10 Commandments and Hubris

I was in Ex 20 this morning.  Besides the fact that I have broken every one of the 10 in so many ways except the obvious ones people think of.

I often put myself as a god before God.  I have used His name in vain.  Even when I remember the sabbath (most weeks in worship) my whole day is not spent in sabbath rest.  I have murdered in my heart,  Stole, even if time from my employer daydreaming. I have coveted. I have not always honored my parents.

The point is humbling.  Sure, we say, I h’ain’t killed no body.  I ain’t never cheated on my wife.  I ain’t  never made a false image.  Yup.  I gots ‘em all covered, ‘ecpt-in maybe that parents thing, but boys is wild.  Everbuddy knows this.

It was good to be reminded.  Not much later while driving I had a thought about someone and I immediately started exhausting myself, and was just on the verge of creating a fantasy about how I could do this or do that and show the other up.  It felt like God snatched the hair off my head getting in there to root it out.  The whole process from think to repent was less than a second, and then I told God: Go head, snatch it out.  I’m sick of it everytime I think about doing something good.  I was yelling and realized it.  I apologized to God for raising my voice to Him but explained it was me I was mad at.  So the 10 are good to read often. I think Luther tried everyday.  Yes, the rediscover of grace through faith studied the Law, hard.

The main thing that stuck me, though, was this:

“An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.”

Just before this I had read Psalm 24:

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof [sometimes translated and all that fills it)
the world and those who dwell therein,

Here’s the key to Hubris, and we see it everyday.  God made the stones; they are part of the fullness of the earth which belongs to Him.  They would change His creation by hewing them.  He forbid this.  “They’re MY rocks.  Why would I want your pathetic hands trying to shape them?  They’re perfect the way I made them.”


But how often do we apply ourselves to a task thinking we are the creators, the builders, the movers and shakers, the ones the world need in order to “Get ‘er done!”?

Shear Hubris!  Even when we are doing good it is often according to our plan.

We are stone stackers of the alter of God.  The only thing He wants is our obedience.  Not our leadership.  Not our creative designs.  Not our tools.  Not our organizational charts and flowchart plans.  He wants us to pick up the rocks he created and place them where He wants them to go.

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

In Howard’s End, E.M. Forster wrote that “Death destroys a man, but it’s the idea of death that saves him.” Death is usually an ending, but death has been so instrumental in the intellectual and emotional development of so many writers in the twentieth century that it has become a beginning. This story begins like this:

Listen:

Kurt Vonnegut was an absurd man.

It ends like this:

“I know, I know. I know.”

Listen:

Kurt Vonnegut was an absurd man.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus described the absurd person as someone who has seen through the ridiculous repetitions of daily life and “At certain moments of lucidity, the mechanical aspects of their gestures, their meaningless pantomime makes silly everything that surrounds them.” The imagery of a mechanical pantomime (or dance) is very close to Vonnegut’s use of the metaphor “duty dance with death” to describe life in Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut used the author Louis Celine and his writings to bring this metaphor to life. Celine, who wrote Death on the Installment Plan (another metaphor for life), once wrote that “No art is possible without a dance with death.” Celine described it this way: “The truth is death. I’ve fought nicely against it as long as I could, danced with it, festooned it, waltzed it around.”

Camus began The Myth of Sisyphus by writing that “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” In other words, “The truth is death.”

For Camus, man is a stranger in exile in the universe devoid of meaning. Life must be, and can only be, infused with meaning by mankind. “What the hell are people for?” Vonnegut asked. His answer seems to be: To give meaning to this duty dance with death. How is that done? Since we cannot evade death, we must entertain death and keep it busy. We must waltz with it.

This is done, like in a dance, through repetition and remembering. In Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, Henri Bergson likened the comic to watching a room full of dancers but with one’s own ears stopped so that one cannot hear the music. He also saw comedy in man being turned into a machine and in the idea of repetition, both themes of Camus and Vonnegut.

For Camus the comic must be turned into the absurd and man must engage in rebellious repetition. He must fight death with Pyrrhic integrity; he must “thumb his nose,” like Bokonon at the end of Cat’s Cradle. The comic is turned into the absurd, and daily routine turned into Sisyphean rebellion, at just the point at which man becomes aware that life is a comic farce, a Slapstick which cannot be evaded.

Vonnegut knew this. Writing for Vonnegut was an act of Sisyphean repetition that infused his life with meaning by forcing him to remember what the hell people are for. In Slaughterhouse-Five he wrote, ironically, though many miss the irony: “People aren’t supposed to look back. I?m certainly not going to anymore.” Just prior to that he told the reader that it is precisely the act of “looking back” which makes us humans. To be human is to remember.

For Camus, Sisypheanism was refusing to forget where one is from; that is, looking back to Eden, remembering that one toils in exile and remembering where one is headed; that is, towards death. One cannot hide behind illusions because that would be, for Camus, “Forgetting just what I do not want to forget.”
The Yaqui Indians believe one should walk beside death like a companion to remind them that he could take them at any moment.

Camus and Vonnegut both understand that. Hemingway, another writer obsessed with death, did too.

Nick Adams, and I think Hemingway by proxy, was terrified of death. In the very first Nick Adams story, “Three Shots,” Nick is trying to sleep alone at camp when “suddenly he was afraid of dying.” A few weeks prior to that, in church, Nick realized he would die someday. “It made him feel quite sick.” Hemingway faced the fear of death and the seeming absurdity of life by shows of manly courage. Face the thing you fear head on and act simply and decisively. But the key was action. He even developed a writing style that was compact, tight and focused on life in the face of death. A style that fit a life of action.

Hemingway chose a life of action, and he wrote in order to try and hold off the increasingly overwhelming forces of meaninglessness that stormed the beaches of his soul. He was trying to keep death at bay. Writing for him was an end in itself. A mode of existence that gave meaning to his life, and when he felt he had lost that barrier between himself and death he gave in to it. Thanatos beat Eros and he killed himself.

For Vonnegut writing wasn’t an end in itself; it was a means to an end. It was an act of remembering and repetition, like dancing.
In an essay titled “A Room Called Remember,” Frederick Buechner wrote that “in the room called Remember it is possible to find peace- the peace that comes from looking back and remembering to remember that though most of the time we failed to see it, we were never really alone.”
John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire to himself; therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Hemingway titled his greatest work on this passage of Donne’s, but he never understood that we find purpose and meaning in repetition and remembering and relation: our relationship to ourselves, to others, to our world and even to death.

In writing death lost its sting for Vonnegut; it died, to borrow from Donne again. Vonnegut screamed out to the universe “What the hell are people for” and back came a single word: “Remember.” So he put his back to the repetitious task of moving a boulder of words up a hill only to have to roll back down again and again. He took up his pen and dutifully danced with death. It all sounds so absurd.

“I know; I know. I know.”

Rules For Living

  • Cultivate kindness, patience, gratitude and wonder
  • Practice forgiveness
  • Deal with the concrete person before you, not abstractions, generalizations of characterizations
  • Cause no unnecessary suffering
  • Be a good steward
  • Put people ahead of things
  • Do the little things when you can
  • Be present where you are
  • Develop a right relationship with food
  • Pray consistently
  • Devour the Word
  • Time is the greatest gift you can give another, especially a child
  • Keep things in perspective
  • Do good work

Ancient Wisdom on Abortion

I ran across this quote today in a completely unrelated search, at The Tertullian Project, found in Tertullian’s Apologeticum:

“To us murder is once for all forbidden ; so even the child in the womb, while yet the mother’s blood is still being drawn on to form the human being, it is not lawful for us to destroy. To forbid birth is only quicker murder. It makes no difference whether one take away the life once born or destroy it as it comes to birth. He is a man, who is to be a man; the fruit is always present in the seed.”

Vision Video has a resource that they emailed to me just today about abortion:

I Was Wrong — Norma McCorvey, “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, never could have imagined the outcome of her deception: 4,000 abortions a day since 1973. Norma never had an abortion, but her Supreme Court case brought abortion on demand to America. Darkness and disillusionment plagued her life with baby parts, alcohol, drugs, and suicidal attempts. The power of prayer plus the loving actions of a little girl and others drove Norma from working in an abortion center into the arms of Jesus.

Joyce Zounis’ choice of abortion, not once but seven times, nearly cost her life. Tormented by disbelief, she lived a nightmare of anger, guilt, and disconnection. She grieves not only for her seven children but also for the heritage of their children. Touched by the truth of God’s tender love through a radio show, Joyce now shares her gripping story to reach those who desperately need hope and healing.

I Was Wrong captures the changed hearts of two women restored by the redemptive forgiveness of Jesus Christ and brings a deeper understanding of how abortion strikes at the heart and soul of America.

Distant Thunder (Special Edition) — Things are not always as they seem… especially when entering the halls of a desperate mind in this gripping supernatural thriller. Struggling to keep her fragile sanity from unraveling, Prosecutor Ann Brown is offered a murder case that will challenge everything she believes to be true. Uncertain at first whether to accept the assignment, a harrowing encounter with Defense Attorney Tom Condan convinces her to meet the challenge. The deeper she investigates, reality and tormenting delusions collide as she encounters an evil force as unnerving as it is foreboding. In this award-winning movie, terrifying secrets are exposed, and you’ll discover the shocking twist which reveals the chilling and unforeseeable truth.
Time: 1 hr 5 min | Production Year: 2006

Which Theologian Are You

You scored as a Anselm.  Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period. He sees man’s primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read ‘Cur Deus Homo?

Anselm 100%
Martin Luther 87%
Augustine 80%
Friedrich Schleiermacher 80%
John Calvin 73%
Karl Barth 73%
Jonathan Edwards 60%
Jürgen Moltmann 47%
Paul Tillich 33%
Charles Finney 27%

Real Excellence

Chuck Colson recently commented on the performance enhancing drug epidemic in professional sports in “Monsters of Our Own Making,” an article he wrote for Breakpoint. Colson was a strong influence on me years ago, especially his book Loving God, in which he introduced me to William Wilberforce. Colson acknowledged his debt to Wilberforce by creating The Wilbeforce Forum, and if you haven’t seen “Amazing Grace” you should watch it tonight!

With all due respect to Colson, however, I didn’t think his reasoning about the distinctions between real and false excellence in “Monsters of Our Own Making” was very nuanced or convincing.

He asks, “As our capacity to reengineer the human body grows, what kind of society will we become? Then he quotes Leon Kass of “The Washington Post” who wrote “We might lose sight of the difference between real and false excellence, and eventually not care.” Colson goes on to talk about the model of Eric Liddell, the runner who wouldn’t “compete in the Olympic 100-meter event because it was scheduled on a Sunday, so he trained for the 400-meter race, which required completely different skills. And he not only won, he set a new world record.”

Liddell said : “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” And Colson agrees “that’s a pleasure we can all feel when we use the abilities God has given us–when we reflect His image, not the image of our own making or a chemists.”

That’s fine as far as it goes. I do not approve of the use of steroids or other drugs, and I agree with his premise that the society is partly responsible for the use of steroids, but I think his analysis does not go any where deep enough.

What is the distinction between “real” and “false” excellence? Is it “real” excellence when an affluent parent can afford to pay for a personal trainer, hours at the batting cage or skating rink, or private coaches? Is it “real” excellence when a high school athlete uses legally prescribed drugs to “push through the pain” when another may not have access to basic health care or nutrition?

What we choose to call “real” excellence reflecting God’s image is conditioned by many socially and culturally unexamined presuppositions. I admire Liddell, too, but human history only honors and remembers the victors. My kids love “Remember the Titans,” and it’s an inspirational story, but would it have been any less inspirational if the Titans had lost? No. Would it have been told? No, again. Liddell’s act of conscience would have been just as pleasing to God had he not run and won the 400 and had we never heard of him.

Real God-pleasing excellence is stopping to help up the runner who was pushed to the side of the field, even if it cost you the race, or even if he comes back and wins, beating you in the process.

The rampant drug use in professional sports is truly a “monster of our own making,” but  the  “monster” is that our model for excellence is warped.  Steroid use is only a reflection of that.  It could vanish tomorrow from sports forever and athletics would still be a flawed model for “real” excellence.

True excellence, real excellence, is seeking the pleasure of the Creator over the pleasures of His creation.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

Advent Romantic

Most people have no idea I’m a Romantic, in the classical sense (irony intended) but I’m just flat hopeless. I believe in Great Love, High Adventure, Noble Causes and Glorious Death! I’m right there with Thoreau wanting to suck the marrow out of life. Like Gatsby I have “a heightened sensitivity to the promise of life,” a promise that is never fulfilled, at least not this side of paradise, but I still keep expecting to see it, watching for it, waiting, only to be disappointed again and again.

It makes me mad. Unfortunately, I am often an angry person. It’s something I’ve been struggling to change for a long time, and in the struggle over the years I have come to see that often my anger derives from disappointment, disappointment that the promise is broken, but not by He who gave it, but sadly by those who received it.

I want to scream at the world: “Wake up! Can’t you see that this isn’t all there is, that this can’t begin to compare with what can be, what should be and what will be! Why do you drink your own urine and call it ambrosia when there’s Living Water for the asking!”

In The Great Gatsby, Daisy is corrupt at her core. Like her namesake, she is white on the outside, creating an expectation of purity, but her core is yellow, like gold, the love of which is the root of all evil, and she is corrupt, rich beyond avarice, but morally bankrupt. And so the world, too, is broken and corrupt, and I should have no expectation that it is otherwise, but , but, I also know that “There is hope for [our] future,” that He will “turn [our] mourning into joy; [He] will comfort [us], and give [us] gladness for sorrow.”

And so I watch and wait, each time hoping to see just a glimmer of what may be because one day it shall be. It’s rare and fleeting, but it’s there for those with eyes to see. When you see it you despair because in His grace He sometimes allows us to see what could have been had we but not turned away from paradise to gaze back on Sodom. Oh, but when we see it we also rejoice because in His grace He gives us the hope, the certainty of knowing, that one day the glass will no longer be dim, and what we only glimpse occasionally now we will one day gaze on eternally.

And so it’s not wrong to watch for those glimpses of the Gospel, those “patches of Godlight” we sometimes see as we walk “in a gloomy wood, astray gone from the direct path.” Each and every glimpse of Godlight we get is worth a thousand shadowy disappointments.

What does it say about my character? It says I’m a broken human, and it says I’m a hoping saint. It says I’m a Advent Romantic, and I say come on in, the water’s fine.

Why I Am Lutheran—Part I: Liturgy

I’ve never agreed with the statement that familiarity breeds contempt. I have found that all too often familiarity breeds inattention, not apathy or callousness so much as forgetful neglect. Unfortunately, we humans all too often take for granted that which is most precious and familiar to us.

And it’s not just “stuff” we do that with, is it? We do it with practices, traditions, rituals and even beliefs. We get so familiar with them that we stop noticing. And then a child asks “Is God real?”, or a friend asks “Why is God silent in my grief?”, or a neighbor asks “Why are you Lutheran?” In order to follow Peter’s injunction to “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) we are forced to notice again that which we ceased truly seeing.

I wasn’t raised Lutheran. I chose Lutheranism after first studying Reformation history in graduate school and then actually worshiping at a Lutheran church, so I was forced to think through many of those aspects of our faith traditions that we tend to take for granted. As we begin this new church year, I thought I would begin an informal series on why I am Lutheran, both as a way of helping me to refresh my own faith journey and, hopefully, as a way to help others revisit and re-encounter their own.

From the title, it may look like I have a systematic plan for this series, but in reality I chose this title after I saw where my thoughts were going, and I have no idea what aspect I may focus on next. Other Lutherans may have different priorities and preferences, but liturgical worship was one of the most powerful factors that drew me towards Lutheranism.

As Jesus taught, the only “right” way to worship God is “in Spirit and Truth,” (John 4:24) so I don’t want to imply that liturgical worship is the One True worship. There are liturgical churches, like the Roman Catholic, where I do not feel I could worship God “in Truth” because of profound doctrinal differences. I do not think liturgical worship is—in and of itself—somehow superior; however, I do feel it has within its form the potential to be more rich, connected and elemental than more modern forms of worship.

Too often those who are unfamiliar with it argue that liturgical worship is dead or canned or overly ritualistic or boring. As Simon Chan, in Liturgical Theology, argues, these “concerns should not be dismissed lightly, as [they] grew out of the deeply spiritual sense that the Spirit can not be domesticated.” (126) However, any worship that is not “in Spirit and Truth” is dead, period.

Before I even knew it, I was drawn to liturgical worship by its “work.” In The Church’s Liturgy, Michael Kunzler explains that in its profane origins “Literally translated ‘liturgy’ means ‘work of the people/ for the people’.” However, “on account of the unique character of Christian worship people at first… avoided a general concept for it. When ‘liturgy’ was adopted for it, it was not however forgotten… that liturgy first of all is the work of God, who brings about salvation in the world through Christ in the Holy Spirit.” (13)

There are actually two senses in which the term liturgy is commonly used, and this sometimes causes confusion. In the more specific and formal sense, it is restricted to the Holy Eucharist. When an Eastern Orthodox Christian speaks of the liturgy he is most likely referring only to the Eucharist Service, what Roman Catholics refer to as the Sacrifice of the Mass, and what Lutherans and other Protestants might call The Great Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, especially in Protestant churches, “liturgy often means the whole complex of official services, all the rites, ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments of the Church, as opposed to private devotions. In this sense we speak of the arrangement of all these services in certain set forms, used officially by any local church, as the liturgy of that church. So a service of evening prayer is also part of the liturgy.”

The Lutheran church uses both in theologically meaningful ways. Thus, in the more formal sense, the liturgy refers to the part of our service devoted to communion and is the work of Christ alone on the cross. However, the liturgy is also “the work of the people,” not as a means of grace but as a “duty and delight,” in a worship and thanksgiving response to the work of God through Christ.

If a Lutheran service often feels like a lot of work it is and should be. Too often we think of work as either a bothersome chore or a theologically dirty word. In the sense of the work of worship and praise as a response to God’s grace, it’s neither. We are, after all, God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Eph 2:10)

Properly done, liturgical worship is embodied worship. As we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, it is appropriate to see worship as an act which involves more than our minds and spirits. It is an offering of our “bod[ies] as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God,” which is our “spiritual worship.” (Rom 12:1) It engages our bodies and senses as well as our thoughts, words and feelings.

We truly are like children (in all ways both good and bad). As any teacher will tell you, if you engage children’s bodies and senses they’ll learn more than if they just sat there and listened. Learning is work, so is worship. School is full of ritual, so is worship, even in non-liturgical worship. The best way to keep living ritual from becoming dead rote is to engage the whole person in the work of worship and thanksgiving that “is indeed right and salutary” in response to the work of God through Christ Jesus.

By changing the theology without discarding the ancient and common mode of corporate worship, Lutheranism allows me to most closely approach in this life the perfect worship in Spirit and Truth that I will only truly be capable of in the next.

Note: While I differ from Catholics substantially, many of them, like Merton, Nouwen, and Neuhaus, have had a profound influence upon my spiritual development. One way I do not differ is in my love of liturgical worship. Read “…But Isn’t Liturgical Worship Dead” to see a Catholic brother’s (David Bennett) viewpoint on this topic.

The Path of Worship

Sinning Against Our Brothers (Late Commentary on Da Vinci)

When I first heard about The Da Vinci Code, I said “That’s a straight-up rip-off of Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”  It’s not a new idea or a very original one; it’s just plotted differently.  If you can’t succeed with “history” or literature (The Last Temptation of Christ) then pop culture is where you sow your seeds.  And the crop has been bumper, indeed!

At first, I thought that only people not very familiar with the Bible or Christian history and theology would be “troubled” by it, except for the honest and decent members of Opus Die, a very good organization, and the only reason I didn’t want to see the movie was that I want to financially support a movie that slanders my Lord and directly implies that the entire foundation of my faith–the Divinity of Christ and His death and resurrection– is a sham.  That’s still a good reason, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far.

It makes of it merely a personal financial decision without seeing the dimensions of knowledge formation or responsibility to my brothers and sisters in Christ.  In recent conversations with Christians who’ve seen the movie, when I related the above argument to them, they, and others have said the same in print, replied that it was merely fiction, a novel, and good entertainment at that, nothing more, nothing to kick up a fuss over.

And Mein Kampf was “just a book,” right?  Few things force me to sit down and think through my positions like the claim that entertainment is merely entertainment.  It’s not mere fiction.  Ideas have consequences, a concept few in the West believe anymore.  Memes [1] get generated, seeds get planted and harvest are sowed, either for God or the Enemy.

It’s not the Christian I worry about here (I’ll get to them below); it’s the non-Christian.  Imagine a kid growing up in a non-Christian home, daily inundated with the ideas presented incessantly that Christianity is either a sham or a force of evil in the world or both.  The ideas are planted day after day year after year and that person isn’t exposed to any alternative.  When he or she gets older, the beliefs are hardened into clichés requiring no thought.  A worker in God’s vineyard sows seeds, but they are immediately chocked out by weeds.

We all “know” things that aren’t so.  Just look at the urban legends in e-mails. The entire premise behind advertising is that it influences.  Last year a study conducted by the University of Connecticut and published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that there was a 1% increase in the number of drinks consumed per month for each additional alcohol advertisement seen by teens.

The Prevention Research Center tells us that “”Young people have well developed beliefs about alcohol, even before they have experience with drinking.  Although parents, peers, and other environmental influences are important in shaping these beliefs, and ultimately drinking behaviors, alcohol advertising may also be a source through which children and adolescents learn about alcohol.”

“Young people have well developed beliefs…before they have experience,” that quote is true and telling.  It’s why our Scripture commands us: “teach [God’s law] to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deut 11:19) The “meme” that orthodox Christianity is both a sham and an evil is ubiquitous these days. Combine it with the belief in mere entertainment and the belief that ideas don’t have consequences and the result is toxic.

When little or no attention or credit is given to the positive role Christianity has played in the development of the institutions and practices of a free society, when what little is written (like Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadance) is read by few, and mostly by those who already agree, when ideas go unchallenged, when the topics of greatest concern are gas prices or access to cheap broadband, then the enemy slips in “like a thief in the night.”

If something as banal as advertising wields influence, how much more so does fiction?  Fiction has been used for centuries to powerfully convey serious ideas (“If you prick us will we not bleed?”).  In fact, for those who don’t believe, the Bible itself is considered fiction.  Consider Harold Bloom’s Where Shall Wisdom Be Found where he argues that Job is part of wisdom literature in the same vein as Shapespeare and Homer.

There’s a  Revlon ad showing the back of a topless woman in bed, being photographed by the man in her bed, with the voice-over saying, “If you convince her the pictures are only for your personal collection, you’re a Mitchum man.”   Is that “just a commercial” or is it demeaning to women because it presents them as mere sex objects to be manipulated and lied to for a man’s pleasure?  Is the rap song that chants “face down, @ up, that’s the way I like to f__k” just entertainment, or has the whole hip-hop culture contributed to the sexualization of our children?  Is Mapplethorpe’s “Piss Christ” just art?  Is “Debbie Does Everyone and His Brother and Sister” just a movie?

I have no animus here, but I can not now or ever accept the argument that something which presents thoughts, concepts, ideas, theories, opinions, beliefs, practices, and moods is just entertainment.

The Eight would have made a better movie.  It was a better book.  The reason The Da Vinci Code was made into a movie was it had an easily recognizable and ready to use “controversy” to generate sales.  I am disappointed that so many people protesting the movie do not see that they are being used.  Hollywood loves a good controversy, making money by manipulating people go see it just to check out what all the fuss is about, but I also respect those challenging the movie for drawing a line and standing athwart cultural trends and yelling “Stop!”

Many of them  have presented thoughtful, well-reasoned challenges to The Da Vinci Code.  I think they’re worth reading, especially if you think that ideas are not at stake here.  In contrast, on the movies side you have unreflective, trite, voices like Ron Howard’s, who pulled out the classic cliche: “If they don’t want to see it, don’t go.”

Let me try that argument on a few other propositions.  If you don’t like smoking in a restaurant, don’t go to that restaurant.  There are others.  If you don’t like the fact that this business will not sell to blacks, don’t shop there.  There are other places.  Let the market work it out.  If you believe the ideas matter then you can’t just shrug it off and ignore it.

I don’t believe in banning (“All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful”), but I do believe in boycotts.  The protest of Da Vinci is illuminating in the wake of the violent reactions by Muslims to the Dutch cartoonist last year.  One again, as from earliest times, Christians are using peaceful, civic means to protest something that is way more demeaning to Christ then those cartoons were to Mohammad.

What troubles me most is the lack of goodwill between Christians.  On the one hand you have the Ban Its (BIs), and on the other hand the It’s Just Entertainmenters (IJEs).  In the media the IJEs are acting as if the BIs are just illiterate, fundamentalist, uncultured bumpkins.

Paul’s teaching on food offered to idols is very analogous here.  We are free to eat what we want, but if it offends our brother we are to abstain, lest we cause our brother to stumble.  (1 Cor 8, and 10:23-33).  If the consciences of literally tens of thousands of my brothers and sisters worldwide are offended by this movie, I will not be a source of their stumbling.  Rather than being united in Christian teachings about relationship even when we disagree about theology, we present a fractured and fragmented face to the world.

I humbly and sincerely think that if this particular entertainment is a stumbling block to so many in our Body, that we should be united against it for that reason; instead, most of those who disagree with them unite with the secularist.

  1. “a theoretical concept introduced in 1976 by Richard Dawkins, [which] refers to any unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice, idea or concept, which one mind transmits (verbally or by demonstration) to another mind” []

Foucault’s Folly

Unable to participate in national debates in any other way, I have participated in religion and politics discussion forums on the Internet for years. I have noticed that many of the exchanges are based on power. Discussions are frequently full of postmodern machinations designed to subvert any attempts at clear thinking.

It is an axiom of contemporary postmodern posturing to see everything as some Foucaultian power struggle for control of perceptual reality. Such po-mo chic argues that “everything is permitted; nothing is true.” (I for one wish that those who wish to affect such an ironic knowingness would just remain silent because each time they engage in a debate they indict the very foundation of their pose and saw the very branch upon which they sit out from under themselves.)

Instead of trying to discover as much as is possible about some specific, concrete historical event (real historical scholarship), be it Waco or the Holocaust, many would rather play relativistic games with rhetoric in order to manipulate opinion; history is ironically imperialized and treated as strategy. Just look at an old article in “The Atlantic” which describes a lawsuit in Great Britain as “putting the Holocaust on trial and making historical truth the defendant.” There a Holocaust denier was suing for libel because an American historian called him a “dangerous spokesperson for Holocaust denial.”

Truth is becoming a power struggle. Many in the national media, for example, try to discredit a source, or they slant a person’s motivation with endless interpretation and cries of partisanship. Rarely do they attempt to discuss the issues or debate matters of disputed fact.

Others will try to confuse people with assertions of truth’s relativity, but just because human knowledge may be more or less contingent does not mean that something specific, concrete and actual did not take place in a particular moment of history. That our knowledge of those events can only be partially known, and the fact that cries of partisanship are shouted, in no way changes that or precludes our responsibility to the truth.

It is the highest of human conceits to argue that historical reality, or any other reality, is somehow implicated by and entwined with human fallibility and finitude. Simply put: because human knowledge is subjective, to a more or less greater degree, in no way means that truth is relative.

Knowing the limits of reason, the contingency of human knowledge and the self-limiting nature of all conceptual frameworks, some people try to mitigate those limitations through an open, well-informed presentation of issues and points of factual dispute.

Others, however, use the above limitations to obfuscate: manipulating, mischaracterizing, dissembling and deconstructing in order to try and keep the discussion enmeshed in some meta-struggle for conceptual control of the public square. Turning discourse into “Thus Speak I” shouting matches and charges of partisanship, they attempt to manipulate perceptions with rhetoric so that they do not have to actually bring any evidence to bear on their assertions.

All one can do, I suppose, is attempt to rescue cogency from the grip of muddled reasoning one hipster doofus at a time.