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I am excited to announce that my first book The Message Behind the Movie is being “rebooted” by Ignatius Press!

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A lot has happened to me since the book’s first publication. My family has been significantly enlarged, I completed a Ph.D. in theology, and moved across the country, and – perhaps most significantly to readers – I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. (Why I gave up my job, doctoral studies, and much of my social network to become Catholic is recounted in Evangelical Exodus , so I will not go into it here.)

This event did not affect most of the books contents, and its basic structure remains the same. “Act One” goes into how to engage movies actively rather than merely watching them passively. “Act Two” considers topics particularly important to Christianity such as the knowability of truth, God’s existence, and discovering true religion. “Act Three” wraps it all up with some practical guidelines on which movies to watch. As with the original, many chapters include portions of an ongoing story illustrating the principles discussed in the chapter.

Besides providing a refreshing re-write of the general material, I am adding material that my previous publisher left on the cutting room floor. So not only will this book be a significant reboot, it will also be something of a Director’s Cut! Notable additions include: a metaphysical argument for the existence of God (plus its own Coffee Shop Talk  “extended scene”), a brief look at the argument from beauty, a historical argument that the Church demonstrates Christianity’s truth, a discussion of desensitization, and two new “Extra Features” looking at the cultural history of horror and the “clean films” controversy.

So here I am, ten years after sitting down to write my first book, sitting down to write it again! I am well into the process, and hope to see it come out in late 2018 or early 2019.

 

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Below is the new and improved Table of Contents as it exists today.

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From the Unnecessary Cosmos to the Necessary Theos

SYBOK: “Consider the questions of existence: Who am I?  Why am I here?  Does God exist? These are the questions man has asked ever since he first gazed at the stars and dreamed. My Vulcan ancestors  . . . believed in a place where these questions of existence would be answered. . . . My brothers, we have been chosen to undertake the greatest adventure  of all time . . .“

(Star Trek V)

 

A more philosophical way of looking at creation begins by realizing that the cosmos is metaphysically unnecessary – it doesn’t have to exist just because of what it is. We can define everything in the cosmos whether any of those things exist or not. Rabbits and the Easter Bunny, teeth and the Tooth Fairy – we know what these things are, even though some of them exist and some do not. Anything that can be defined without existence is not something that exists simply because of what it is – otherwise, existence would be part of its nature – its definition.

Because they don’t have existence by nature, metaphysically unnecessary things unnecessary things have to have existence “added on to” their natures. They must be caused to exist. Since this is true of everything in the cosmos, something outside the cosmos is required to make it exist right now (not just “in the beginning”). Further, this thing cannot be getting its existence from something else, or we would be right back where we started from.

Therefore, the existence of metaphysically unnecessary things shows that there must be something that does exist of metaphysical necessity. Something that has existence as its nature – that does not get existence from something else. But something that has existence as part of its nature – what it is – cannot have ever not-existed, or it wouldn’t be what it is! Moreover, something that has existence as part of its nature can never stop existing. Finally, this thing’s existence would be unlimited – because a thing’s nature limits its existence (all that an existing thing is, is what it is). But a thing that is existence itself has no additional nature limiting its existence – because it is existence!

What this all means is that the cause of our metaphysically unnecessary, limited cosmos must be the metaphysically necessary, unlimited creator. This, of course, is God.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Coffee Shop God Talk (Extended Scene)

Not only has the content of the book been updated, Mike and Nita have returned in this extended Coffee Shop Talk which was recovered from the cutting room floor. It is a “popular level” discussion of an argument for the existence of God based on Thomas Aquinas’ philosophical work On Being and Essence. Enjoy!

. . .

“Well, let’s start with a premise that everyone can agree upon: Things exist.”

“That’s a pretty safe starting point!” Bert laughed. “OK, so things exist. So what?”

“Let’s begin with only one of those things – like a triangle. What is the definition of a triangle?”
“How about “a three sided, two dimensional figure”?
“Sounds good,” Mike responded. “Now, suppose I went through the universe and somehow destroyed all the triangles. How would that affect the definition of triangles?”
“It wouldn’t,” Bert said. ”Triangles would still have the same definition. In fact if they didn’t we wouldn’t know what one was if we saw it.”

“Very good,” answered Mike. “So what does that tell us about the existence of triangles?”
Bert caught on quickly. “That something doesn’t have to exist in order to be a triangle?”
“Excellent!” Mike said. “You’re well on your way to belief in God!” Everyone laughed.
Mike grinned. “I think you skipped a step or two,” Bert said wryly.

“Fair enough,” Mike replied, “let’s move on. So far we have discovered that triangles do not have to exist. That means they are not necessary. In philosophical terms, necessary means something that necessarily exists. It cannot come into, nor go out of, existence. Are triangles like this?” “No,” Bert answered. “Triangles are not necessary because they can exist or not.”
“Exactly,” Mike stated, “and it reveals something about the triangle’s definition.”

“I thought we already defined what a triangle is,” Bert said looking suspicious.
“Yes,” Mike said, ”and what did we say in this definition regarding existence?”
“We didn’t say anything about it in our definition.”
“And why not?
“Because existence is not part of its definition.”

“Correct again,” Mike said. Bert was following along very well so he pressed forward. “What would happen if existence were part of a triangle’s definition?”
“Then . . . triangles would have to exist,” Bert guessed.
“Very good,” Mike affirmed. “So you see then that we cannot simply define something into existence. For example, I could not define a unicorn as ‘a horse with a magic horn in its forehead that exists.’”
“Right,” Bert agreed, “because then unicorns would just pop into existence.”

“You’ve got it,” Mike answered. “Now let’s go back to triangles. Suppose that all triangles were in fact destroyed, could one come into existence?”
“Sure, I could draw one,” Bert said.
“And what would drawing a triangle do to its definition?” asked Mike.
“Nothing,” Bert answered. “There would just be one.”
“You mean that what a triangle is would not change?” Mike asked to clarify what was being said.
“Yes.”
“So what does that tell us about the actual existence of triangles?”
“That they must be caused to exist.”

“Very good,” Mike stated. “OK, let’s sum up what we have so far: Unnecessary things (like triangles) exist, but they do not have to exist. Therefore what something is and whether or not that thing exists is not the same thing.”

“Is that all we’ve got so far?” Bert moaned in mock exasperation. “Took us long enough!”
“I am just making sure we don’t miss anything,” laughed Mike. “Now, you said a minute ago that if all triangles went out of existence that you could cause one to exist.”
“Yes, I could draw one.”

“But what would be ‘drawing’ you?” There was a moment of silence in the room. Renee was looking at Bert and Nita was looking at Mike. Both girls were following the analogy and wondered if Bert would get it before Mike had to explain. “What I mean is this,” Mike stated. “While you are giving existence to the triangle, what is giving existence to you?”

“What do you mean?” asked Bert. “Nothing is, I already exist.”
“Yes, you do exist. But do you exist necessarily?” Mike asked.
“You mean is existence part of my definition? Well, I guess not.”
“You don’t have to guess! Have you always existed?” Mike pressed.
“No.” Bert responded.”
“Could you cease to exist?”
“Yes.”
“Then is existence part of your definition?”
“No.”
“And therefore . . . ?”

“Something else is ‘drawing” me?’” Bert said with a sinking feeling as he caught on to where Mike was going with all this. Before Mike could continue he raised an objection. “Hold on there professor. I exist because my parents made me, and their parents made them, and so forth all the way back to . . .” Bert’s eyes looked past Mike for a moment as he mentally calculated the outcome of this line of reasoning. “Oh,” he concluded, “that won’t really help will it? I can’t just have an endless string of things that cause each other.”

“Right,” Mike agreed, “but even worse is the fact that your parents are not the primary cause of your existence anyway.”
“They’re not?”
“If your parents ceased to exist would you?” Mike asked.
“Not necessarily,” Bert said thoughtfully.
“So your parents . . . ?” Mike began.
“OK, I got it. They can’t be causing my existence because then I’d go out with them.”

“And that’s not even the biggest problem,” Mike said. Bert sighed and leaned back in his chair looking around for help. The rest of the students glanced around casually, not wishing to indict themselves by lending him aid. Mike continued. “Is existence part of your parents’ definition? Or their parents’? Or whatever slime you think your ancient ancestors were made of?” Mike said this last part with a grin but he knew he would raise some hackles.
“Hey, that’s not nice,” Renee complained. Mike grinned, “Hey, it’s not my theory.”

“OK, OK” Bert interjected, “so you’re saying that all people are not necessary, they must be being caused by something else then. But if the universe is all there is, and it began with the Big Bang, then everything came into existence at once. And scientists say that someday there will be a Big Crunch and everything will be destroyed. So according to you – nothing would be necessary!”

Mike waited a moment, then said, “Do you see a problem with that conclusion?”
Bert thought about it. “Well, if things exist that don’t have to then something else has to give them existence. If everything in the universe doesn’t have to exist then something else has to exist that exists necessarily” realizing that this meant that there had to be a necessary cause outside of the universe he tried another tack. “Wait, what if everything just gives everything else existence?”

“You mean like A gives existence to B which gives existence to C and so forth?” Mike asked.
“Yes,” Bert agreed, then shook his head. “That’s like your slime question earlier. It can’t just go on forever – you still need something to cause A. So what if Z causes A? Then everything is accounted for!”

“Not everything,” Mike answered.
“Why not?” Bert replied, “it would be a perfect circle of existence-giving.”
“But what caused the circle?” Mike prodded.
“Crap.” We’re back to needing a creator again, Bert complained.

 . . .

Okay,” Bert said, “I see where you’re trying to go with this. Something else has to give the whole universe its existence. I suppose you’re going to say God did it.”