Best Dystopian novels in order of Awesomeness

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Here are my favourite dystopian novels.  I placed them in order of the pleasure I derived from reading them, and their signficance, and their literary merit:

  1. 1984 by George Orwell
  2. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996)​
  3. Feed by M. T. Anderson (2002)​
  4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
  5. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)​
  6. ​That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis (1945)​
  7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  8. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008) ​
  9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)​
  10. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
  11. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)​
  12. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  13. The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)​
  14. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)​
  15. The Running Man by Stephen King (1982)​
  16. A​nthem by Ayn Rand (1938)​

Next on my list is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)​.

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Come From Away and The Book of Mormon

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This summer my wife and I saw Come From Away.

We also saw The Book of Mormon.

Completely different experiences.

Come from Away tells the story of what happened in Gander, Nova Scotia on September 11, 2001.  When President Bush closed American airspace all the US-bound aircraft needed to land elsewhere.  38 big jets landed in Gander, almost doubling the population of this small Canadian town.  This is a story about real people doing something beautiful in very difficult circumstances.

The Book of Mormon is about a couple of young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints going on their missions trip to Uganda.  They are naive and unprepared to face the difficulties in Africa including HIV/AIDS, famine, female genital mutilation, and hostile warlords.  It was considerably more offensive and blasphemous than I expected, and I regretted being there almost immediately.

Why go to The Book of Mormon?  I love live theatre and I try to see the good ones.  It won nine Tony Awards and was called “the best musical of the century” by the New York Times.  I also consider it a bit of a responsibility to understand the culture and this play is hugely popular.  And The Prince of Wales theatre was reputed to have airconditioning and it was the hottest day in London’s recorded history–we needed to go someplace cool.

As expected, the show is brilliant in so many ways–the singing, dancing, acting, and production are as awesome as any of the big blockbuster musicals.  But I walked out of it–I don’t know–horrified?

It wasn’t just that it was irreverent and offensive–I understand that art will sometimes challenge our sensibilities.  I don’t mind being challenged, and I certainly don’t mind it when the sensibilities of others are challenged.  The play does satirize the hypocrisy, naivety and even silliness of Mormons, and by extension Christians and all religious people.   Fine.  But when you ridicule good things that you’ve made no attempt to understand . . .  well, then you’ve gone beyond satire.  I was offended by the mockery of good things.  Good things that everyone knows are good.  Things writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone know are good, but they deride them just the same.

And then there’s the laughter of the audience.  It was a completely sold-out show.  And everyone in the audience was apparently delighted by the ridicule and mockery.  As I walked out of the Prince of Whales, which by the way didn’t have very good airconditioning, I was horrified by the laughter.

Four Kinds of Laughter

In the eleventh letter of C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, senior demon Screwtape instructs his nephew, junior tempter Wormwood, about how to use laughter to win his patient’s soul to what they call “our Father’s house.”  According to Screwtape, there are four kinds of laughter, only one of which is truly effective for demonic purposes.

The first kind of laughter arises from Joy.  Screwtape and fellow devils don’t understand this one any better than they understand music.  They usually observe joyous laughter “among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday.”  But they are puzzled by this kind of delight because the laughter is disproportionately bigger than the “smallest witticisms” that produce them.

Fun generates a second type of laughter.  It too is useless to the demonic powers in that “it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.”

The Joke proper, “which turns on sudden perception of incongruity” will cause the third kind of laughter.

Before we get to the fourth kind of laughter, let’s talk about the laughter of the audience at Come from Away.

Come From Away and Laughter

The audience of Come From Away laughed. We laughed often. We laughed long. We laughed hard.

We also cried, and winced, and clapped our hands with delight.  The laughter occurred in the context of a wide range of human emotions.

The theme of this whole story is that life can be very difficult and what we do as individuals and communities can make a  significant difference in the lives of others as they navigate life’s disappointment and challenges  It shows us that by giving of ourselves, we can be profoundly blessed.  The play shows us what it means to be, and experience, good neighbours.

The laughter came from joy and fun and jokes; it came exclusively from the first three of Screwtape’s three forms of laughter.

And though it all, Come From Away praises what is good.

Flippancy and The Book of Mormon

The most useful form of laughter to the minions of hell is Screwtape’s fourth–Flippancy

One reason flippancy is “the best of all” is because of its economy.  “Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue.”  Flippancy requires no cleverness, for it assumes the joke has already been made.  The laughter arises not from delight or fun or an incongruity, but from the mockery and ridicule itself.  Thus, the good can be laughed at as easily as can something which is actually funny.

I experienced each show with audiences of hundreds of people, but the feelings I carried for my fellow patrons through the exits were very different.

In Come From Away, we had shared in the celebration of something good–something we want more of, something we need.  We shared a commitment to be better people.

The only thing we shared in The Book of Mormon was derision for someone else and a twisted delight in our own superiority.

It is as Screwtape said, the fourth kind of laughter “deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.”

In Come From Away, we had shared in the celebration of something good--something we want more of, something we need. The only thing we shared in The Book of Mormon was derision for someone else and a twisted delight in our own superiority. Click To Tweet

Liberal or Conservative: How does the Devil vote?

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Does God want us to be liberal or conservative?

How do the demons vote?

We get a pretty clear answer to the second question in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.   The book takes the form of a series of letters that have been written by a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, on the best means by which to bring a soul to dwell for all eternity with “Our Father below,” as they refer to him.

In the seventh letter, Screwtape explores the question of whether to make Wormwood’s patient an “extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist.”  This was the question on everyone’s mind when the Letters were published in 1942.

Screwtape is quite clear that the devils are not interested in whether Christians support or oppose World War II.   Neither side is inherently Christian, it seems.  As a matter of fact, Screwtape seems to see more possibilities to lead him astray through pacifism.

Today, the specific circumstances are different, but Christians are still struggling to answering the same general question.  The contemporary question has us wondering between liberal or conservative, Trudeau or Scheer, Democrat or Republican, Trump or someone else?

If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.

If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.Click To Tweet

Screwtape explains the process:

Step 1:

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion.

It is clear that the position the Christian takes is of no consequence; the goal of the forces of hell is to erroneously connect our position on the political spectrum with our faith.  From much that I read from Christian writers on the internet, it is apparent that the devils are having a very easy time of it.  We are very willing to take the first step.

Step 2:

Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.

Again, it doesn’t appear as if we are having the demons work very hard.  I’ve heard many stories of people who can no longer associate with, let alone fellowship with, brothers and sisters in Christ who occupy a different position on the political spectrum as they.  The “camp” to which we belong is so obvious and it is not coloured by any qualification involving all the other dimensions of the Christian faith.

Step 3:

Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.

C. S. Lewis never read a single blog post or online article, and yet it is as if he’s read the same religio-political diatribes and tirades that I can only escape in the shower.

But there is hope.  Screwtape reveals the means by which we might reverse our steps toward the eternal flames.

The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience.

This is Lewis’ real point.  Whether left or right, we ought to treat our political positions as primarily material for obedience to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Our position on the environment, taxes, deficits, size of government, guns, immigration, abortion, LGBTQ, education, is secondary to obedience.  In the fifth letter, Lewis makes this point, through Screwtape:

The Enemy [God] disapproves many . . . causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

It is more important for us to be obedient than it is for us to be right.  And yet, because we have allowed the faith to be slave to the cause, we find it easy to hate our political opposites.

Back to the seventh letter:

Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours-and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

And here we have it.  This is a dire warning for those who have made faith a means to an end.

God Shaped Hole?

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A lot of Christians talk about a void in every person that can only be filled by God.  We are compelled to fill it, but we will never achieve peace /fulfillment /wholeness unless this space is filled with God.   This “God-shaped hole” is an innate human desire to connect with the transcendent.

It’s a cliché.  And like most clichés, it’s an oversimplification, but it carries some truth.  Human beings have desires.  Besides physical needs and desires–we were created for relationships, we were created for community, and we were created to be in relationship with God.  To say that all we need is God is to deny the other good things he created us to desire and enjoy.  These ought not to be tossed aside, but understood as good gifts from a loving Father.  But, yes, our most profound desire is to know and be known by God.

For this post, I am borrowing from Tim Keller, particularly his book Counterfeit God’s and a lecture of the same name that he delivered at Cambridge Passion.

In his exploration of idolatry, Keller differentiates good things and ultimate things.

Good Things and God, The Ultimate

God created everything, and he declared them to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  The list of good things is obviously very long and it includes:

  • work,
  • romantic love,
  • family,
  • pasta,
  • baseball,
  • acclaim,
  • reason,
  • beauty,
  • self-expression,
  • justice,
  • pleasure,
  • and cherry trees.

The list goes on and on.

Above all these good things, God places humanity.  Humanity occupies this place above the good things because we alone were created in God’s image.   Here’s the text which articulates humanities special position in creation, above all the good things.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

–Genesis 1:26

Innate value has been conferred onto human beings by God.  Our value is linked to God.  In a properly ordered life or society, God is the Ultimate thing.  Human beings occupy a position above all the good things because they were created in God’s Image.  All the other good things are good, but they do not have more value than God or humanity.

“Disordered Loves”

Augustine called sin “disordered love.”  Sin is, in essence, replacing God with something else.  We take a good thing and make it the ultimate thing; we replace the Creator with the created.  The good thing in the ascendant position is an idol.

Career advancement is a common idol in our culture.  There’s nothing wrong with career advancement–it is a good thing–but when it becomes an ultimate thing, all other things must give way to it.  The marriage and the children will be sacrificed to it.  “Friends” becomes a name for those who can be used to aid advancement while others will be treated as rungs on a ladder.  Idols are very demanding overlords, they take and they want it all.

Beauty is a good thing.  And it is another common idol.  it demands huge amounts of money and often ones dignity, and it always fails those who worship it–we cannot stop beauty from fading.

Family is a good thing, but it is a terrible master.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is one of my favourite books.  It could only come from a brilliant and tortured mind.  His “This is Water” commencement speech to Kenyon College class of 2005, presents some of the wisdom Wallace has aquired through his struggles.  In this passage he explains the problem with false gods:

You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship… Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship-be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles-is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things-if they are where you tap real meaning in life-then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already-it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power-you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart-you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.  Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings.

(If you listen to the whole speech, you will hear Wallace come dangerously close to pointing to a realignment of our loves under the transcendent god, for our sake and for the sake of others around us.)

Whatever your idol, it will eventually eat you alive.

God-shaped hole?  We should maybe stop using the phrase, but behind this cliche is the idea that everything you desires will destroy if they are put into the position of a god.  Conversely, if you subordinate all your desires to Christ’s Lordship, you will achieve the peace and fulfillment and wholeness you seek, because it was for Christ you were made.

Monkeys Don’t Get Music

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Human beings like music.  Macaques don’t.

This is not simply because monkeys are a bunch of uncultured louts.  Apparently, it’s a brain thing. Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Maryland studied the difference between macaques’ and humans’ ability to hear things. They discovered that humans have areas in our brains that respond to music. Macaques don’t have these.

Scientists observed people brains and monkey brains as they responded to sounds. Sounds came in two groups: pitch without noise, like a sung note and noise without pitch, like a whisper. The auditory parts of human brains lit up much more when tones were played than they did when noises were played at the same frequency. The macaques showed no preference for to pitched sounds, even when they were based on their natural calls.

The ability to enjoy music seems to be structural to the human brain.

The big question for the scientists is “Why?”  Why have human beings evolved the ability to love music?  We might expect a rudimentary response to pitch in monkey brains, for what would have been an evolutionary advantage to our ancestors would also be an advantage to the macaques.  Why would we get Mozart and Kenny Chesney and monkey’s get squat?

I have an idea.

Perhaps music is not an evolutionary necessity, but a superfluous gift.

Perhaps music is not an evolutionary necessity, but a superfluous gift.Click To Tweet

The Gift of Music

Perhaps there is no evolutionary advantage to having brain structures that allow us to appreciate music.  Maybe we were given the ability to create and enjoy music as a gift of Grace.

This is problematic for some because it would imply a transcendent gift-giver.

The gift of music touches us so deeply that even if a satisfactory evolutionary explanation for the human ability to hear music is someday found it would be difficult to explain the universal power, depth, complexity, and diversity we find in humanity’s experience with music.

Our natural response would be wonder and gratitude.

Real Presences

George Steiner says that music tells us that there is “something else,” that music is “the great force, the hope of a transcendent possibility.”

In transcendent experiences, such as those encountered in good music, lies “a presumption of presence” (214)—the real presence of God.  Through them, we experience “the unassuaged, unhoused instability and estrangement of our condition.  We are, at [these] key instants, strangers to ourselves, errant at the gates of our own psyche” (139).  Steiner suggests that when we encounter the transcendent, we become aware of our alienation from ourselves.

So he laments the replacement of many forms of good music with “the deafening folly,” and “barbarism of organized noise.”   I’m not sure exactly what Steiner means by these aspersions, but I can guess.  We might say that degraded music degrades our humanity by making us deaf to the transcendent, a condition leaving us little more than macaques.

 

 

God’s Good Gifts

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We ate dinner in an Italian restaurant in the United States of America.  I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce.  What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit.  And it tasted like crap.

I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce. What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit. And it tasted like crap.Click To Tweet

As we were ordering, I asked the server if the pasta was freshly made.  He had a physical reaction to the question–incredulity?  “No,” he said.  “It’s delivered.”  He named the supplier.  None of the ingredients were made at the restaurant.  The back kitchen was merely the cite of assembly and reheating.  The essential stuff was made in some factory somewhere and delivered frozen or refrigerated through the back door.  I can see the one-gallon plastic buckets filled with sauce, the frozen bags of manicotti and ravioli, the one-gallon bottles of salad dressing, and the machine-made frozen pizza crusts.

I  ordered a baked manicotti and my wife the spaghetti.

Before I took a bite, I ladled a couple of tablespoons of red-amber grease off the top of the melted slab of rubbery mozzarella.   Beneath it, I found two small manicotti.  The pasta was limp and the ricotta cheese had that processed-frozen flavour.  The sauce was plentiful but tasted like it came from a plastic bag.  And, it was exactly the same sauce as that on my wife’s spaghetti.

By his grace, the Creator has given us the ingredients and the mandate and the will to innovate.  The Italians have discovered all kinds of sauces for pasta.  These include:

    • Acciughe, 
    • Aglio e lio,
    • Alfredo, 
    • Amatricana, 
    • Bolognese,
    • Burro,
    • Cacciatore, 
    • Frutti di mare, 
    • Funghi e iselli,
    • Marinara, 
    • Noci, 
    • Pesto, 
    • Pomidoro, 
    • Romana, 
    • Tartufata, 
    • Umbria, 
    • Vongole.  

With all these sauces, how can a restaurant use the same one on two different dishes?  The whole point of different dishes in an Italian restaurant is the variation in the sauce; the pasta is a secondary consideration.

Variety is one thing, but using fresh quality ingredients improves the dining experience exponentially.  In that Italian restaurant, there was no attempt to offer a quality product.  The industrial kitchen that produced the sauce used the cheapest ingredients it could buy in bulk.  The cheese, too, was produced from inferior products on an industrial scale.  Efficiency and profit were the end goal; a good tasting meal wasn’t even a consideration.  The United States has long valued efficiency and profit, and these are not evil in themselves, but they do not belong as the primary motivation in a restaurant, perhaps in a cafeteria.  That’s it! This meal would have been barely adequate in a cafeteria.

The ingredients were cheap.  There was no chef, only assemblers, and they come cheap.  The meal was worth $7.99, but I paid over $20 CDN for my cafeteria manicotti.

Where I live in Canada, I can get freshly made pasta and quality sauces for just over $20.

Is Tim Keller Under God’s Curse?

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I chanced upon a post in which the author, Michael, says that Tim Keller, in his book, The Prodigal God, is preaching a “different Gospel.”

This is serious stuff because if he is, Keller is under God’s curse according to Galatians 1:8.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

Is Tim Keller under God’s curse?

In response to a comment on his post, Michael says, that Keller is “redefining the key parts of the gospel.”  If this is so, then Keller may be under God’s curse.  The parts of the gospel that Michael claims Keller is redefining are “the gospel [of] sin” and the gospel of repentance.

Redefining the Gospel of Sin?

Michael’s beef with Keller is he thinks Keller is calling the elder brother’s obedience a sin, that the elder brother needs to repent from doing good.

I’m not sure what to say.  Keller asserts nothing like this.  It’s baffling that someone could walk away from The Prodigal God with this notion–Keller is such a clear writer.  This is like mistaking the moral failing of the nine ungrateful lepers as having leprosy.

Michael has misread Keller for some reason and he writes three long posts explaining Keller’s “egregious errors.”  Of course Keller never says that the older brother is condemned for his obedience.  He says that the elder son is lost because the motivation behind his obedience is sinful.  Michael seems to struggle to wrap his mind around this idea saying that “Obedience, whatever the motivation, is never wrong.”

I suppose Michael is right in a sense.  If you can isolate the act from the motive, the act itself is not inherently wrong.  But Keller is not condemning an isolated act of obedience, he’s talking about the foundational motivation, which is inseparable from the act.

I won’t go so far as to say that acts of obedience are insignificant, but the motivation behind them is far more important.  With an obedient act, you can cover up wickedness.  Polonius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet said as much.

T’is too much proved, that with devotion’s visage and pious action we do sugar o’er / the devil himself.

We need not rely on Polonius an authority on Truth.  Let’s go to the Bible.

In Genesis 4, both Cain and Able brought a sacrifice to the Lord, but Cain’s was rejected.  There are several ideas as to why God did not look upon Cain’s sacrifice with favour; one of the most likely reasons has to do with Cain’s motivation.  He may have been sacrificing as an act of appeasement–they pagan motivation.  The foundation of Canaanite worship was appeasement–bribing the gods to bring fertility and to protection.  Cain’s sacrifice may have been an obedient act, but God saw his heart an rejected the sacrifice.

OK, perhaps motivation was not the issue with Cain’s sacrifice.  It could have been that God didn’t like vegetables.  How about Deuteronomy 10:12-17:

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

The Lord requires obedience; verses 12 and 13 couldn’t be clearer; but in verse 16, it clearly states that the Lord requires more than just obedience–he wants the circumcision of the heart. Obedient acts are fine, but God really wants an obedient heart.  In verse 17 we learn that God will will take no bribe.  God is clearly saying that he doesn’t want the motivation of obedience to be love and not appeasement.

Let’s go to Jesus  himself.  In Matthew 5-7 we have The Sermon on the Mount.  Again and again, Jesus says that righteousness is not achieved through mere obedience.  To be considered righteous, not committing adultery will not cut it–we can’t even look at someone with lust.

Keller is not redefining the gospel.  Keller’s condemnation of the elder brother is completely consistent with the gospel.  He is not condemning the older brother for being obedient.  He is saying that the elder brother is lost because he merely obeyed.  He was good so that he could have the inheritance.  The father wanted his love.  He wanted the elder brother to wash the dishes after the party.

My Eldest Son

To get my eldest son to do the dishes after dinner was almost always a battle.  He didn’t think it was fair that on his day for this duty we I had dirtied a huge roasting pan.  He didn’t think that it was his turn, because he did it last Thursday and he deserved to skip his turn tonight.  The variety and complexity of arguments never ceased to amaze me.  It wasn’t always a fight, but even when he obediently set about doing the dishes there was always a grudging attitude.

One Thanksgiving he came back from college.  I had prepared a huge meal for nearly 20.  At the end of the meal, he got up and did all of the dishes, refusing any help.  I was shocked.  What happened to my son?  He was living on his own, going to school.  Because he had very little income, he had been eating cabbage cooked with olive oil. salt and pepper.  When he lived under my roof, he had no idea how much money and effort went into feeding him.  Now he knew and he was grateful.  His gratitude led to behaviour far beyond obedience.

This is the behaviour of the youngest son.  This is the behaviour that the father wants from his eldest son.

Support for the Righteous Elder Brother

Michael believes that the elder brother was never lost.

His argument rests on the context of the Parable of the Prodigal son.  It is preceded by two other parables about lost things being found–the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.  Michael says that in these parables, the lost sheep and coin represent “a sinner who repents.”  The other sheep and coins that did not go missing represent “the righteous persons who need no repentance.”  The third parable must be understood in the same way.

Michael correctly understands the importance of reading verses in context, but to get the context he only went back to verse Luke 14:3.  He should have gone back to verse 1.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus’ audience is really important here–we have sinners and Pharisees.    But Luke doesn’t just say that the Pharisees where there, he tells us what they were thinking.  Jesus has something to say to both of these groups.  To the sinners, he wants to say that God earnestly seeks them.  Simple. He does this with two and one-half parables.

What does Jesus want to communicate the Pharisees?  Michael would have you believe that Jesus wants to tell them to keep up the good work.  If you are at all familiar with the Bible, Jesus never tells the Pharisees to keep up the good work. As a matter of fact, he frequently tells them that they are less righteous than the sinners.  The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14 is one example.

In his telling of these three parables, Jesus wants to address what the Pharisees are thinking.  That’s why Luke tells us they were muttering to themselves.  It’s the same thing that the older brother is muttering as he stands outside the party.

Michael insists that we must view the third parable as exactly parallel to the first.  I’m not sure why we would impose parallelism on the third when an extended application to the Pharisees makes so much sense given the audience.  Jesus and/or Luke are reinforcing the joy at the recovery of the lost with the parallel to the first two,  then extending the story to the condemnation of the Pharisees.  Bam! Brilliant!  This is a mike-drop moment that reinforces not just what our heavenly father is doing sinners, but what he’s doing for the self-righteous.  He’s inviting them in.

The father says, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”   Come in an enjoy it.  The elder brother refuses.  If this isn’t lost, I don’t know what is.

Redefining Repentance and Salvation

According to Michael, Keller is also under God’s curse because he, Keller, claims that the father of the prodigal son accepts him before he repents.  He claims that Keller writes “that repentance is not needed for forgiveness, but rather comes after forgiveness.”  He says that

“Keller incorrectly teaches that salvation precedes repentance, while also changing what we are to repent from.”

Tim Keller believes there is nothing that we do to earn our salvation–not even the act of repentance.  This idea expands God’s Grace.  I understand that there are some Christian denominations that place more emphasis on human agency than others.  Keller does not belong to one of these denominations.  It seems as if Michael does.  The God’s Sovereignty/Human Free Will debate has gone on for a long time and, these days, the general consensus from both sides is that both are true, it’s just that but one is a little truer, and it’s not a  salvation issue.

Michael seems to be saying it is a salvation issue.  If he is, he is also claiming that most of Christ’s church, both past and present, is, along with Keller, under God’s curse.

Let’s look at the parable to see the relationship between repentance and salvation.

Where is the turning point in this story?  According to Glen Skrivener over at the Gospel Coalition the “real change in the prodigal—both his change of status and of heart—happens in the arms of the father. That’s where repentance occurs.”  This is consistent with Romans 5: 8.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The father runs to the lost son with open arms and joyfully embraces him before he can even get a word of repentance out of his mouth.  I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to say that salvation comes to everyone in exactly the same way–the way presented by this picture of the son wrapped in the father’s arm.  The younger son is repentant; he is saved.  Where is the elder brother?  He’s standing outside.

I’m actually baffled that someone can see the picture of the elder brother standing outside the part muttering, furious with his father and brother, and say that the guy is just fine.

Flannery O’Connor’s wonderful story “Revelation” is about an elder brother who receives a vision where she sees all sorts of people moving up toward heaven.  There’s a large batch of elder brothers who

were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, was such a blessing to me.  I was much more like the elder brother than the younger.  I was good.  Reading it I had a whole new appreciation for the heights and depth and breadth of God’s Grace.  I would wish the same experience to Michael and his readers.

 

Fake News and the Zombie Apocalypse

Ahmadreza89 / Pixabay

Have you ever not said something that you truly believed was true for fear of the backlash?

If so, your individuality may have already been absorbed into the horde.

In his recently uploaded YouTube critique of news media, Is CNN FAKE NEWS? – Existentialism and Mass Media, PlasticPills describes the power of the media to shape public opinion to the point that individuality is absorbed into the mindless whole.

Advertising determines desire. Celebrity determines taste. News Media determine orthodoxy.

Advertising determines desire. Celebrity determines taste. News Media determine orthodoxy. Click To Tweet

And you know what happens when you stray from orthodoxy.  The same thing that happens to all heretics, they are burned at the stake.

Mass media creates and maintains orthodoxy by pruning away individuality, that is, “anything that is different, abnormal, or special.”  It does this by attacking what diverges from whatever values it deems to be orthodox at a given moment.

Mass media also suppresses individuality by making the ordinary seem exceptional.  Look at what your favourite 24-hour news channel is calling “BREAKING NEWS.” This used to mean a president was shot or a new genocide was underway.  Now it means a president sneezed or someone misused the term genocide.

According to PlasticPills, although news media would like to pretend its purpose is to inform us of significant or extraordinary events, the actual purpose is to entertain, and in doing so it “literally creates a mass audience of idle, reflective [not in the sense of ‘thoughtful’] people, all with the same opinions and desires and discourages independent thought.”

The leveling of all events to entertainment makes it impossible for people to differentiate important events from unimportantClick To Tweet

The Philosophy of “the Public”

PlasticPills is basing his argument on ideas of Soren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard is critical of the “monstrous abstraction” which he called “the public.”  Existentialist philosophers Nietzsche and Heidegger commented on the same entity calling it the “herd” and “Das Man” respectively.

The public is, for Kierkegaard, “the concept of an anonymous group that dictates everyone’s proper behavior.”  And the news media creates this entity.

Perhaps the central tenet of existentialist philosophy is the importance of individual, free, authentic choice.  So they are antagonistic toward “The Public” (the horde) because it discourages independent thought and negates individual freedom.

Because of outlets like CNN, there are no individuals, just masses with opinions. Click To Tweet

Zombies and Mass Media

So what does this have to do with zombies?

Monsters are about what we fear.  Popular monsters are a product of our collective fears.  The zombie horde is our monster because it embodies our Modern identity crisis.  We like to think of ourselves as autonomous individuals, but the very presence of a monster indicates that deep down we may have our doubts.

Individuality and individual freedom are strongly valued, worshipped even, in our society.  But there are forces in our society that threaten the individual.  Kierkegaard and PlasticPills assert that one of these forces is the mass media.  It creates “the public,” this mass of opinions from which deviation means metaphorical burning at the stake.

Kierkegaard’s Public is analogous to the zombie horde.  It mindlessly walks through our streets and the mall looking for any movement or sound that diverges from the norm as defined by the horde.  When it senses heterodoxy, the mindless herd turns toward the thinking individual on mass and rips out his entrails and eats his brains.

We are intrigued to watch this scene play out on the screen because we feel it play out in our lives.  We fear our individuality being absorbed into the group, but the fact that the horde already exists (on television and in the theatres) indicates that the absorption we fear may have already occurred.

Pre-Show at the Movies

annca / Pixabay

I remember when they used to show cartoons before this movies.  I remember Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny.  I like Bugs Bunny way better.  I was almost as excited to see the cartoons as the feature film.

Movie pre-shows date back to the early days of cinema but what happens before the movie has changed over time.  These changes tell us a little about who we are and how our society has changed over time.

Newsreels

Before television became so ubiquitous, most of us got our news from the radio or the daily newspaper.   Although these provided information and the occasional picture, they weren’t moving.  Newsreels were shown before the feature films filled this niche.  Only in the theatre could people see moving pictures of these significant events.  I would bet that some people went to the theatre in early 1942 more to see the newsreels of the bombing of Pearl Harbor than they did to see Bette Davis in The Man Who Came to Dinner.

The Hindenburg Disaster in 1937

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics

The Bombing of Pearl Harbor

There is a good dose of propaganda in the newsreels.  The messages in each of the above newsreels are not all that subtle.  These taught us how to think about Nazi pride and racism, or Japanese treachery.  The newsreels carried a powerful message about who we are and what we did and stood for.  We were the good guys and proud to be so.   Newsreels represented orthodoxy; they formed identity and created confidence in who we were confident in who we were as a people, and our place in the world.  It was manipulative, but the end goal was to achieve a common vision that was thought to be of benefit to the country.

Cartoons

When I was a kid, the newsreels had phased out.  Television news offered the events of the day in moving pictures in the comfort of home.   Apparently, the movie house people figured we needed something before the feature. perhaps to help us settle into our seats, so they replaced the newsreels with cartoons.

Why cartoons?  I don’t really know, but I can surmise.  Why are people coming to the theatre in the first place?  Theatre goers came to be entertained, so let’s entertain them?  Cartoons are entertaining; the solution was simple and logical.

Is it just me or does there seems to be some respect for the audience in this idea?  I paid money to be entertained, and they entertain me.

But then it changed.

Ads

I don’t want to see ads.  When it comes to the long list of things I don’t want to see, ads are just above: emergency surgery on children, snot, vomit, and very old people rollerskating.

Yet here I sit, forced to watch commercials and I am paying to do so.

Gone is the respect; back is the propaganda.

But this propaganda is not designed to shape a people for mutual benefit and the national identity.  This propaganda is designed to create discontent for the benefit of corporations.

We are no longer seen as human beings, but as consumers.

Every day we are bombarded with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of commercial messages–newspaper, magazines, radio, bus-stop benches, the bus, stuck on trucks and cars, pens, billboards, sports stadia and jerseys, the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, every game I play on my phone, and television.

For just a day, try to pay attention to just how many ads you are exposed to and you’ll be blown away.  It will be a lot more than 1,000.

So, I go to the movies to get away from it all and then there’s an ad.  I remember the first time I saw an ad in the pre-show.  I said, quite audibly, “Oh, come on! Seriously!”  A few people seemed to agree with me, but most didn’t seem to have a problem with it, and now no one does.  That first time, it was just a single ad.  I just saw Rocketman tonight–there were many non-movie related ads.

Ads Create Discontent

The underlying purposes of the newsreels was to inform and to shape us into what a particular people, what the creators believed was a better people.

The people behind the ads are not interested in our well-being or that of the nation.  In fact, they want us to be a worse kind of people.

Is it better to be content or discontent?  Content, obviously. But a content people is bad for the corporate bottom line.

Human beings have teeth.  They are tooth-coloured.   Someone correctly surmised that they could make a lot of money if they convinced people that tooth-coloured teeth are not the right colour for teeth, and then sold them a product that would make their teeth this new colour.  Their whole goal is to change our idea of what is normal for tooth colour from natural to an artificial colour that we need to pay $50 a month to maintain.  They chose white, but they’ll be moving onto pastels any year now.

Someone else created dishwasher detergent that killed 98% of the bacteria.  This made them a tonne of money after they managed to convince people that bacteria is not a natural occurrence, which it is.  Then, they exploited the psychological connection between bacteria, germs and residual food on dirty dishes. Voila! Billions.

This is two of many examples where advertisers deliberately manufacture desire–they create a perceived need so they can sell us an unnecessary solution.

The goal and cumulative effect of these types of advertisements are to convince us that we are not good enough, or we can’t be happy unless we buy something.  Although they make it seem like they are serving us, they aren’t–they are exploiting us.  They don’t want us to be content.  If we were content, we wouldn’t buy their crap.  They want us to feel like we are lacking–perpetually unfulfilled, forever needing.  Coca-Cola spends over two billion dollars a year on advertising because it can make many, many more billions by doing so.

The corporate attitude behind the ads–we are objects.  Objects to be used for the benefit of the corporation, usually to the detriment of our own.

Who let these scum into the movie theatre?

Bring back the cartoon!

Bring back Bugs Bunny!

Ads before the movie! Who let these scum into the theatre? Bring back the cartoon! Bring back Bugs Bunny! Click To Tweet

Pretty Pike

In the fishing store on the north end of Red Deer, Alberta is a photo of a 3 pound pike on the line that has been reeled up to the side of the boat.  No big deal, but the photo shows a 50-plus pounder hitting the smaller fish like it was bait.  This picture is awesome.  And it perfectly illustrates my impressions of the Great Northern Pike.

The Great Northern Pike, or just plain Pike has a head like an alligator and it’s got a lot of teeth.  This is where the similarities end, because compared to the pike, an alligator is affectionate and cuddly.

In that same tackle shop you can by flies for any kind of fly fishing for any season.  They have a “fly” for the pick too–a mouse.  On the wall, you can get a lure that, as it moves through the water, imitates the movement of little cute baby ducklings.  Yes, pike will eat mice and ducklings.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they at the feet off of geese just to be mean.

Pike are Mean

One time, I was fighting a rambunctious pike for a few minutes.   Given the bend of my rod, he was a big one.  Horsing him to the boat with 50lb. test line with a 3″ yellow Five of Diamonds treble-hooked spoon.  I pulled him right to the edge of the boat and we looked into each others eyes.  His eyes held malevolence.  Mine astonishment.  He had the spoon in his mouth sideways.  He isn’t hooked at all.  The hook dangles uselessly beyond its left cheek.  He’s holding onto the tackle, just because he doesn’t want me to have it.  Sensing the net coming under him, he just let go of the lure and, obviously miffed,  swam off.

Another time, after fishing an area for a while, we decided to try another area of the lake.  My buddy Keith set down his rod and went to drive the boat to the other side of the lake.  As we get up to cruising speed, I get this silly idea of casting  in my spoon.  We might have been going 20 km/hr.  My rod is bent by the drag on the large spoon and hook.  All of a sudden, my rod bends double.  “Fish on,” I yell.  Keith is surprised, and kills the engine.  I have a large pike on the line.  What’s going on in this fishes head, when he attacks a lure travelling at 20km/hr?  Nothing but loathing for anything that moves, is all I can figure.

I caught a 5 pound pike while fishing from a canoe.  I strung a leader though it’s gills and paddled home.  Perhaps it was primal instinct that caused me to occasionally I looked back to look at the fish.  Never turn your back to the enemy.  It’s eyes were filled with malice and as he trailed behind the canoe, I began to feel more like prey than predator.  I swear I heard raspy whispers of threatened revenge bubbling up from behind me.  I got safely to shore and prepared the fish for the barbecue.  When I through the head into the woods, one of the razor sharp teeth hooked my finger and left a nasty wound.  Was this carelessness on my part, or was it a posthumous act of revenge?  The latter is consistent with my experience.

Poet Stevie Smith is familiar with the pike.  Here poem “Pretty” contain these lines:

And in the pretty pool the pike stalks
He stalks his prey, and this is pretty too,
The prey escapes with an underwater flash
But not for long, the great fish has him now
The pike is a fish who always has his prey
And this is pretty.

The pike is not pretty.  Smith knows this.

Here’s her poem, “Pretty.”

Shark Week? BORING!! Pike Week! Fishing stories about one of the most dangerous denizens of the lake. Pike are mean. Click To Tweet

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