Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why the Movie Interstellar is in a League of it’s Own

Full disclosure: I’ve become the movie critic that I grew up thinking was completely out of touch with reality. You know who I’m talking about. The guy who can’t enjoy the cartoonish acts of violence and endless chase scenes because it makes no sense to him. The guy who abhors the continual releases of the “morally ambiguous superhero who punches the guy-who-wants-power into defeat” types and can no longer bring himself to watch them. That’s me. Although I prefer to think of it as an appreciation of the fact that philosophy drives art, and art drives culture. Movies are forms of art. If you don’t agree that movies send messages you won’t appreciate Interstellar as much as I did, so fair warning.

Having stated the criteria by which I primarily make a judgement, let me also acknowledge up front the problems with this movie, as a movie. There are two big failings: stilted characters and logical inconsistencies.
In the entire first act we witness people doing things not because their character would, but because they have to in order to advance the plot. That’s terrible, and combined with weak dialogue the characters don’t really get a chance to shine. They’re serviceable, good even, but not great.
Worse, at the close of the movie the audience looks back across the story and realizes that the already thin plot has failed completely. Earth has becoming uninhabitable thanks to a mysterious blight which kills all plants, yet for some reason none of our talented scientists could figure out how to beat it, even though our knowledge of biology is so advanced that we can put people into suspended animation and our physics is so complete that we can effortlessly move at near relativistic speeds. And rather than build domes on Earth where gravity is good, water is plentiful, and we have a decent shot at retaking the planet, a small group of impoverished government officials devise a plan to start over in another solar system. Eventually they settle on a new planet just like Mars orbiting a blackhole on the other side of a wormhole, which begs the question, “why didn’t they just settle Mars?” To which the only answer is, ‘you just invested three hours plus in a non-Lord of the Rings movie. Don’t go there, girlfriend.’ Far better had the explanation been that our sun was going to explode. 
Those problems are substantial, and to them we could probably add a few more minor ones, like a few senseless deaths and whatnot, but none of them are able to overcome what makes this is movie one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. So with that out of the way, let’s move on to a proper review.

In the first act we find out the movie is very much in the mold of 2001 a space odyssey in that it’s a romp through the void which plies at the meaning of human evolution. In the original Kubrick film we have the action taking place around Jupiter, in this one, Saturn. In that a killer robot, in this, a robot that merely jokes about spacing the crew. In that one, a magical obelisk which guides mankind, in this one it’s mankind themselves reaching back across time and space. In the first, good visuals, music, and clever technology, in this one the same but even better (the planet that suffers from the huge tidal waves was spectacular, as was the brief view we got of the black hole sun). The first act plods forward as a necessity in setting up the characters, the background information, and the meaning of their actions.

It’s in the second act the villains are revealed and enough of the pieces come together that the movie quits copying and starts shining. Nolan shows his hand to us, revealing this movie is really something like a treatise on what it means to be human right now. That’s why when Dr. Mann tries to murder Cooper by smashing his helmet while mouthing platitudes of manifest destiny I stood up and cheered for the boldness of it all.
You see Mann (who faked his data for the betterment of mankind, just like the real Dr. Mann of Penn state) is borrowed from Professor Weston in C.S. Lewis’ book Out of the Silent Planet. The pivotal scene at the end of that novel features the angel of Mars quizzing Weston on why he’s brought so much violence with him, and in response Weston says basically that, “To colonize other worlds we must pay any price.” The angelic rejoinder is, “To what end? You have no love neither for your own people nor mine, it seems the only thing you love is the idea of your own seed.” To this there’s no answer and so Weston throws up his hands in frustration, “I’m not a metaphysician here to chop logic!”
It’s the same character as Ghandi—someone who loves the idea of humanity, but cares nothing for the people themselves. It’s brilliant. Mann represents the single, unattached, and therefore selfish person, willing to do anything to advance his own agenda, even if that means murdering the few remaining people he’s with who can help him. He loves mankind but not people. And that’s evil. We see this in the lying old man Dr. Brand who set the scheme in motion. Although he has a daughter to temper his selfishness, he’s cut from the same cloth, which drives home the point that individual people have value and should be loved, and that anyone who avoids this fact will end up evil, even if they think they’re working toward a good end. Or as Cooper perfectly encapsulates this later as, “love is meaningless unless it’s focused, unless it’s directed toward a person.”
Mann and Brand may be likened to our selfish, childless, consumer driven society that builds beautiful buildings and stuffs them full of hardworking scientists engineers, to an ultimately loveless end. Or a politician. Or a socialist government.

In the third act the protagonist drops into a blackhole and the movie appears to go screwball unless you’d figured out by then that the whole thing was really a story about love. Being human means loving. (No, this movie is not about science. The movie has science in it, but don’t be confused—just because the secular humanists who worship Science as their god rushed out to write reviews praising their idols it doesn’t change the fact that this movie is about love. Love is the hidden formula, love is the key to every puzzle, love is gravity, love is science. It draws people together, it distorts time, it reaches across space. Love is at the center of the universe. Love is the laws of thermodynamics. As Cooper says, “to get somewhere you’ve got to give something up,” and what he physically demonstrates is Newtons third law, but what Nolan is hitting you over the head with is that to become loving we must we leave behind our selfishness. The concrete expression Nolan has in mind here is children. We love by having children and giving up our selfish lives and start taking care of someone else. Again as Cooper said, we’re not called to be caretakers (of ourselves), we’re called to pioneer. He uses love like gravity to send a message to his daughter and saves her.

And just when you think that the whole point of the movie was to show us that we become great and noble when we have kids and sacrifice for them, the penultimate scene has Cooper leaving his dying daughter to show that love for your offspring isn’t the chief end of love. It’s love for your spouse. That’s the fountain. Children are merely the fruit of a love between a man and a woman, the result of it. So Cooper leaves the floating space station to start a new life, an adventure, with the woman he loves. (Incidentally I’m convinced the reason Coopers daughter has the prominent spot is because Nolan was making this movie as a message as advice for his daughter. “Get married, have kids. Love your neighbors, love your people, but most of all love your husband. Love them, and in so doing you’ll learn to be selfless, and that’s will lead to nobility, virtue, wisdom, and purpose in life, which are the best things. Want to know how we’ll grow as humans in the future? Want to know what evolution really looks like? It looks like growing in love.”

Once it came to a close and I grasped that I was not only not surprised to see Interstellar was snubbed for awards, I’m amazing there weren’t boycotts over it. Hollywood praises perversions. If you have a movie that promotes gay marriage, or the struggle for transgendered youths to use the bathroom of their choice they’ll cheer and hand you medals and trophies. Praise an abortion doctor and they’ll hand you piles of money. This movie said to that philosophy, “You people know nothing of love and enjoyment. You’re the kind of hypocrites who would kill your own friend on a foreign planet because he saw you for what you were. You want to know real joy? Be a dad to your daughter as she grows up and love her mother. You take your multiple genders and gay marriage and cram it all.”
All I can say to that kind of boldness is wow. I forgive you for the plot holes, the too loud music, the silly explanations for things like wormholes and the notion that we are evolving into 5th dimensional beings because you stood against the tide and admitted the God of the Christians is right. Hallelujah, someone gets it!

One more thing: did I as a Christian think the idea that love will make us into gods is blasphemous? Well yeah, obviously. Would I liked to have a bit at the end about Jesus being our perfect example of love and how we find love only in Him? Again, yes. But nonetheless look at it for what it is: a piece of art by a secular director which repudiates completely the spirit of the age. In so doing it’s come a significant distance toward our philosophy while at the same time packaging his message in a way that the secular world imbibes without even realizing it. And really, this is far more Christian than most Christian movies themselves (Fireproof, I’m looking at you).
So I jump for joy. Everyone should watch it. 10 out of 10.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Some Musings on Immutability

God must be immutable, because He said so (Ps 102:25-27). If His plans, attributes, nature, or promises could change then salvation would be impossible, because who's to say He might not change for the bad and become an all powerful wicked tyrant who desires to crush the universe forever? We must have a perpetually good God to trust or else we're lost. But this is a problem, because how will an immutable God save us from sin?

The Scriptures indicate that when Jesus paid the sins of mankind on the cross He became sin (2 Cor 5:21), and a curse (Gal 3:13), at which point His perfect unity with the Father was broken and He cried out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" (Matt 27:46). The perfect harmony and unity of the Godhead was broken when Jesus confronted sin. If God was immutable when that happened then the eternal fellowship of the trinity would be eternally broken and He would cease to be God. (This is because His nature is outside of time, therefore if it is broken at any time it's broken at every time.) It may be the case that the only thing stronger than sin and death is God, but it's no less true that it's impossible for an immutable God to pay for our sins. We need to have help from a mutable God.

But that runs into the first problem doesn't it? If our God changes then He can't be counted on to save us, but if He doesn't then we can't get help from Him either. So how can we have an immutable God who is at the same time mutable? Answer: by having Him wrap Himself in humanity and adding our nature to His own. Thus Jesus stepped into manhood and added the ability changing to His unchangingness, so that He would be able to swallow the sins of the world and come out the other side in fellowship with God.

Or in other words, it's only because Jesus lives in time that He can pay for the sins for a time
In the God-man this difficulty is resolved. The sins don't break His unity with the trinity forever, only temporarily. 

One last thought: in Jesus we clearly see mutability wed inseparably to immutability, but how does that work? This is speculation, but I suspect there is a higher, or better name for the attribute that encompass both together without contradiction. For example I was trying to explain a yellow light to the kids and I said "when you see it you either speed up or slow down." They responded, "how can it mean both of those things together?" because they didn't grasp the higher rule, "clear the intersection." I don't know what that attribute or name might be, but I'm convinced that mystery is going to give way to revelation and we'll see it eventually.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why the Churches of Christ are turning liberal

What accounts for the rapid shift of the Church of Christ culture into liberalism? The speed of the change has puzzled me for some time, however yesterday I realized what the explanation was.

First, let me say what I don’t think the reason is. I don’t think it’s because of abuse in the CoC that it’s happening. I don’t think people are going to church, getting abused and cruelly mistreated, then deciding that the problem was theology and head for the opposite doctrines. While I think that a church full non or immature Christians will tend to drive people out, in the old days we solved that by going across the street and starting another church of Christ with people we got along with better. The conservative doctrines still remained. It further doesn’t account for the people who remain in the church and shift liberal.

Until recently I thought the explanation for it was that one day the church of Christ woke up, realized it was legalistic, and in an effort to cure this grabbed the nearest thing it could find, which was culture. This is a fairly compelling explanation, to be sure. The churches of Christ were always a product of their times, the Saddleback or Willow Creek style mega-church are the modern Christian culture, therefore it seems reasonable that the CoCs are merely adopting the liberal Willow Creek model. But I hear my dad’s warning in my minds ear: cum hoc ergo propter hoc. Just because the CoC and Evangelicalism are sliding leftward together doesn’t mean Evangelicalism caused it, and the way to figure out if this is so is to ask why—why didn’t the CoC simply remain conservative like the growing Calvary Chapel denomination? Why are the people who remain in the system saying increasingly liberal things?

So having said what I think it’s not, I now say what I think it is: I think the Churches of Christ appear more liberal now because they’re being tested more now, and the fact that they haven’t actually been conservative for at least a couple of generations is showing. The tell for this is because they never talk about repentance. I can tell you from experience that growing up that we never, and I mean never talked about repentance, and the result was predictably that growing up I didn’t fully understand faith, and therefore salvation. But now that I’m out of the culture I get it. Repentance is the negative image of faith. Faith says “You are God alone” and repentance says, “I am not.”
Faith says, “salvation is a gift” and repentance phrases that same thought as “I did nothing to earn it, or merit it. It’s not a wage, and if God withholds it from me then He’s just.”
Faith says, “Love righteousness, love the Bible, pursue holiness.” Repentance: “loved not the world, hate the things which come between you and the Scriptures, hate sin.”
Faith says “give me Jesus,” repentance says “away with everything else.”
John the Baptist preached the true gospel using only the repentance part. Jesus said He came to call sinners to repentance. He upbraided Chorazin for not repenting and praised Nineveh for doing it. When asked what people should to do be saved Peter told them to repent, and when Paul stood before the great minds of Athens told them the same.
Before I go on let me head off the “Yes we do talk about repentance” objection. I strongly suspect the CoC once did talk about repentance, perhaps two generations ago, but in the world that I grew up in I only heard things that were like repentance—admonitions not to be people who commit certain sins or hold doctrinal errors. (Running down the Baptists for their easily-believeism was something I heard frequently, for example.) Don’t confuse real and fake repentance. Real repentance turns inward to forsaking pride and sin, false repentance looks outward to forsaking things. False repentance sets up rules so it can gain easy moral victories and make it look like it’s doing well at leaving the world behind, but real repentances actually does leave the world behind. False repentance tells everyone it’s building a wall to keep the world out, but in actuality it’s only building the wall to keep pride in. Real repentance doesn’t build anything however, it purges. So don’t tell me the churches of Christ teach real repentance, because they’re painting the outside of the house to make it look presentable to the neighbors while the inside is an episode of hoarders. They’re washing the outside of the cup while the inside remains dirty. Outward conformation to a culture or code of conduct to fit in is not the same thing as godly repentance.

I say all that to say this: the church of Christ has been liberal ever since it gave up the doctrine of repentance because faith without repentance is the very definition of liberalism. It’s a faith that sounds genuine, but is in actuality what James calls dead faith. It’s Israel in the divided kingdom committing the sins of Ahab in worshipping the true God and Baal together, or in the days of Jereboam worshipping God through the use of prohibited idols. It’s a pious syncretism. Is it enough to save? I don’t doubt some will be saved, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can get away with tampering with the message of “take up your cross and follow me.” Faith without repentance may look like the real thing, it may even sound like the real thing, but in the end it’s liberalism. “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.”

The church of Christ doesn’t preach repentance; therefore the church of Christ is liberal. And this happens to agree with what Evangelicalism is doing, by the way. The broader Christian culture has changed the meaning of gospel from believe and repent to believe. That’s why people think they’re giving the gospel to sinners by telling them God loves them. It’s why the message of unconditional love is the only thing that matters to us anymore. But what’s really happening is that in an effort not offend people we’ve settled on giving them the first part (believe) but not the second (repent). In our day, the gospel message has become “neither do I condemn you,” without adding “now go and sin no more.” It’s “Jesus loves you and came to earth to save you,” without bothering to say “because you’re not okay as you are, and if you go on the way you’re going, you’ll end up miserable in hell forever.” Yes, it’s true to say Jesus loves us where we are, but we need to also say He loves us enough to not leave us there clutching our affections for the world. He’s the one who said you can’t serve two masters after all. Or as John put it, if anyone loves he world the love of the Father is not in him.

(Another side note: I’m more and more convinced blunting the hard edge to get more people to listen to us is cruel, not loving. The offensiveness of the gospel isn’t a side effect you can get rid of, it’s the thing itself. Kicking out the offensive part gives you another gospel, and if you present that to people you’re not helping them, you’re hurting them. An air traffic controller who loved you would tell you when you’re about to fly into a mountain. A doctor who cared about you would break your heart with the news of cancer. A gospel that doesn’t call us out of darkness isn’t calling us into light. Our culture inherently realizes it is sinful, and has no foundation for its values. As a consequence people are destroying everything they can as they dig down into a pit of madness in the hopes of hitting bedrock. They are desperate for something real, something substantial, and when we package Christianity as a super-happy-fun-double-plus-good version of the world they already know (and hate) we’re only driving them to suicide. We need a word that is sharp and arresting; a rebuke; a message from a faraway country that actually smells different from the putrid corpse they're used to. They need something pure and wholesome. Ever wonder why Christianity has penetrated deeply in our culture and not completely transformed it? Because it's stopped being real Christianity once we started failing to call sin what it is.)

And that’s why conservative people in the Churches of Christ side with the liberals. When you’re committing to imbibing sin and reconciling with your faith it rather than confronting it, the result is liberalism. Unfortunately for the Christians who don’t have a great grasp of the message of salvation (a product of not understanding repentance) they’ll side with sin and see no cause for alarm, and no amount of water the boat takes on will convince them that the ship is sinking.

Pray then, for revival.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Virtue of Porn

Someone needs to say it: porn has a little slice of virtue in it. And because I'm tired of the ugly feminist raging against men and demanding they ban porn because it's degrading to women, I'm going to try my hand at a more sober analysis on why porn is really dangerous.

Porn Leverages Beauty

"Well of course" I hear you saying, "staring at beautiful women is sort of the whole point of the thing." Right, I know that seems obvious, but stop and consider it for a moment. The drawing power of porn lies in taking a natural desire to appreciate beauty, a delight in woman for her child bearing abilities, and a desire to lead a woman, and twists it. Everyone wants to jump ahead to the twists part of porn but don't just yet--it's important we recognize that porn gets its power from what God created to be natural and glorious.
Set aside its twisting and corrupting effects for a moment and you'll see that the thing is itself paying homage to God, since at creation He created woman to be delightful so that the world would be richer. He made her lovely so that she would be the glory of man, and He made us to naturally be drawn to that beauty. More importantly, He made her so that we could be be able to fulfill the command He gave us (be fruitful and multiply), which means there is inherently an element of reproduction that woman brings to a mans mind. Thirdly, because man was created first and given the tasks and authority, he's the head, and in the position of power, and is well pleased when a woman accepts this. These three things are by design. They are a result of God's plan being what it is. Their existence shows that God created His order both well and beautifully. It is on the basis of this that porn makes it's appeal.

So? What's Your Point?

We've gone so far around the bend in our culture in fighting against Gods design for us that porn is now better, more honest, and more decent than we are. We've so filled culture with the trash of man-hate that there is actually now a scent of a far away land about porn, a pinch of the true, noble, and heavenly mixed in with the smell of burning sulfur. We've so warped the idea of a man that porn is now standing nearer to God than culture is. To those who think porn is the problem of our age I propose a more accurate and sobering statement: porn is more virtuous than we are. And that's bad. Very bad.
I suppose proof is in order.

A Hatred for Manish Things

I need to reach no further than some current events. Did you follow the case of Lena Dunham for example? She accused a fraternity of raping her and it eventually came out that she was lying--after the school punished the fraternity. She was rewarded with heaps praise from our culture after that it came out that she lied and ruined peoples lives because she was "raising awareness." Her story isn't uncommon. Men in TV, movies, or books are boorish, brutish, stupid, and useless, which is merely a reflection of our society at large since the welfare state has pushed men out of the role of breadwinner and out of the home. Women are celebrated for having high paying jobs and flipping the men into the role of house-husband.
I've even felt the effects personally. Although I teach the junior high group at AWANA, I'm not allowed to use the bathrooms on campus because I'm a man, and men are by nature child molesters. I took the family out for pizza and told my kindergartener she could go to the bathroom by herself, but the wife objected saying "she'll walk by the mens restroom."

Fundamentally there's no respect for men to be men, and though society still needs us, we've reached the point where we put our heads down, try to pass through places unnoticed and unscolded, and apologize for being born what we are. We try to be women as best we are able and even so society frowns at us. Yes, even you, Christian wives. Your listening to Focus on the Family and K-LOVE isn't helping anything--all those bozos have done is thrown a thin veneer of Christianity over the underlying pop-culture of man hate and pretended it's an upward call.
Except there's still a few voices out there calling us to boldly fight back and say "screw them, embrace your mannishness without apology." The strongest voice doing that right now is porn. Porn says, "Look men, we agree that all these stupid gender roles modern society is pushing are absurd. House dad? Pssh. Just another kid the wife has to take care of? Gay is cool and sexy? Who's fooled by those lies? All that crap was made by people who hate you and who want to see you harmed. But you know what? We don't want that. We want you to be what you are. We're on your side against them. We like it when you act like men. So act like a man and claim your birthright, we find it attractive. Very attractive." Porn acknowledges God's natural order against society, and for that reason its sweeter and more alluring than it otherwise would be. 

The Real Problem of Porn

Don't hear me saying porn is good. It's not. In fact we're now in a position to talk about why it's bad, but first, I ought to mention what the problem with porn isn't. It isn't the angry screed I've often read as, "Porn makes men into adulterous barbarians! If you look at porn you are no better than child kidnappers or a mob boss running a child prostitution ring. It's because of you that young girls are being exploited! Men are the worst!!!" because here again the narrative of "men are bad" is assumed and that's the whole reason porn looks better than it should.
The real problem is that porn feeds your pride. And that's worse. Infinitely worse. Pride is the ultimate sin. The chief sin. It's the father of sin, begetting in some sense all the rest of them. In our fallen state pride is initially pleasurable, even as it numbs you over time, and lulls you into a coma.

That's why porn is addictive--because it's heroin to pride, inflating it faster than almost anything else (except perhaps getting an enormous sum of money right away, like winning the lottery) and that pride makes you feel good, makes you feel powerful. But a man full of pride is ultimately a man full of nothing but himself. He cares nothing for real people, he only cares about how he may use them for his own ends. His own wife or children become nothing more than objects. He can't hold a relationship. It's not the women he looks at that are addictive, it's the need to feed his pride.
Real happiness comes in servitude, born out of humility, and it's because of pride that porn makes for a miserable man.

In Sum

I hope you're now seriously considering the idea that the real reason porn has exploded in popularity is not just because it's more accessible (it is), nor that we can do them quietly now (we can), nor even that they're just the right shape to fit the hole designed into us (my first point), but because porn celebrates mannishness when nobody else will. People are running to porn to find a genuine expression of God's goodness, even if it's a perverted form of it.  
But don't take the word of a conservative baptist for it, see for yourself what a secular woman has to say about the popularity of porn.

Orthodoxy Chapter 5 - The Flag of the World

So it’s beyond question that our world is a fairy tale, but there’s also no denying that something is seriously wrong with it as well, becau...