Monday, December 28, 2009

“Avatar”- Just a high-tech caricature?

So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For, as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead...." (Acts 17:22-29)



Conservative reviews of Avatar (e.g. by Movieguide's Dr. Ted Baehr and WND's Drew Zahn) definitely worked to prejudice my mind against James Cameron's reportedly groundbreaking blockbuster. They led me to expect an idol worshipping, anti-American screed calculated to draw impressionable minds into the moat of self-hatred that separates the zombies of the Obama faction from those still loyal to the American creed. Sometimes such reviews would be enough to convince me not to waste time on the glamorous evil of America hating propagandists, or add my resources to the treasury that finances their power.

But since childhood I've been a sucker for cinema fairy tales and science fiction. I've also had a weakness for animated films, inbred during the years when Disney was a name decent parents (including mine) still trusted. My adult years have been marked (or marred?) by a fascination with the new worlds of human expression cyber-technology makes possible. I am also convinced that those of us who fight to preserve America's respect for the authority of the Creator cannot do so with full intelligence if we simply ignore the powerful means this technology offers human fabricators to influence the backdrop of conscience and emotion against which the battle takes place.

The socialist forces seeking to establish an international regime of totalitarian elite domination use scenarios of global ecological collapse to foment the mentality of fearful crisis that serves their political agenda. As we now understand better than ever, this involves fabrications in the disguise of science. It has also routinely involved the use of cinematic fabrications that prepare the soil of human conscience and emotion to accept without question the lies disguised as 'scientific' facts.

Brandon Gray's description of Avatar as "a fantasy or science fiction action-adventure that's not based on pre-established material" may be accurate in the strict sense. But as fantasy melodrama, the film is highly derivative. In fact, this is probably among its most glaring flaws. Drew Zahn rightly describes it as "Ferngully on steroids, only not as subtle". But its predictable storyline seems equally beholden to a range of films from Star Trek: Insurrection (which involved a scheme to move an outwardly simple but morally sophisticated people from their beloved home planet in order to exploit a form of energy uniquely available there) to low grade epics like Sheena or the whole series of Johnny Weissmuller vehicles (e.g., Tarzan's Secret Treasure.) Like Avatar's protagonist, the English Lord gone African native, Tarzan, was known to whistle up a herd of angry elephants or well armored rhinos to crush the enemy's superior firepower. And as in Sheena (a similar plot, also set in Africa, with a nativized American woman as the movie's protagonist and namesake), there are feminist and sensualist touches that mark it, for better or worse, as a contemporary contraption. Avatar basically offers nothing truly original beyond a marriage of 3D, CGI and live action that moves well beyond the not so civil unions of the past.

In this respect the film reminded me of Titanic, the unequaled box office smash for which James Cameron's name is (and probably always will be) best remembered. The technological centerpiece of that film was the enormous set, a meticulous, carefully engineered reproduction of the ill fated passenger liner. Because Cameron invests such enormous money and energy creating the technological backdrop for of his productions he tends to spend way too much film time dwelling with prideful affection on the result. Some of that time would be better spent drawing his audience more deeply into the human and emotional background. That would have meant spending more time drawing the audience into the personal lives and relationships of the immigrants on the "Titanic", going beyond stylized scenes involving their amusements or externally caused travails. It would mean giving the audience a deeper sense of the personal lives and emotions of the alien natives of Avatar's planet Pandora, as well as the rank and file mercenaries who make up the security forces ultimately used to devastate their home.

The 3D technology in Avatar represents an almost seamless blend of living and imaginary elements that marks a new frontier for the cinematic use of animation (in the broadest sense of the term.) Unfortunately, Cameron's presentation of life through his characters is in other, ultimately more important ways, utterly lacking in depth and complexity. The images seem real, but by comparison the words and actions of the characters seem like the stick figures of a child's drawing, so abstract that only the over generous imagination of childhood, or the pristine power of adolescent romantic passion, lend them any semblance of true personality.

I believe this flaw is what keeps the movie from living up to its negative billing as an anti-American rant. Toward the beginning the invalid marine protagonist comments that at home marines fight for freedom, but on Pandora their only incentive is greed. The commander of the corporation's security forces is a one dimensional caricature meant to embody the perfect (and therefore indiscriminately destructive) military instrument of unbridled corporate greed. People who see anything especially "American" in this caricature say more about their own tragically distorted understanding of what it means to be American than they do about the film, whatever its intention.

As a black American I've lived all of my adult life recognizing the need to make a distinction between what America is and the injustice some Americans do. I have no problem cheering for innocent people, whatever their religious persuasion, when they fight back against those (American or otherwise) who disregard the spirit and personality of others in order to treat them as inferior beings to be casually swept aside by the juggernauts of greed and material power. I see nothing anti-American in their fight because the American creed champions the intrinsic, God ordained worth of every person, and condemns those whose pursuit of gold, business success or scientific progress impels them to disregard the lives and rights of innocent individuals or peoples. Throughout our history this has led Americans to support the cause of such peoples,
from 19th Mexico and Latin and South America, to 20th century Spain and Greece. Such American support was sometimes ignorant, thoughtless or naïve about what constitutes the better alternative to such power mad oppression, but a thoroughly American sense of justice inspired even such errors.

Avatar depicts a race of aliens facing such an unjust assault. They are people who believe that one living being unifies their people with all the living things on their world. A glowing, fern like 'Tree of Life' represents their point of contact with this world being. They believe that in death all who are truly part of the people return to this being. They believe that it is possible to pray to this being and by communion with it to commune with those who have departed this life. They believe that this being commands respect for life, and that healing, even at the brink of death, is possible by the power of this communion.

If we insist we can see in this depiction simply an effort to seduce vulnerable minds with lying semblances of truth. However, there's nothing particularly Christian about dismissing the wholesome elements of pagan belief as somehow inherently evil. The great Christian evangelists who spread the Gospel to the barbarian peoples as they overran the Roman Empire, and converted hearts in Asia, Africa and the Western hemisphere down through the centuries rather used God's word and their own Christ inspired discourse and actions to help people take hold of the little strand of truth contained in such beliefs. They sought to guide them, by dint of the reason and right sentiment God built into us, along the path that confronts mind and heart with the truth revealed by God in Scripture, and especially in the life and ministry of His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

The notion that some force in being unites all things is not the whole truth, but it reflects openness to the truth, established by the hand of God in the heart of all creation. The Bible reveals that there is but one God, one being from whom all things arise. Christ particularly emphasized the unifying force of being, which is His love. This oneness of being, in and through the love of God, may not be the same as the unity in nature worshipped by the alien natives in Avatar (or some real tribes and peoples on planet Earth) but it offers a starting point and common ground for the conversation of mind and heart that is the vehicle of conversion. Christians have no reason to fear such depictions of pagan belief, or treat them as inherently hostile or simply wicked. In fact, if we are not willing to look at them and think them through, how can the conversations that might lead to conversion take place?

James Cameron's cinematic work combines technological sophistication with an almost pathetically childish want of moral and spiritual maturity. In this he seems to reproduce the tragic flaw of the society whose people have made his films so profitable. Are the followers of Christ in America so caught up in the conflictual logic of the contemporary moral, social and political struggle that we cannot see that America now represents a mission field, its soil rich and much of it untilled? Are we so busy defending Christianity against attack that we forget our truer vocation, which is to share with all the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Part of this evangelizing work must involve taking seriously the strands of truth contained in works like Avatar; helping people to see the contradictions involved in the flawed human presentation of truth; and introducing them to the deep consistency with which the Gospel reveals what human craftsmen can, by themselves, only dimly see or represent.

In Avatar, for example, the native aliens of planet Pandora profess great respect for life, yet contemn and are moved to slay, with little qualm or introspection, the alien visitors whose blundering seems at first to involve only inadvertent destructiveness. Though their own use of the animals on the planet involves negotiation (symbolized by a form of communication that takes place through the intertwining of hair like strands), they simply dismiss the possibility of negotiation with the humans visiting their world. The oneness of life they revere appears therefore to be localized and to lead to what amounts to bigotry: casual hostility to strangers and even a brutal inclination to kill without compunction what they fear, despise or do not understand. Their concept of being respects oneness, but the one they respect is not the universal one. They revere life as a particular manifestation of wholeness, but seem to have no clear sense of the general manifestation of life that encompasses the whole of all possibilities. They are not open to all the ways of being, including those greatly different from their own, that the one Being brings to life and by so doing endows with a right to live that all are obliged to respect. In this they suffer from a defect of perception and understanding not unlike that which leads the corporate profiteers brutally to assault them.

This fictional instance of self-contradiction parallels the contradiction between the life revering ethic supposedly promoted by the film, and the embrace of the culture of death that today characterizes so much of America's creative elite. In the film, the profit hungry corporate apparatchik hesitates to order an assault when reminded that innocent children will be done to death in the ensuing onslaught. But the elite stars and producers who people the apparatus of the entertainment industry do not hesitate in their support for the legalized and purposeful slaughter of human embryos and infants. Such forms of human life have at least as much claim to be part of the great continuum of living Being as the aliens and animals the film shows being gutted and slain by the heedless abuse of military power. Is life to be respected when its alien appearance is mitigated by stylistic touches of grace and sensuality, but not when a more extreme divergence in appearance simply masks the identity between all humans and their offspring?

Do the entertainment elites sincerely respect the premise of holistic unity suggested by their professed embrace of humanitarianism and global ecological responsibility? If so, they are caught in precisely the web of self-destructive contradiction that Christ, in so many of his parables, sought to reveal and from which the Gospel offers true hope of redemption. Rather than simply reject and condemn the sophomoric creative works that expose this contradiction, Christians seeking to spread the Gospel might do better to do what Christ often did. Sometimes, fallible human contradictions appear as people feel their way toward God. He used them to expose the mind to truth, truth that the God created heart, as through a looking glass however darkly, still has the eyes to see; and by which, through the Grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ, all people may be saved.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A health care promise to believe in

Because it is the day on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas is a time of great joy which we mark with a special spirit of generosity as we seek to honor with our gifts the generous gift of life represented to the world by the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a time when we strive with more than usual intensity to follow the advice of the apostle, to put off all

"…anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices; and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free: but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. (Colossians 3:8-15)

In this good counsel we see epitomized all that our gifts and ornaments, our special Christmas acts of charity, forgiveness and love are meant to express. We see the Christ in Christmas.

Of course, "the rest of the story" of Christmas includes the account of a very different spirit, one that momentous political events during this Christmas season inevitably bring to mind. In the aftermath of Christ's birth, wise men came in search of him, asking "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" Fearing that this portended both the end of his kingly reign and the removal of the succession from his descendants, Herod, the king of Judaea, sent for these men and "sent them to Bethlehem, saying, 'Go and search diligently for the child and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.'" But after they found the Christ child and honored him with gifts and worship, "warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way."

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem, and in all that region, who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more."(Matthew 2:16-18)

Though the birth of Christ inspires our goodwill to unite in forgiveness and love, it has a very different effect on those preoccupied with consolidating human power. They know that Christ's birth represents a threat to their vaulting ambition. They respond to that threat with an effort to slay all innocence in order to put down the hope of innocent life Christ offers to all humanity.

In recent weeks America's elected leaders in Congress have been debating what is supposed to be a bill to reform the nation's health care sector. Its proponents pretend that their intent is better to serve life by extending health services to people in need. But their true intent has been revealed by the sly maneuvers and corrupt practices they have used to enforce their insistence that, come what may, the supposed health reform act must include U.S. government funding for child murder. Though, like Herod, they cloak their real intent, this insistence reveals their true priority. Their chief aim is not to assure all America access to health services. It is to make all Americans complicit in the slaughter of the innocents. Though their deceptive slogan speaks of choice, in the moral realm they are insisting that Americans who reject the absurd notion of a right to murder our posterity shall have no choice but to see the fruits of their labor used to reward a practice they rightly regard as an abomination.

This Christmastide I am praying that the true spirit of Christmas will prevail in the counsels of our nation. I am praying that, despite the bribes and threats of those who give top priority to murder, the heart of Christ will truly be born again in the hearts of enough representatives in Congress to put a halt to the charade of evil which claims to serve our nation's health but aims in fact to destroy its healthy conscience and goodwill. With such courage, they will offer their nation a gift truly in keeping with the gift of God we celebrate: the birth of the one whose triumph over death renews, despite all evil human willing, God's offer of more abundant life for all. That's a health care promise to believe in.


MERRY CHRISTMAS

Friday, December 18, 2009

The evolutionist's comical dogma

Here is my latest article at WND.com.  If you would like to leave a comment after reading it, please return here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why the elite wants Christianity out of politics

As I wrote my most recent article for WND.com (the subject of my previous posting) I found myself thinking about Christianity's unique effect on our understanding of the justice (and injustice) of human action. The last point made in the article is about the connection between arrogant elitism and the self-inflation the Pharisee derives from comparing himself with other people. In light of this connection we can better understand why the elitist forces that strenuously promote the specious doctrine of the separation of church and state are so often guilty of favoritism. They invoke the doctrine to repress Christian institutions and practices, while treating those of other religions as protected artifacts of "cultural diversity." I think this discrimination has to do with the fact that the words and example of Christ convey an understanding of human authority that supports the sovereignty of the people even as it undermines the assertion of elite predominance (the sovereignty of the wealthy, more intelligent, more talented few.)

However we may characterize it ideologically, the ultimate effect of the present push to overturn the principal of consent as the lawful basis for government is to reestablish the rule of the few, whose assumption of power derives from their Pharisaical claim to be superior to the rest. On the convenient excuse of whatever problem or crisis happens to be handy (the jobs crisis, the health crisis, the environmental crisis, the crises of poverty, hunger, homelessness etc.) they assert the urgent need for approaches that concentrate control of more and more resources and decision-making in the hands of professional and bureaucratic elites. Against the preponderance of evidence and logical reasoning, they pretend that centralized government institutions will deal with the critical challenges we face more effectively than those that respect individual liberty. Of course, as they advocate this view they are not as open as the Pharisee about their assumption of moral superiority. They cloak their assertion of superior righteousness with a fabricated perception of scientific knowledge, global catastrophe and compassionate egalitarian intention. But once the smoke and mirrors of crisis and compassion have served their purpose, we will be left with the reconstructed edifice of unchecked elite domination. The elite promise is that people will enjoy the comfortable dependency of well cared for household pets. But once elite control is consolidated, some will suffer the brutalization and casual destruction of lab rats or noisome vermin while most experience the commingled care and misery once bestowed on work horses or pack animals, valued mainly for the work they perform for their betters.

A discussed in "The Publican's Prayer" Christ's insistence on the perfect standard of God's will ("Be ye therefore perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48) undermines the claim of intrinsic superiority that gives some appearance of justice to this elite consolidation of power. But more radical still is what he says even to the Pharisees: that "the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21) In his kingdom, the word of the king is the law. Those who have direct access to the sovereign are therefore privileged to hear at first hand the content of the law. When they pass it on to others they speak with an authority derived from their direct access to the king, and their words cannot be definitively contradicted except by others with the same access. What Christ says to every person is that they have direct and exclusive access to the King of all Creation, the author whose name is the root of authority in every sense. Though common to all, this access is, even so, radically exclusive because it involves the inner being of the individual, to which only that individual has direct access. All the subjects of human kings are thus vessels of God's authority. Made in His image, they have within themselves a model or likeness that accords with His will. The knowledge they derive from this model appears in the natural promptings of conscience, whereby they judge what they do to others in light of their own reaction to what others do to them. ("Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12)

When discussing personal morality, it is common enough in Christian parlance to speak of every individual as a temple of God, i.e., a venue in which the will of God resides. Christ's reference to the Kingdom of God within us also has implications for the just exercise of sovereign power, implications that bear directly on our understanding of lawful government. As a direct and exclusive form of access to the sovereign is available to all individuals, no one person or group of persons can by themselves have an unchallengeable claim to speak with sovereign authority over all the rest. Every other individual is a potential check on their claims, and may in his or her own right claim to be consulted as to the authenticity, content and meaning of the sovereign's will. The understanding of God's rule achieved through Christ thus becomes the basis for limiting the just claims of human rule to governments that respect the individual's right to be consulted, i.e., those "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

This suggests that the political premise of the American Declaration of Independence draws upon and reflects the most basic Christian understanding of the meaning and political consequences of human moral equality (that is, the equality of all people before God.) Christ's American followers face increasing pressure from elitists who seek to drive their exercise of faith from politics, and indeed from all the arenas affected by law and public policy. In dealing with this pressure, we would do well to think through the vital connection between our faith and the principle of government by consent. Christ's teaching does not conflict with the requirements of Constitutional self-government. In truth, government by consent is based on an insight into the nature of political authority that would not have been achieved except through Christ. As Christ's followers are driven, as such, out of the political life of our country, what will become of this insight? It has dim prospects. For some people, that's the whole point; isn't it?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Publican's Prayer

Here is this week's article at WND.com. As always, I would be interest in your reaction, so return here to leave a comment.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Being an American-what makes the difference?

Not long ago I received an email that struck me as a thought provoking comment on what it means to be an American. It also goes to the heart of what Obama faction media puppets like Chris Matthews really hate about the American military- i.e., their moral allegiance to liberty and the Constitution meant to incorporate it.

I asked Gary Hallmark, the retired Naval Officer who sent me the email, for permission to share it with the readers of this blog, which he has given. As you read it ask yourself, Is this nation still made up of individuals who, like so many of our fellow citizens in uniform, not only swear allegiance to a "piece of paper", but are willing to die for the moral ideas it represents? I don't know the answer to that question. But soon and very soon we will find out.

Dear Mr. Keyes,
>
> As a retired Naval Officer, one of my assignments while serving on
> active duty was serving as a Military Observer with the United Nations
> in the Middle East. While serving in Egypt in such a capacity, I found
> myself in a conversation one day with a Danish Army Officer who also
> was serving as a Military Observer. The topic of the conversation was
> the United States of America and my loyalty to it. During the
> conversation, the Danish Army Officer stated to me that the rest of
> the world did not understand the United States. When I asked why, he
> explained that the United States was different. He stated that as a
> people we wanted to be liked, and since people in the rest of the
> world knew this, then the rest of the world was not going to like us;
> he stated that the rest of the world would respect us, yes, but “we
> will never like you.” When I asked him why he believed that, he asked
> me, “Gary, who did you swear an oath to?” I told him, “I did not swear
> an oath to anybody, but as a Officer in the United States Military, I
> had sworn an oath to the Constitution of the United States of America.”
>
> The Danish Army Officer replied that was the problem, that was what
> the world did not understand, how an individual or individuals could
> swear an oath to a piece of paper. He went on to explain that as a
> Danish Army Officer he had sworn an oath to his country and his
> countrymen. He went on to say other nations swear an oath to their
> king or to their nation, but “you swore an oath to a piece of paper.”
>
> I replied that the Constitution of the United States of America was
> not a piece of paper, but it was a representation of an ideal that
> incorporates the fundamental principles upon which our nation and its
> government were founded for the people, by the people, and of the
> people and that every military officer I knew was prepared to give
> their lives to defend it and the American people’s right of self-rule.
>
> The Danish Army Office then told me that was the point; that this
> nation is made up of individuals who not only swear to this “piece of
> paper,” but who are willing to die for that ideal; and it is an ideal
> that people leave their home countries for, and those that don’t, are
> envious of those who do so. He went on further and explained that as a
> Dane he could relate to other Danes because of their culture, language,
> heritage, but he said, “Americans are different.” I replied to him,
> “Yes, we are because we are united in freedom. Freedom of self-rule
> and freedom of self-determination, both of which are guaranteed by the
> Constitution of the United States.” His response, I will never forget,
> “And that is what we don’t understand and that is why the rest of the
> world envies the United States.”
>
> Mr. Keyes, during my tour with the United Nations, I was subjected to
> the type of conversation I described above more than once. The one
> above stands out in my memory because it was the first such
> conversation and it was the first time in all my travels that a
> non-citizen of the United States had admitted an envy of our great
> country and the ideal by which we live, an ideal embodied in the
> Constitution of the United States of America. Yes, certain people in
> this country have little to no respect for the Constitution of the
> United States, but the military does. I was a young officer in the
> military when Nixon resigned as President. I remember very well the
> steps the military took to ensure that no one attempted to use the
> military to interfere in what was taking place. Why? Because those
> military individuals then, just as the military individuals now, had
> sworn an oath /to support and defend the Constitution of the United
> States against all enemies, foreign and domestic./ May that always be
> the case.
>
> Respectfully,
> Richard G. Hallmark
>