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Hunger Games: Catching Fire — Cosmetics and Self-Sacrifice

In Books, Movies and Television, False Dichotomies - the lines between on November 29, 2013 at 5:58 am

Catching FireLoved it!

OK, now the thing that really set me off.

Before I was a kid, the film was preceded by newsreels — meaningful because it was informative with a little propaganda thrown in for good measure.

When I was a kid, the movie was preceded by a cartoon–meaningless, but entertaining.

Now, the film is preceded by commercials–demeaningful.  They are demeaning.  They reduce audiences of people to mere consumers.

One of the commercials that preceded the latest adventure of Katniss Everdeen as she, once again, squares off against the evils of them Capital, was for a new line of makeup for Cover Girl.

And the name of this new, somewhat outlandish line?

The CAPITAL Line!

The trilogy written by Suzanne Collins is in the genre of dystopian fiction. That is, it presents a horrible world against which the protagonist must contend. The whole point of this genre, and therefore this particular movie, is to be a warning. By exaggerating and projecting into the future an aspect or aspects of our present day culture, this movie makes us more aware of our vice, or (at least) our folly.

The Capital is frivolous and exploitive. One scene in particular, brings this home. Our heroes are forced to attend a Capital party where there are so many good things to eat, Peeta laments he cannot try them all. He is immediately offered a beverage that will empty his stomach of its contents so that he may start all over again. The irony of this is not lost on Katniss who comments that many in the districts starve while they provide all the resources for those in the Capital to maintain their lifestyle of excess. Oh, and as an external symbol of the Capital’s excess –meaningless adornment.

Enter Cover Girl’s Capital Line of cosmetics.

If the audience were capable of absorbing the core meaning of this film, Cover Girl would right now be attempting to recover from one of the greatest advertising dabacles in history.  Young women would be rushing home from the theatre to post pictures to Facebook of them destroying all their Cover Girl products, or shooting kabob skewers at magazine-ad targets with bows made of pencils and rubber-bands.

But alas, Cover Girl didn’t make a mistake.

They know that we are capable of believing one thing, and doing another.

. . . crossing the line between knowing and doing

We can root for Katniss and everything she stands for, while in our theatre seats, but when we walk into the air, we become, once again, the citizens of the Capital, blind to our frivolous and exploitive lifestyle.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Cover Girl, particularly. I’m sure they no longer test their products on baby seals, but that they succeed in selling a product line based on the antagonist shows a disconnect.

Imagine an Anglo-Saxon buying a compact car called the Grendel, or the medieval peasants wearing Turk Brand jeans, or the British public ordering up a pint of Prussian Ale–in 1916. It wouldn’t be possible.

Why can Cover Girl get away with it today?

Because we are different than our predecessors.  For them truth and action were inseparable.

For us, there is a gap between knowing and doing.

Not so, in the movie.  The main virtue celebrated in the film was doing what one knew.  Katniss, and the rest of the good guys, knew the Capital was wrong in their exploitation of others and that things needed to change, so they did something about it, even in the face of great pressure to do otherwise.  They each embodied the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice.  As a matter of fact, this is the primary error of President Snow–he assumes that once in the arena, Katniss she will betray her professed altruistic values and become the killing machine he knows her to be.  He is right that if she does this, the revolution will be over.  All of the revolutionaries are banking on her constancy–and she lives up to these expectations.  It is not only Katniss that embodies the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice; for Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, Mags, Fennick, and Prim there is no gap between knowing and doing.

I loved this movie, because it was true, but does it really do any good if we don’t act on that truth?

And do we really live in an age when art no longer has any effect?

Jesus and Injustice: 12 Years a Slave

In Books, Movies and Television on November 22, 2013 at 4:58 am

12-years-a-slaveI had to drive past two super-sized cinemas, both showing the same eight (bad) movies so I could see 12 years as a Slave. My wife and I like to see all the movies with Oscar buzz and, given the reviews, thought this one was a must see, so we made the trip. I’m not sure it lives up to the comparison with Shindler’s List, but it was good.

(Spoiler Alert)

It was good, but I was a little irritated by the portrayal of Christianity in the film.

Not only were the slave owners explicitly Christian, but the one sympathetic character–the one who boldly expressed abolitionist ideals–was not. The most abusive slave owner–the one who had his slaves whipped if their daily cotton picking was less than the day before, the one who regularly raped his best worker, the one who shredded the back of a defenceless woman . . . The most abusive slave owner used the Bible to justify his behavior. Mr. Bass, played by Brad Pitt, is the savior of Solomon Northrup, the protagonist of the film. Bass’ opposition to slavery is based on a vague objective equality inherent in all men.

It is historically accurate to present slave owners justifying the institution of slavery with the Bible. It is also, certainly, true that many of those who opposed slavery were freethinkers like Bass—unaffiliated with Christianity. But I was irritated that the filmmakers chose to associate Christianity with the injustice of slavery and ignore the fact that Christians played a major role in the Abolitionist Movement.

Throughout history, men have used whatever it takes to justify their own greed or lust for power. Within a Christian culture, such men will use Christianity to do so. This, however, does not make them Christians–to be Christian, one must walk in the footsteps of Christ. One need only read a few chapters of one of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John too see how Jesus would respond to slavery. It was a Christian view of humanity that fuelled the abolitionists’ opposition to slavery.

I thought the movie overlooked this fact.

I was angered by the injustice of slavery as I watched this movie. I caught myself thinking, “If I were there, I would have done something.” Almost instantly, I recalled that our world is full of injustice today–including slavery.

It is the love of and for Jesus that motivates the International Justice Mission. There are millions of victims of slavery in the world today. IJM is doing something about it. Working with local officials, IJM rescues victims of slavery and sexual exploitation and they prosecute the perpetrators of these injustices.

IJM, and Christian organizations like it, are doing exactly what the makers of 12 years as a Slave hold up as the ideal, and they do it in the name of Jesus Christ. Sadly, the movie applies his name to those whose motives and behaviours are most contrary to his.

The movie is obviously concerned with exposing injustice. But I wonder about the long term effect of consistently presenting Christians as those who perpetuate hate and injustice. I worry, but won’t be surprised, that it will result in some new forms of injustice.

 

Only Good People Deserve Heaven

In When Atheists are Right on November 15, 2013 at 4:23 am

There are good people and there are bad people; we are the good people and if you aren’t like us, you are bad people.

Atheists rightThis idea has been around for millennia.

I get the impression that this is considered a typically Christians attitude. In my experience, not very many, but some certainly think this way.

They divide humanity up into categories of good and bad, and then stick themselves in the good category. This sort of thing is easy if you make the categories.

The bad people are people who get divorced, have affairs, abortions and/or are homosexual. They certainly drink (more than the occasional wine with dinner) and often smoke–perhaps even drugs. And the clincher is, they don’t do any of the things good people do.

The good people go to church weekly and listen to Christian radio. They are considered “wise” if they avoid thinking. They pray, sing and read the Bible. They go nuts about “family values.” They vote Conservative in Canada and Republican in the States.

Although often attributed to Christians, these categories wouldn’t work for Christ. But if you’ve got these categories in your head, you might actually misunderstand what Jesus taught it in one of his best known stories.

Everyone is familiar with the parable of the “Prodigal Son” or the “Lost Son” — this is what it was called when I was in Sunday School.

These are actually completely inaccurate titles for this story; they reflect a complete misreading. This version presents two sons, one “good” and one “bad.” The bad son squanders his inheritance on parties, loose women and going to R-rated movies. The good son stays at home, works hard and goes to church, etc. The bad son finally sees the light when his money runs out and repents of his evil deeds and is welcomed back into the family. The moral of the story is that God will forgive us if we repent of being bad and become good.

Although this it is true that God will forgive, this is not at all what the parable is about.

In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller, says this story would better be titled “The Parable of the Lost Sons” because both sons are lost. Neither son loves the father for who he is; both are just after his stuff. They represent two different strategies for getting ahold of it. By the end of the story, one son is saved. Interestingly, it’s the “bad” son who is saved. The “good” son is remains lost.

The older brother has two problems. His first problem stems from his motive for being good. He leverages his good behavior against his father–his attitude: “I’m ‘good’ so you owe me!” His second problem is that he’s measuring his goodness against the standard set by his younger brother. In this comparison he comes out pretty good, which is why he does it. This guy is exactly the sort of guy that many accuse Christians of being.

So there’s good news and there’s bad news and, then, there’s good news.

The good news: Jesus audience was exactly the sort of “holier than thou” hypocrites that drive us crazy, and even keep us out of church. This self-righteous bunch of Bible thumpers were the target of his story and he nailed them, big time!
Here they are, creating some random criteria and then measuring themselves against how poorly others live up to their arbitrary standard.

The bad news:  Yes, the older-brother-types receive some major chastisement from Jesus in this parable. But if you identified with the younger brother, you aren’t off the hook. Both sons were lost because they both wanted the blessings of the father, but not the father himself. Unlike the older brother, he realize how wrong he had been, and he came back home. You can’t come home unless you turn around and walk in the other direction.

The good news: There’s lots of good news in this parable. The father loved both his sons, even though they weren’t very nice to him. And when one son appeared in the distance, the father ran out to meet him. This is not the sort of thing a respectable middle eastern patriarch does–and Jesus’ audience knew it. Further, he gives him the robe and a ring and kills the fatted calf in celebration of his return. He had already given this son half of what he had, and now he gives him even more.

The prodigal in this story is the father — Keller defines this term as “recklessly spendthrift.” This is God the Father as Jesus presents him. This is the accurate representation.

Those in the faith have the obligation to present our heavenly father as he is. The last thing we want is for people to think our heavenly father is like the older brother in the parable.

Those who are inclined to walk away from God, need to reject him as he truly is. Not as a false representation.

 

When Atheists are Right

In When Atheists are Right on November 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Atheists rightThere are a bunch of reasons to be an atheist. 

Certainly one of them could be

the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God

(2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV).

This would probably be the first reason offered by many believers, and the last reason offered by the atheist.

Consider this: Perhaps some that have walked away from God are actually rejecting a misrepresentation of God.

If someone rejects a misrepresentation of God, are they not actually walking toward God?

There are many misrepresentations of God.

There is one true representation of God and that is Jesus Christ.

That’s not just my opinion–he said it.

I will write a series of posts under this new category.  Stay tuned.

Conversation with a Textbook

In Christian Education, Worldview on November 1, 2013 at 5:54 am

Pathways-Banner

You won’t believe what this textbook said.

This is a conversation I had with a few pages of the new edition of  “Pathways,” a Social Studies textbook used in grade 8 classes.  The section was called “Religion and Civilizations.”

Me: Since you are written for use in public schools, it must be a little dicey when you talk about religion given that you are supposed to remain neutral on this sort of thing.  What do you see as the relationship between religion and civilization? 

Pathways:  “Religion is an important aspect of civilization.  In many civilizations, both in the past and in the present, religious beliefs are one way a civilization defines and describes itself.  Religion also influences people’s values and actions.” 

Me: I see.  And why do we study religion in grade 8?

Pathways: “Learning about different religions allows us to understand the civilizations to which these religions belonged.”

Me: That shouldn’t upset too many people, but as a religious person myself, I’d consider this a bit of a limited view.  Religion is more than a means by which we understand others, but I guess you’re limited in how much you can say about religion and still maintain your neutrality.   Tell me, what is your view on why we have religions in the first place?

Pathways:  “Human beings have always asked what we call ‘big questions.’  You have probably asked them, too.”

Me: Yes, I love the big questions.  That’s one of the reasons I like to blog.  But just to make sure we’re on the same page, what do you mean by big questions?

Pathways: What happens to me after I die? What is the difference between right and wrong? Why am I here? Why do bad things happen? How was all this created?

Me: Yes, these are pretty much the same as my questions.  I’ve heard them called worldview questions, and you are right; everyone asks them and everyone answers them (whether they admit it or not).  So what do these “big questions” have to do with why religion exists?

Pathways: “Human beings like to have answers to their questions.  Having answers make us feel more secure.” 

Me: Whoa! I might be jumping ahead here, but are you one of those people who believes the function of religion is to create a feeling–a feeling of security?   If that’s the case, then religion is pretty much a safety blanket for the weak, is it not?  I’ve heard some call it a crutch for those who can’t face “reality.”   Aren’t you supposed to be neutral on issues of faith?  I mean, it is a pretty low view of religion, isn’t it?  Most religious people understand that any security they may feel is merely a by-product of the more important search for truth and meaning–religion itself is actually a product of this search.   I understand I’m not being neutral either, but I think it’s impossible.  Is there no sense in which the big questions that religion answers might be rooted in a search for objective truth?

Pathways:  “But these big questions cannot be answered the same way ordinary questions can be.”

Me: I understand that, but just because they cannot be answered in the same way–or are harder to answer–does not mean the answers aren’t true.  Anyway, you were saying something about the difference between big answers and ordinary answers?  Can you elucidate?

Pathways: “For example, science tells us that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.  This is based upon creating a hypothesis and then using experiments to discover if our original ideas were correct.  With religion, people have to accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence. “

Me: I’ve noticed your word choice.  Did you know you consistently us the term “us” when speaking of knowing and the word “people” when speaking about believing?  I thought it was interesting how you distance yourself, and, consequently, your readers from the act believing.   Where were we?  Oh yes, you said that ordinary questions are the ones that can be answered empirically and big questions can’t be answered empirically so their answers are non-scientific.  That sounds bad when you put it that way.  Are you implying they are just sorta made up?

Pathways: “In effect, [people] have to accept them based on their beliefs (faith).”

Me:  You are saying that something can’t be” correct,” unless it is proven empirically: with scientific evidence.  That means the only things that can be true are things having to do with the properties, history and function of matter.  This would make sense, I suppose, if matter was all there is.  Wait, if you think that, you just answered a big question: “Is matter all there is?”  This is not an ordinary question, it’s a big question.  You can’t know if you are correct because this answer is based on non-scientific evidence.  If you are going to be answering big questions, I might accuse you of being religious.  Then what would happen to your neutrality?  Let’s move on.  So how do you explain why we have so many different religions?

Pathways: “Different Faiths, Different Answers”

Me: Could you elaborate?

Pathways: “There are many religions in the world, and each one has different answers to the big questions.” 

Me: Which one is right?

Pathways: “Which one is right? No one religion has the ‘right’ answers, because the big questions have no scientifically provable answers.”

Me: How do you know that to be true?  Isn’t that assertion based on non-scientific evidence?  I think you just answered another big question: Can something be true even if there is no empirical evidence to verify it?  Your answer to this one can only be right if your answer to the last one is right, and you can’t prove that one so you can’t prove this one.  Don’t forget about neutrality. 

Let me ask you something.  Isn’t a religion that teaches to love of one’s neighbours a little closer to the truth than one that teaches it’s OK to kill innocent children?  That doesn’t make sense to me. 

But, I digress.  Your claim to neutrality seems to be a little suspect; you seem to have very clear views as to how we understand the beliefs of others, but you aren’t really admitting when you accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence.  I’m not sure that you are suitable for use in a public school, because you seem to support one set of unscientifically supported beliefs, over all other sets.  My concern is for the students.  What do you say to a grade 8 student who is thinking about the big questions?  I don’t think it would be appropriate to explicitly discourage them from being involved in religion.

Pathways:  In Canada today, there are many different religions.  If you were looking for a religion to belong to, you could find out what different religions say about the big questions.  Then you could choose the religion with the answers you are most comfortable with, or that fit best with what you already think. 

Me: It doesn’t really matter what religion someone belongs to? At least you are consistent.   You suggest that the choice between religions is to be based on the feelings of comfort each offers or how well they conform to one’s preexisting ideas?  I understand that you think you are being equally fair to all religions, but you are not really.  You are being equally unfair.

People aren’t looking for comfort when they ask and answer the big questions, they are looking for truth–universal and objective truth–because they believe they can find it, just as you believe they can’t.   Given this, people can’t just shop for a religion like they do for a dress–take the one that fits.  (Nearly) every religion says that adherents need to conform to some objective moral standard.  If you are going to respect religion, you must recognize that, the individual conforms to religion, not the other way around.  Your method of selection is legitimate only if all religions were equal.  They can only be equal if your answers to the big questions are right.  But you haven’t proven that they are–because you can’t.

Aren’t you really saying that if everyone had your religion, then we’d all get along better?

Pathways:  “Even if you had a different religion than your friends, that probably would not matter too much.  If fact, you could probably learn something from each other.”

Me: I agree that people of different religions ought to get along.  But I don’t agree that this cooperation is contingent of not taking our religions seriously.  On the contrary, we can only get along if we give each other the freedom to take their faith seriously.  Wouldn’t the picture of true tolerance be a materialist, such as yourself, talking with a Christian and a Muslim over a good cup of coffee, disagreeing, but enjoying the company, the conversation, and the coffee all the while respecting each others beliefs, because, even though they are not scientific,  they are rational.

Wouldn’t this be a better picture to present to the grade 8 student?