The combined service is expected to use session initiation protocol, or SIP, a protocol for real-time communications.

Security on the larger network, however, is expected to be more problematic, since the two companies would not have the same level of control as with their own networks, Jon Sakoda, chief technology officer for IM security firm IMlogic, said. With the combined networks, virus writers will have an easier path in reaching more people.

"These are real-time communication networks that are on disparate technology standards," Sakoda said. "There are some significant challenges."

About the Author: By Antone Gonsalves, TechWeb News
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