|This is a new edition of a book originally published in 1968. As such, many readers are probably already familiar with this title. I, however, had never seen it before. As a Christian and a fan of Peanuts, I found it to be a very good book.|
One of the reasons I think I like it is that, since it was written in 1968, it's not one of these wishy-washy new-age/ spirituality books that have become so common. Someone looking for "inspiration" should look elsewhere. This book is a serious theological tract that uses Peanuts cartoons to illustrate various points. I found this to be a very clever approach with which Charles Schulz himself "could not be more pleased."
I also like the fact that Short is not afraid to come out and say what he thinks. He tackles the tough questions of Christianity and gives the answers he believes are true. He doesn't try to sugar-coat the cross that a Christian is required to carry and he tries to make his way down to the very core of Christian belief. This is a worthwhile task.
On the other hand, I did find Short to be a bit repetitive in his writing. He hammers away his points over and over. Additionally, I have to say that I'm not a believer in everything he has to say. That, in and of itself, is fine with me. People willing to state their convictions make me willing to examine my own more deeply. This is something we all--even Mr. Short--need to do from time to time if we are to keep our faith strong.
|Robert L. Short uses Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" cartoons to illustrate his theology, which is broadly speaking, Calvinist. As he is aware, his interpretations are not the only ones possible, but he has the merit of showing the depths of Schulz's work. He cites various thinkers and writers to illustrate his points, such as Kierkegaard, Barth, Bonhoefer, Pascal, Herman Melville, Kafka, Einstein, T. S. Eliot, and Paul Tillich. He takes account of modern biblical scholarship and theology on such things as original sin and hell. It is a very good book, which describes and illustrates many features of human life and the need for saving grace. The fact that I disagree with some of the theology doesn't change that. I will contrast some of his theology with more Catholic views.|
Short points out that Schulz quite explicitly communicated Christian themes in his cartoons, but knew well he could not impose his own interpretations on them. As Jacques Maritain pointed out long ago, if art is to be Christian, it must be real art. Having read enough devotional and didactic stories and pictures in my life, I can attest to their general dullness. In great part, I think, Schulz has created real art in his Peanuts cartoons. As Short points out, they say something; they are more than mere entertainment.
Short summarizes the freedoms offered by Christian faith: first, the freedom from worship of false gods, idols; second the dreadful freedom of being deprived of being left with nothing to hold on to; third, the freedom of living under the easy yoke of Jesus Christ; and fourth, the freedom to use any legitimate means to spread the message of Christ. This can serve as a summary of the many descriptive themes of the book. One can see that in many ways, Christian faith lights up reality, the world as it is. However, he regards doctrines of free will as illusions.
Short is convinced that human beings are basically depraved, and that one must discover this fact before one can become a Christian. Along with this is predestination, although he conceives God's love as so universal as to preclude final damnation. This is hard to argue with, for there is nothing in Christian belief that implies that anyone has ever been consigned to Hell.
There is no question that human beings can be very evil indeed. Schulz was a master in showing the self-deception, arrogance, and confusion to which we are prone. The Peanuts are often quite cruel to one another. Short quite skilfully uses various cartoons to illustrate many aspects of human life in the light of the Gospel, and this is one of the great strengths of the book. However, people often do a great deal of good, and sometimes this comes out even in "Peanuts." Does it make sense to consider human beings as totally depraved? Not really. For one thing, evil is a deformation or misuse of something good. It has no independent existence. While one can agree that wounded human nature cannot attain the salvation without God's help, there are serious objections to removing all goodness.
As well, to whom would the Christian message be preached if human nature were totally depraved? Preaching would respond to nothing in human nature. Only if we were created for something better does salvation make sense. Short evidently sees the force of this objection and cites Pascal, who follows Aristotle and St. Thomas here, that human beings desire happiness, something Short does not elucidate. For Aristotle, happiness was eudemonia, well being. Short points out that Jesus wished to bring new life and joy. He finds support in T. S. Eliot, among others, to the effect that only God is capable of giving full happiness and that human beings are prone to seeking happiness in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. In other words, if there were not tendency to good in human beings, there would be nothing in them to respond to Christian teaching. But then what becomes of the doctrine of total depravity?
Following on his view of human nature, Short also proposes that human beings must be driven to despair before they can become Christians, a view historically reflected in much evangelical preaching. What this really means is that only persons of the right psychological types with the right experiences can become Christians.
Short accepts predestination of a deterministic kind. In particular, in the chapter, "Just Who`s in Charge Here?", Short proposes that doctrines of free will are simply attempts to assert our independence from God. This appeal to a motive is not a valid argument against free will. Technically, it is a circumstantial ad hominem. As well, he opposes free will to the sovereignty of God. The view that the more one attributes to the creatures, the less one attributes to God has antecedents has antecedents in St. Bonaventure, Luther, Barth and others. But really, how grand is it when God can only create puppets? Thomists such as Etienne Gilson and existential ontologists such as Paul Tillich and John MacQuarrie point out that this is to treat human beings as things rather than persons, and misrepresents the relationships between human beings and God. On a more theoretical theological plane, they also hold that the creation of free beings shows the wisdom and majesty of God far better than the creation of mere things. For myself, I would rather worship a God who can create free beings, rather than one who cannot.
The Parables of Peanuts is a very effective popular presentation of a particular sort of Christian theology. I have tried to indicate some the areas I think the theology falls short, but there is so much good in it that I give it a top rating. After all, there is nothing else quite like Short's way with "Peanuts."