Saturday, July 30, 2011

Reckoning Time! Part 2


Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" Jesus saind to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:5-6
Sure, Rob Bell can hope for the salvation of all things, but does he have a Biblical leg to stand on? Is he undermining God's justice by confining Him to Bell's finite understanding of love? And what of wrath? And zealous jealousy? Does not God also hold these attributes to His bosom as eternal attributes?

Bell's most specific dealings with Biblical confrontation in this light comes out on pages 154-155 of Love Wins.

Dealing with the very passage quoted above, Bell responds:

This is s wide and expansive a claim as a person can make. What [Jesus] doesn't say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn't even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him...

...And then there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum...

What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe. 

It's a happy thought, no? -- that Jesus is saving everyone despite themselves, despite whatever the individual thinks. 

But is Bell's generous orthodoxy warranted? This is not the only Biblical passage that deals with the way to salvation.  

After attempting to sum up Bell's thoughts to a friend, this dear friend swiftly responded that Bell is only seeing what he wants to see. Her point was to say that Bell is only taking from scripture what he wants to see. He is turning a blind eye to the myriad other references that do indeed show, and make explicit the idea that salvation is a game of exclusivity. You are in, or you are out. Her claim is that although it sounds nice and is easier to think of a world that will be saved through-and-through, the reality is that some are bound towards hell. To destruction they will go. Her argument is that Bell is perverting the reality of hell because it makes him uneasy.

We can't ignore Scripture just because it is uncomfortable. 


And so Romans 9 comes rolling in:
8That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 

9For this is the word of promise: "At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son." 

10And noth only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac:

11for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,

12it wad said to her, "The older will serve the younger."

13Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

14What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 

15For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

16So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you; and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth."

18So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 
And before I can get a clear thought through my head, 
 Paul responds to my inner groaning:
19You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?

20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?

21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

23And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory...

This is, and has remained for many years, the most difficult passage of Scripture for me to hear. Although Paul rebukes my very thoughts, I want only to say, "But Paul, if the clay maker tortures the lump, would it not have been better for the lump to have remained merely a lump? Why create to destroy?" I am left then unanswered and ashamed that I can barely handle what appears to me a dark truth. How can it be? How is there love? 

And on this, Bell is silent. 

So is the conversation over? 

Despite the difficulty that this passage may cause us, is it addressing the means by which we, as individuals, may be granted access into God's Kingdom? 

Well, yes.

And no.

What Paul makes explicit is that God alone is the means by which man is judged. 

We 21st century western Christians tend to see salvation as Campus Crusade for Christ has led us: as a series of 4 Spiritual Laws. They are (according to campuscrusade.com)   >>>
  1. God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
  2. Man is sinful and separated from God.
    Therefore, he cannot know and experience
    God's love and plan for his life.
  3. Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin.
    Through Him you can know and experience
    God's love and plan for your life.
  4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord;
    then we can know and experience God's love and plan for our lives.
       
I am not going to besmirch this list, as in general I think it is a helpful road-map, and surely has facilitated prayer for thousand upon thousands who have yearned to know Jesus. 
A few months back I wrote concerning the true story of Genie. Genie was locked in a dark room until adolescence when she was discovered by authorities. She is the most widely studied and researched 'feral child' of modern history. It would appear that Genie was born completely normal, but due to her environment of oblivion, her brain did not develop during the instrumental growing years. It would prove to be impossible to acclimate her into normal society. She simply could not learn certain things. Language was a forever struggle. Her developmental experience took away her God-given ability to think abstractly. 

For a girl like Genie, the 4 spiritual laws would be far too abstract. 

So what happens?

If acceptance of Jesus Christ as atoning Savior is the necessary action that grace requires, then what is to become of the mentally disabled among us? Surely the Lord will not damn them, right? Right? 

Are you prepared to answer? 

If your answer is that surely God has mercy for them, then is that not showing that grace is extended to individuals who did not for themselves accept Christ into their hearts? 

And if your answer is that these poor souls are to suffer hell as consequence, I ask again, how is that love? And God loved and chose Jacob before he was born -- so does that not set precedence for acceptance unto Christ prior to an action taken on the part of the individual? 

And to get another cheap (but valid!) shot, 
what of the aborted souls, the children? 

What is to become of them? 

Does love not win? Will God not show compassion? 

Surely your instinct is to say, yea, scream, "YES!", is it not? 

Nevertheless, I am getting into sticky territory. And stickier yet we must go. 

For me, the pages of Rob Bell's book that made me the most uncomfortable was the section that dealt with our perception of Christ's death on the cross. I no longer have the book at my service, so I cannot quote, but I recall Bell stating that the analogy of an atonal blood sacrifice does not mean the same thing to us as it would first century Jews and Gents. Our culture is not accustomed to sacrificing rams and goats for sins, so Christ's work on the cross doesn't quite have the internal resonance with us as it would the old-timers, so the argument goes. 

Now, to be clear, I do believe Jesus' death and resurrection were not merely an analogy -- I believe those actions are the root and spring from which we may be cleansed of our sins. I believe Christ died specifically for my sins against God, and then conquered death on the third day and has ascended to sit on the right hand side of God the Father. But... remember Isaiah's vision. Chapter 6:4-7

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven."
What are we to do with this story? Is this burning coal another means of salvation? If not, why not? Is it another instrument by which salvation is created? 
I have not the answer. 

All I know is that God is not tame.


Remember Paul's cloak? How is it that it had the power to heal? Is not healing a spiritual gift? Shouldn't it have to come through the means of the Holy Spirit working through a believer? Or perhaps a demon through a possessed soul? 
Acts 19:11-12, God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.
Hmmm...

And let us also recall Jesus when He healed the woman with the hemorrhage. Jumping in mid-story:
Mark 5:28-31, For she thought, "If I just touch His garments, I will get well." Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched My garments?"
My little mind looks at that passage and is caused to quirk the head. Some power left Jesus? I tend to think that Jesus Himself is the power, or at least that it is God's presence through Him, not some power that can exit the body. Perhaps it is just a matter of semantics, but it sounds like there is a third-party 'power' in play that physically leaves Jesus and enters into the woman. A power. Could we even call it an energy? 
And how did those Egyptian charlatans echo God's miracles through Moses? By demons? Perhaps so, but the Scripture makes no mention that this was by a direct dark-sided power that it was done. The action is simply written, without noting the origin. Were the Egyptians tapping into the same 'power' that left Jesus? 
One more! 

Elisha. 

The dude that came after Elijah.

Check that. 

Not-Elisha.

Just his bones. 

Post-Elisha.
2 Kings 13:20-21: Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites would invade the land in the spring of the year. As they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet.
Bam! 

How exactly does that work? -- power infused bones? And what of Samson's hair? What was going on with that? Why was the hair so special? Did God and him make an arrangement that the power was to be in his long locks? Was that power the same third-party power that seeped through Christ into the bloody woman? 

I reference these strange Biblical incidences to make a simple point: God is a quirky fella. He's the Dude that made the duckbilled platypus after all. Those suckers are all types of crazy. 


God is big. God is not tame. He will save whom He desires to save. And I, like the good monk being led to martyrdom by angry Islamicists, can pray with a clear conscious that I, and everyone I know, may be found as happy thieves in Paradise, made perfect by God's wonderful love and grace. 

The greatest story ever fashioned is that of Christ Jesus, the God-Servant-King, who came into flesh to die and overcome death for a desperately lost sinner such as I. May I never forget this, nor you, as long as we live and work on this good earth. 
 And oh, how big our God is, 
and how expansive His creative genius!


Amen.



Reckoning Time!

And so we come to it.

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, 
"This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?" John 6:60

I have read Rob Bell's controversial book, Love Wins, and I can delay response no longer.

Many have harshly critiqued Bell's perspective, determining his views to have dipped into full distortion of the Biblical message. The heretical idea in question is that of universalism. Has Rob Bell, with one book, tip-toed into the heresy that all ways, all paths, all people, all worldviews, all in all leads to eternal communion with Christ Almighty?

I grew up and grew old in a small church. The congregation never ballooned to much more than 40 souls. We were, from inception, a small clan. Because our numbers were small, any personal departure from the community was a big deal. It made ripples. Departure equaled schism for our weak body, and schism we got. One member of the church was a former archeologist/anthropologist. I recall he had done work searching for Sodom and Gomorrah... fun stuff like that. It appeared to us that those past days sweating in the hot desert sand had hardened this man's convictions. What he held dear, he held firmly without flexibility.

The particular incident that caused the ruckus for this gentleman, and led to him divorcing himself and his family of five from our congregation, involved the usage of a single word. Jehovah. Jehovah, an early translation of the Hebrew letters YHWH, was, for some reason unbeknownst to my high school brain, an utterly unacceptable term for the name of God, according to the shrewd worldview of this gentleman. Sure, we, as a congregation, could acknowledge that the name Yahweh appears to be closer approximation of the Hebrew name, nevertheless, Jehovah came up in song lyrics from time to time, and we did not shun it.

For this man, utilizing the word Jehovah as a place holder for God's name was tantamount to spitting on the Holy of Holies. It was simply not to be done. The good sir, an elder in our congregation, made his views known, and upon hearing the word again sung during worship one day, found himself unable to remain a member of our sinful-tongued community. So he schismed. He and his family together. I never saw them again.

One more anecdotally connected incident...

Last week I watched the French (yet set in Algeria) film Of Gods and Men with my visiting parents in Salzburg, Austria.

It is a beautiful film.

It spins the tale of a group of monks caught between a failing government, and a roving band of Islamic militants.

The final monologue, spoken as a voice-over by the lead protagonist, is translated as such:


And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. 
This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They're a body and a soul. 
My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me na├»ve or idealistic, 
but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, 
will immerse my gaze in the Father's and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, 
friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, 
who knew not what you were doing. 
Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. 
May we meet again, 
happy thieves in Paradise, 
if it pleases God the Father of us both. 
Amen. Insha'Allah. 

My mother, upon hearing this film-ending speech, was distraught over the good monk's theology. 'How could he say such things about Islam, an obvious distortion of the Gospel message? He should know better!'

Such emotional responses are valid to a degree, and if we were to put this man's words under theological scrutiny, I reckon it wouldn't hold up... but I don't think that that's the point here. The good monk is not writing a theological dissertation on salvation, by no means! He is writing a love letter. A love letter to God. To His creation.

The monk is assured of his own salvation, but he admits his own 'burning curiosity'. Do we not all have such thoughts? These monks were brought into a foreign land. They fell in love with the community around them. They fell in love with God's creation. For man, does that love turn to wrath? Should it? Certainly not. Justice and vengeance are the Lord's, not ours. We have no reason to judge the Muslim. We can share the Gospel with him, tell him about the grace Jesus brings. We can tell him how he doesn't have to work to get into heaven -- that in fact his works will not save him, but we are not the ones that need pass judgment.

So the monk will ask God about Islam when they meet face to face. This seems good and right to me. Furthermore, the monk does indeed wish that he and his killer will find each other both under God's luminous grace in Heaven. How is that not a beautiful prayer?


The only way to make many of Bell's statements work is to view them with the same lens --- the lens that looks to the heart rather than the mind. Perhaps that message alone sounds anathema, but I propose, or rather, I insist on believing, that Bell's message is centered on dealing with what certain polemical theological systems do to our innermost thoughts -- our innermost interactive thoughts with the God of this universe.

Yes, it's true, Bell leaves the door open for Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus to have access into the Kingdom of Heaven. That sounds super scary. Jesus states plainly that he is the only way to God. He is the way to salvation. He is the door. So how on earth can these religions that do not acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord lead people to Heaven's gate? Bell doesn't explain how. If he was writing a theological entreaty, he would have to do so... but he wasn't.

The most accurate critique of Bell's book is that it won't bring non-believers to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. Perhaps that is a fair litmus test; in many ways I agree that any work regarding God and salvation should do exactly that. I should read the last words of Love Wins, close the book, and immediately be driven to open up one of the Gospels. Indeed. 

However, if I personalize the book, if I focus on bringing my understanding of the Gospel, of salvation, to the book's emotional core, than my response is much different. At the end of the day, that's all I can rightfully bring to the table, correct -- my own experience? Do I have a right to condemn the book for its evangelical lackings towards the un-Christian nations? I'm not sure...

Another film that recently ventured past my eyelids was Paul Schrader's 1979 George C. Scott vehicle, Hardcore. Now, Schrader is always a bit of a wild card when it comes to spiritual exploration, and Hardcore is no exception to the role. Schrader plops us not only into the seamy underbelly of the porn industry, but also the moralistic statutes of a hardlined dutch-reformer. At one point, our center-stage reformer dishes out the entire Calvinistic TULIP acronym to a helpful prostitute. Schrader takes the time to label each letter with its appropriate doctrine. To remind:
  • T - Total Depravity. We are all horrifically corrupted and in complete submission to the service of sin.
  • U - Unconditional Election. From eternity past, God has chosen those with which He has chosen to bestow mercy upon. Likewise, those not chosen are determined to face the consequential wrath for their sins.
  • L - Limited Atonement. Jesus died only for the sins of the unconditionally elected.
  • I - Irresistible Grace. The Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. If God chooses to save you, you cannot resist His call. 
  • P - Perseverance of the Saints. God's will cannot be undone, therefore, all who are elected will never fall away. Those who appear to fall away from the faith never really were elected, or they are not really falling away. 


 When I hear this list of doctrinal certainties regarding salvation, I want to gag. To dry heave. My response is so not because I find these measures inexplicably disconnected from scripture (indeed, there appears to be a fair amount of Biblical evidence for each of the postulates), but because it is a very hard thing to equate these principles with my conception of an all-loving God. If feels like saying, God is love, but...

When hearing this, I become just like my brothers, the disciples... who can listen to it?

How can a predetermined eternal damnation be compatible with a God of love?

Often, it seems, these two ideas are kept in tension. I reckon most Christians just let that tension sit there. Rob Bell doesn't. I'm not sure I can either.

Despite the fact that I cannot biblically deny the tenants of Calvinism, I haven't yet been able to succumb to its systematizing of Scripture because it undercuts my very understanding of the word love.

I think Bell looks at the position from a similar angle, feeling the awful weight of the Church's history upon him. If you take these past two thousand years of time in which the 'era of Church' has been instated, you will find much hate. The Church has hated. It has judged. It has done so with extreme prejudice and ugliness. And it is still shaping how we appropriate our worldview. Our tendency, particularly the Christian Church in America, is to create concepts of exclusivity. There is us, and there is them. There is the elect and the particularly unelected. We must save the heathens. We must bring them into our fold. The dark side of such attestations comes out in full force with the vitriol signs of "God hates fags" and the like.

Here's a controversial statement: maybe He does. Maybe God does hate fags. Maybe He would agree with such a statement. Maybe.*

(*To be clear: I am certainly of the disposition that God loves those people who identify themselves as homosexuals -- my point is simply to say it is God's place to make such claims, not ours)

But has He called us to make such claims? Are we called to judge?

What if we judge wrongly?



You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you... Matthew 5:43-44

I love the Sermon on the Mount; so scandalous. To love those who hate you, to turn the check, to give extra to him who stole from you -- these ideals are so counter what the world feeds us.

Lewis certainly nailed pitch-perfectly a right understanding of God when Aslan the lion is described as safe, but not tame. God is a knuckle-ball pitcher; we can't ever quite predict what he'll do next.

An expansive view of God leads us to try and keep our conception of our Lord as vast as Scripture allows (I'll examine this idea further in my follow up post), so it seems good to leave that which is up to God, exactly that, up to God. Why burden ourselves with that which the King tells us to let him carry?


While still on that mount, Jesus said, Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2

Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Believe that God is love. And however much you can love these people you meet, you see, how much greater is God's love for them!

Perhaps I am giving Bell too much slack, but I stand to reckon that his intention in Love Wins, and ultimately what I choose to take from it, is that our predominant character as followers of a loving God, is to love everyone, and to believe that no matter what, God is love, and that love will not be diminished, undercut, or undermined, in this life or the next.

In part 2 I'll take some time to examine the 'tough to hear' passages of scripture (I'm looking at you Romans 9!), as well as try to seek Biblical support for the idea of an inclusive & expansive view of an untame God.

Matthew 11:28-30, the words of Jesus: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Much Ado About Video Games

What if Tolkien and Lewis were video game programmers?

A few years ago I played the game Bioshock. It was scary. Really scary. But more importantly, its story kept arching back to Ayn Rand philosophy, particularly that which is uplifted in Atlas Shrugged. The game built itself upon philosophy run amok in narrative. Find any top video game list, and you'll see Bioshock show up somewhere.

Roger Ebert has taken much flack for asserting and reasserting the statement, "Video games can never be art." Gamers singularly rage against such proclamations as a hate crime. I at once admit that if I were myself a gamer, a hobby that tends to absorb whole lives rather than just mere leisure hours, I would of course fight avidly for the belief that video games are the NEW ART. For the gamer who gives his life to the console, it seems quite self-evident that he would not want to stop at merely stating that video games are art, but rather, that they are THE ART of our generation. From a historian's perspective, this might actually be quite a feasible outlook, as I think it is quite clear that at least American cinema itself (assuming that movies were THE ART of the past generation) peaked in the seventies and hasn't been able to come back to that stratosphere since.


The argument pro or con on the artfront of video gaming is contingent on how we define the word art. And that is a brutal word to come to terms with. The philosophy of aesthetics lends its whole genius of thought at tackling the question, and only ever seems to ask me whether a Gauguin painting is art if its locked inside a museum rigged with atomic bombs set to explode as soon as someone enters the building.

My understanding of Mr. Ebert's position is that video games cannot be art because they are won. There are goals that are accomplished or failed. Notice the emphasis on the game aspect rather than the video. Ebert's point rings true in that no one really thinks of baseball or football themselves as art. You can find stories within the games that are artful, but not so much the game itself. We do not compare sports on their level of artitude. Chess is not superior to basketball because it is more artsy.

Definitions of art bore me (here's my stab at one: that which propels the viewer/observer/participant to catharsis either by experience or reaction that can be retained and utilized as valuable apart from the artwork itself --- yes, I know, a very user/reader based definition), but the video game conversion is intriguing.

Video games have a very unique position amongst the arts/games, because more than any other medium, they are constantly in evolutionary flux. The limits of what games can be are incessantly growing, as computational power continues to exponentially expand. Ol' Mario ain't what he used to be.

This review for the game Heavy Rain intrigued me, in that it apparently withholds a litany of endings (and forces you to brush your character's teeth, jiminychrismas!).



Again, as a relative outsider to the gaming world, I want to ask: "What truth can we acquire from a correct understanding of this medium? Where can it take us? Can it help me understand God?" Maybe that's the definition of art I should adhere to: That which brings us to consider God and His attributes.


P.S. I was brought up taught that games like Dungeons and Dragons was evil. If I remember correctly, the idea arose because the game made people 'act' as wizards and, due to its fully enveloping world, led people towards the dark arts. Why don't we hear folks clamoring the drums about modern video games? Does that mean it's okay for me to play D&D now?

P.P.S That Bioshock photo trips out. It is frighteningly similar to one of the first recurring nightmares I had as a child (the other one being a world in which the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles turned evil and attacked me).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Long on Louie


Much has been made about the era of "new atheism", a label that has generally been attributed to the likes of Charles Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who have gone on the offensive against organized religion in their books (The God Delusion and God is Not Great, respectively), but today I'd like to argue that the labelized movement is being propelled in popular culture by a cache of far humbler players.

I was relatively unfamiliar with the term postmodernism when I entered into the university scene. My adolescent throes left me writhing and wrangling with the existentialists coming out of high school, and this was more than enough to fill up my rather indistinct thought life. But then professor after professor pounded this notion of postmodernism into my learned bones. Much more than that, I was told I had already missed the boat, that postmodernism was more a reflection of the preceding generation than any reflection of my own. What we were living in now was something of a post-postmodernism. I still don't really understand that.

No part of my being yearns to be waded down and enveloped in the actual fires of philosophical debate and proclamation. The world of the philosophers tends to skew towards the linguistical underpinings of words and their diagnoses of our reality drifts away from what the everyman is content to consider. This is not to say that philosophy is not important (or boring), by no means -- rather, I simply mean to say that there is not always a direct correlation between where archetypal philosophical thought dwells, and where the mainstay of cultural thought and understanding reside. Make sense? Sure it does.

Whether it can remain labeled as postmodernism or not, I think western culture can generally be summed up in one statement: authenticity is king.

If my statement is a true reflection of where society stands, then unless philosophical change occurs, institutions like Catholicism and Marriage (not necessarily by divorce, but a wider breath of those who choose to cohabitate without tying-the-knot) will continue to weaken.

I would like to submit to the council, one Mr. Louis Szekely, aka Louie C.K. He is a balding, overweight, freckled comedian. Despite is ginger looks, his mother was Irish Catholic and his father is a native Mexican of Hungarian-Jewish descent. That's multiculturism, baby! Mr. C.K. writes, directs, and stars in an autobiographical t.v. show called Louie. It features his stand-up routines much in the same manner as Seinfeld, in which a certain stand-up topic is extrapolated and explored through comedy.

Louie is a crude show. It is so not (particularly) because its creator is trying to leverage shock value for laughs, but rather, because Louie simply breaks everything around him down into its most base components. And in such a way the world is debased.

Another tangent: have you noticed the rise of cursing on television and film? Perhaps it's only in my mind, or perhaps because as I age, I allow myself to indulge in seedier programming, but I do reckon that there is more accepted cursing from all branches of entertainment than ever before. Why would that be so? What would cause this to occur? The most conservative voices might point to an overall decline in morality, particularly in Hollywood, over the past 50 odd years. I would argue against such a statement. I don't think that is demonstrably evident. People have always acted ungodly. I don't necessarily think we are collectively becoming ungodlier as a culture. We just like to switch out our old idols for new ones.

What is a curse? Is it intrinsically evil? Probably not. From a Biblical perspective, I think while it is easy to say that one should be sensitive about the usage of our Lord's name, simply spouting out a four-letter word does not a blasphemer necessarily make. So what does a curse-word represent? That's a bit of a silly rhetorical question, as cussing is used in a litany of forms and formats. But I think the most consistent definition is to simply say a curse word = an interjection... or perhaps even, a grammatical ejaculation, which sounds itself like something profane, but indeed has historic precedence.

 Wikipedia's definition of interjection: In grammar, an interjection or exclamation is a lexical categoryemotion or sentiment on the part of the speaker... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interjection

So then, if I am Mister Authenticity, if you stub your toe and exclaim, "Darnnit!", I will look at you much more suspiciously than a congenial ol' "Dammit!" Dammit for the win!

Louie comes off as perhaps a perfectionist of deconstruction. He takes every topic to its logical, and most fundamental form. Most of the time, these topical situations are humorous, as Louie is constantly having to come to terms with his inferiority to much of the outside world. We laugh with him as watch his struggle with parenthood, dating, divorce, ugliness, baldness, depression, laziness, fear of dentistry, etc. But every now and again the debasing deconstruction of the topics at hand bring us to territory that really isn't funny. This is not a fault of the show, but rather, I believe, purposeful. Louie conceives his view of the world as indeed authentic (I am supposing here -- I have no insider info), and so when we look into a show concerning his narcissistic mother, we receive tense, unseemly conversations rather than gut-wrenching laughter. Surprisingly often, Louie's character (himself) responds to the cruelty of those around him. In one episode he is bullied by a young jock in front of a date in a donut shop. Perhaps out of anger and a need for vindication, Louie follows the bully home. The youngster lives with his parents. So Louie knocks on the front door. He informs the bully's parents about the hoodlums unsavory actions. The boy's father responds violently, hitting the boy and physically forcing the blooming gangster to apologize. Louie responds by erupting at the parents for their shameful parenting. "No wonder your son acts this way," Louie surmises, and trots off. But the scene doesn't end there. It follows-through. As Louie exits the house, the son-battering father chases him down to apologize. The two-some share a smoke as they talk about their own personal inadequacies as parents. Neither of them feel qualified to raise kids in this world. We learn that this guy became a father at 20. Louie compares that to his own situation (he became a father at 34 -- or something like that). We are then allowed to fade out, after empathizing first with the victim (Louie), the bully (who himself is a victim), and the bully's bully (who tells us that his father beat him, and it's all he knows when it comes to discipline). We deconstruct the various parts of the puzzle in order to understand it and gain a right view of the situation.

Most of the time, for Louie, authenticity means deconstruction which leads to empathy. I would imagine that Louis C.K. would argue that this is not only the most correct way to live, but ultimately, the most loving, as it involves a level of empathy that dogmatic philosophies cannot reach.

Somewhat surprisingly, it took eleven episodes for Louie to tackle religion. The result is the least funny episode of the season -- and the most profound.

The entire narrative of the episode takes us to Louie's youth, when he attended a somber Catholic school. The Nun of the class, apparently a teacher, sternly describes Jesus' crucifixion to a class of yawns and snickers. This does not delight her. The next day she brings in a hired hand. A fella who appears much sterner than the stern nun, vividly and graphically chronicles Christ's passion. He has one of the boys portray Jesus, and near the end of the gory walkthrough, asks Louie to come up and literally drive a nail through his classmate Jesus' wrist. Of course, young Louie is frozen with fear and refuses to do the deed. The stern man tan rebukes the boy, 'then why do you continue to crucify Jesus with your sins?' The scene is pretty damn impacting. The acting continuously borders on the unbelievable, which incessantly kept me suspecting that priestal foul play was about to be afoot (as it seems all Catholic references on television these days has to involve pedophilia), but no, the narrative focused on the weight of sin on these kids.

After the traumatizing experience, young Louie can't sleep at night. He keeps thinking of his own sins, particularly of stealing candy bars from the store, and how these particular actions were killing Jesus. The boy, unable to carry the weight of his sin, runs to the church -- to the cross. And in a stunningly poignant moment, literally takes the nails off of the crucifix, all the while profusely apologizing. Louie wants to be guilt free, wants to make amends with the slaughtered lamb.

As the script goes, the boys' motives are completely overlooked as the head stern nun lady speaks of how the boy must be punished for his defaming crime.

The story resolves as Louie's mother admits her lack of faith in Jesus as a Messiah and her conviction that the practice of religion is silly.

And that's that.

The remarkable aspect of the episode is that it got so much of it right. It understood perfectly sin, understood Christ's innocence, understood repentance, but alas, missed the Gospel.

I could herein go on a diatribe of "Why I am Not a Catholic". I shall not. I say only this, if you do not tirelessly proclaim the truth that it is by grace man is saved, not by works, then you abandon the cause of our Christ.

 The Dawkins, Hitchens, and perhaps more relevant Zeitgeist following, appear as pungent adversaries to faith, I think they go against the cultural shift of authenticity. I say this because of people. Richard Dawkins can manage to be a dear old chap while debating the existence of God tooth-and-nail. This separation between personal orthodoxy and personal attitude is a tough (and I would conceive impossible for many) feat to attain. Fighting a movement of thought is one thing, but fighting the people that hold those beliefs is another thing entire.

Fighting a culture/religious war by slinging angry-ridden comments on an infowars.com article does not involve personal conflict. Telling your neighbor that his religion is a crock and he is an imbecile for following it is another. A truly authentic personal approach to such matters is that of tolerance, not because Louie and others believe that muslims, mormons, and evangelicals are worthy of being tolerated, but because it is too much of a hassle and daily downer to actively get into conflict with those of us who hold faith-based convictions. At the end of the day, this way-of-living will be a more devastating and seductive worldview than 'new atheism' because it lulls the individual by way of least resistance.


Another example: The Book of Mormon. Not the book, the play. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been making cultural waves for years through their juggernaut baby, South Park. Now, South Park is a strange little beast. G.K. Chesterton once wrote about how fantasy is superior to superhero comics (or something of its ilk) because it puts ordinary people in extraordinary situations, rather than focusing on extraordinary people in a (basically) normal world. Well, under that flagstaff South Park reigns, as it focuses on a group of regular (well, Cartman is not-so regular) fourth graders in a dumbfoundingly idiotic and extreme world. These fellas have made an art at taking stupid aspects of our culture and exploding them to an exponential degree, leaving only a few mild mannered boys left to reason their way out of the situation. Anyway, I didn't mean to focus on South Park.

The Book of Mormon --- I was quite looking forward to the broadway musical whenst I heard of it. I have long enjoyed the South Park episode devoted to examining the ridiculous genesis of the cult, so I assumed the musical would continue the tradition. Granted, I haven't seen the play, but a listen to the soundtrack offered on NPR's website revealed a gruesome situation; Mormonism comes out alright. Yes, the play does remind us that the groundwork of Mormonism is malarkey, but then seems to go on to say that that's a-okay. It's okay because Mormons tend to be good people, that is to say, despite its centeredness on a retarded unreality, the cult is a good people making machine. And so all is forgiven.


I reckon Dawkins and Hitchens (particularly Hitchens, I assume) feel that Parker and Stone gave those crazy Mormons a free pass... and they would be right to say so. But that's not the point now, is it?


No. 

At the end of the day, I find a lot to love about the current cultural climate. I think my soul would be heavy if I had to dwell in a place where it was more important to look proper than to be honest (those Mad Men were mad for a reason, eh?!). I reckon also that there is a lot going on inside the minds of Louie and the South Park dudes that resonates with Jesus. I think the rigid adherence to authenticity is something that Christ himself was/is about, as it always leads to folks realizing that they are messed up. And empathy has a close kinship with love, as we are moved to act when we are moved to empathize. I could be wrong here, but I also see a measure of forgiveness inherent in this movement. The recent Representative Weiner scandal went so poorly not because the phallically named and driven congressman was indecent, but because he lied about it. The ramifications for the cover-up are far worse in this day and age then the original crimes themselves (how former President Clinton got away with both is a bit strange to me, I confess).


Conversely, this age carries its demons. What Louie lacks is a sense of wonder, discovery and awe. Perhaps this is the most traditionally postmodern aspect of the culture: the intrinsic sense that there's nothing to be found out there. There's no meta-narrative to discuss. Ultimately, not only does this prevent the mind from engaging in the sublime and extraordinary (a gift I believe every human has been given the capacity to enjoy), but slowly erases the moral framework of the world, because it will inevitably slip into a slightly nihilistic disposition. If there is no meta-narrative, there is no point. If there is no point, if everything is ultimately meaningless, than there is neither right nor wrong. While this helps exploit the principles of empathy and forgiveness, it also raises their bastard counterparts: apathy and hedonism. So, you know, that's not too good.
 
Drug sellers apparently are reptiles. Evil reptiles.
To end this diatribe with a cliched monologue, I would like to allude to those PSAs that centered around folks and their Anti-Drugs. The idea was showing what certain folks were into that kept them away from the seduction of snorting a line of white stuff. Anyway, I can't help after watching that episode where young Louie takes nails out of my Savior's battered skin, to want to stand up and say something. I want to stand and say, "Absolutely! It's natural and indeed good to want to take those nails out! Absolutely. They killed an innocent man. That hurts. Morethanthat, once we understand that it really was our sin that drove Jesus to the cross, there is a deep seated sensation that he shouldn't have done it -- let us pay for our sins ourselves! Let us carry our own cross! Don't do it man! Save him from that death! (Of course, we can never pay the cost) But there's so much more to the story than death. He's alive now. And he died and rose again so that we wouldn't have to live up to some standard. The poor, the desolate, the forsaken, the lost, the screwed-up, the alcoholic, the waste-of-space --- when it is said that Jesus forgives their sins, it isn't with a caveat of 'once you become awesome and donate 1000 hours of service to widows and orphans. That's not grace.


Secondly, while tolerance can be a good thing, it doesn't hold a candle next to turning-the-other-cheek. That, I think, is the most controversial attitude that Christ calls us to. It goes so against what everyone in life tells us. We Christians, I think, fail most often and consistently at that one. In my mind, the other-cheek bit is taking tolerance to another standard. A higher plateau.

And now I end this unceremoniously.


Now.


Friday, July 1, 2011

A8

So as he's wailing, mind you, I'm not used to seeing a big fella like that just out-and-out sobbing, so I'm a bit taken aback by these unfolding events. And he pathetically blurts out, "I don't have anyone -- I'm alone." Normally, ya know, I think I wouldn't put up with that type of selfishness. If that were my kid saying that type of nonsense I'd slap that boy's backside with some sturdy rawhide, ya know what I'm saying. But I think when you meet these strangers, and see their pain, your gut tells ya to be nice. You want to help if ya can. So I say, "Geez, mister, it ain't all like that. You've got family, dontcha? And friends? Hell, I'll be your friend. It ain't all like ya think it is." He got real quiet for a moment. He sniffled. I thought I said something that stuck. But then he says, "You don't understand."


"What don't I understand?"

"He's an asshole, but he's right. I know he is."

"Who is. Who made you feel this way?"

"He hates me. That's what he said." And then he just slips out of my hands and sobs like a starvin' baby. I'm just about done with this crybaby, but I make one more try. "Buddy, tell me. Who's saying all this to you?".

"Samsara."

That's when I said, "Mister, I'm going into my flat now, and I'm returning with my pistol. If you're still here when I return. I shoot you dead. Sure enough, He was there when I returned, so I kept my word.