Van Til Tool

Using the Van Til Perspective as the tool to discover what life means and how it ought to be lived.

Friday, April 22, 2011



Who  Is  The  Real  Human  Here ???



A review of Terri Main's short story "Parmenters Wager"


Reviewer:  Forrest W. Schultz







     First of all, I believe that one of the marks of an excellent writer is the ability to create a character whom the reader would like to meet.  Erica Lincoln  is such a character.  I really, really would like to meet her!!  Wow!!  (It is hard to put this into words!)  Why?  The answer is extremely important for the review  It can be summed up by saying that she is by far the most human of all the characters in this story, which is really funny because the story is about this church which is debating whether she is really a person or not, whether she has a soul or not.  The reason the question is raised is that they have just learned that Erica is a human clone!  What can really throw the reader off, unless he is careful in his thinking, is that the story begins when Erica herself asks Pastor Parmenter, "Do I have a soul?". 


     The reason for the confusion is the failure to recognize the all-important fact that it is ONLY someone who has a soul who would ask this question!  It is only a person who worries about whether he may be acting impersonally or may be losing his humanity.  Such questioning, such concern is a SIGN of personhood!!  What is so funny and so ironic is that the people who are debating whether or not Erica has a soul, is a person are much less personal than she is!!  Since she is so much more human than they are, it is the height of ludicrosity for them to be debating whether she is human or not!!  It is almost like some of those satirical stories about a church's pastoral search committee turning down the Apostle Paul because he did not graduate from the denomination's seminary!


   The title of this short story refers to the pastor's very inept attempt to deal with the situation by wagering that she has a soul, by betting that she is human.  He is not sure -- boy, how blind can you be!! -- so he decides to take a gamble that she is and he talks the congregation into doing likewise.  Erica very much wants to be accepted in this church so that she very graciously accepts this, even though it is grossly insulting.  She is really the one who is being gracious, not the church or Parmenter.  But Parmeter's heart is in the right place, as is most of the congregation.  They actually know Erica is human but are prejudiced because of the false notions about human clones in their society. 




    The pastor in his musings notes how little concern there has been for logic in theology.  But he himself is no better.  His "wager" presupposes that Erica is human because it says that even if we are wrong about her having a soul, that if we accept her we will continue to benefit from her ministry among us and she will benefit by having a community of believers with whom to share her life.  What he apparently fails to realize is that this can happen only if Erica is human, only if Erica has a soul.  If she is not human, does not have a soul, is not a christian, then there can be no ministry and no fellowship.  Because there is so little concern for logic among Christians, this portrayal of Parmenter and his congregation is very realistic.  And as you read and get into the story you do have the feeling of how real the whole thing is.  This is not a caricature.  This is the real deal. 


    Parmenter's Wager is a take-off on the famous Pascal's Wager, which is noted in the story.  Pascal's Wager is also illogical, as I have shown in a lengthy paper which can be found on my blog, for those interested.  It is too lengthy to summarize here. 


     In the review copy I have, the term "mitochondrial" was not spelled correctly.





  • At Friday, April 22, 2011, Blogger Terri said…

    I am really happy for Forrest's evaluation of the Erica character. I really did want the "less human" character to be the most human one in the story. I'm glad that was caught. The rest of these people are, by intent, flatter and more stereotypical (and anyone who has worked behind the scenes in a church recognizes each of them), or possibly archetypes, if you want to be more charitable.

    The Parmenter character is the one I have mixed emotions about. He is compassionate. He is a good pastor. He is caught in a difficult position knowing the prejudice against clones, he could simply dismiss the woman and ask her to never return. In his defense, he also is concerned about being correct theologically. However, he is also prideful. He wants a full church so he can minister to others, but he also likes the acclaim that comes with being the popular, beloved pastor of a prosperous suburban church. He also likes the feeling of security and indeed the ability to hide behind the walls of the church. He wants someone else to make a decision for him. Eventually, he has to make his own, and he opts for one that is a partial cop out, although to his credit, it is a costly one.

    I may be a bit more charitably disposed toward Parmenter than Forrest. In part, that is because I created him. But also, I've found myself in leadership where I've had to deal with people on the edges of "respectability" trying to integrate into mainstream churches. I know that it is easy for an outsider to say, "Embrace them all and let the chips fall where they may," but those "chips" are other people who also need God and the services of a church or para-church organization. I tended to be more of a rebel than Parmenter, but then I was a volunteer, and didn't have to worry about a paycheck. Still, much of what I recognize in him that is like me, is also what I don't like. The requirement in my mind of an absolute answer to unanswerable questions. The desire to avoid confrontation and conflict. The desire to accommodate everyone and fear of offending anyone.

    Oddly enough, Erica is braver than Parmenter. Each of her decisions she makes on her own. Maybe with tears in her eyes and a wound in her heart.

    Just a note, this is being published as a stand-alone ebook in epub, html, pdf, and mobi (kindle) formats by a secular publisher. I kind of doubt I could have gotten this past any (to steal Ken Pick's term) Christian(TM) publisher. Yet, I think this hits on several significant spiritual issues (other than whether or not clones would have souls.)


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