Sunday, October 06, 2019

Packing for the desert island

There's a Christian meme that's making the rounds of the Internet:

One cuisine:   
One author: 
One genre of music: 
One TV show: 
One place: 
One season:
One city: 
One game:
One book of the Bible: 
One movie: about you?

A few observations:

1. This is an expansive variation on the desert island trope: if you only have one book with you on a desert island, which would you pick? 

2. Up to a point this is a useful spiritual exercise to prioritize. Asking what's your favorite, what's the best, what's the greatest, can be intellectual pruning so that we don't fritter away the gift of life on what's frivolous, ephemeral, unimportant, and second-rate. 

3. That said, there's no one best example of everything or even most things. And for that we should be grateful since life would become very boring very fast if there was one best example of everything. We need variety. 

Something can be the best in one respect, but not in another. Creatures have limitations. Not every excellence is compossible in the same thing. There are tradeoffs. 

4. To take another comparison: as I've often remarked, a flawed masterpiece is far more satisfying than a flawless artwork. For instance, Casino Royale is a flawless movie, but there's nothing that makes me care. By contrast, Hitchcock makes movies that are very uneven, yet they have a few unforgettable scenes. 

5. Regarding one book of the Bible, a problem with that hypothetical is whether we've read the entire Bible, whether we're already familiar with the Bible in general, and with that overall background in mind, we pick one book of the Bible. But what if we never read the Bible. In that event, which one book should we read? 

Likewise, as our memory of the Bible in general fades on the desert island, does that make the one book we took more valuable or less valuable? There's a sense in which books of the Bible are like chapters of one book. Even if you had a favorite chapter, it's not a stand-alone chapter. Its meaning depends in part on preceding or succeeding chapters.  

6. When Christians are asked, if you could only take one book with you to the desert island, the conventional answer is "The Bible". In one respect, that's a pious answer, the answer you're supposed to give. But here's another way to put it: if you couldn't take the Bible, what book or author would you take?

If I couldn't take the Bible, I wouldn't take anything to else to read. No matter how fine a Christian poet, theologian, or fiction writer, I wouldn't want to have one man's outlook that embedded in my own mind. Where there'd be no point of contrast, no other writers to counterbalance that singular outlook. I wouldn't want my mind dominated by the outlook of just one other person, however gifted and orthodox. That would be a kind of possession. 


  1. I wouldn't want my mind dominated by the outlook of just one other person, however gifted and orthodox. That would be a kind of possession.

    SOOOOO True! Yet, I also wouldn't want to be trapped with my own repetitive thoughts. I don't know if it's true or not, but there's a saying that we think something like 100,000 thoughts a day and something like 90% of it is what we thought of the previous day. I'd want a contrast with with my own mind or I'd drive myself crazy.

    So, I would likely be forced to pick SOME author. I'd want one who wrote both fiction and non-fiction with good theology. There aren't that many. So, I think I'd be forced to pick John Bunyan. He has written some good theological books (both in doctrine/orthodoxy and spirituality/orthopraxy), along with spiritual/allegorical stories and clever poems. Many of his books can be downloaded HERE. As much as I like C.S. Lewis' stories, I disagree with some of his theology. It's not exalted enough for me to relish on a desert island.

    When it comes to a book of the Bible, my first reaction is the book of Psalms. But then I realized that as much prophecy there is about the Messiah in the book, there's no direct sayings or doing of the the Lord there. So, I'd have to go with either Matthew or Luke since the two are the the largest Gospels. Probably Matthew, because it sounds more Jewish and therefore closer to how the Lord would have actually expressed Himself. I think Luke is longer, but Matthew seems to be more dense. More of a balance of theology, action, story telling, drama, and allusions to the OT. Though, if we think of Luke/Acts as "one" book in two volumes, then maybe Luke/Acts instead of Matthew.

    1. Once of my Anabaptist friends once said that he'd take along Jonathan Edwards' works to a desert island because Edwards mind and output was so vast and grand, and because he could at least argue with the Edwards' oeuvre as he read it.

    2. So my own writings don't make the desert island cut :-(

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    4. I'd read your writings on the way to the desert island.

    5. Steve, I didn't choose your works because I didn't want to give you a big head. Besides, the way I interpret the challenge, it excludes inspired as well as semi-inspired authors ;^)

    6. So my works are uninspiring to read :-(

    7. As for a big head, I have custom-made doorways in my house so that I don't get my head stuck in the door jam.

    8. I was saying your works are so inspired that they could almost constitute or rise to a Protestant Deuterocanoncal status. Maybe included with 1 Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas (among others works).

    9. Ah, decided improvement! :-)