Thursday, May 23, 2013

Give Me Everything You Have

Give Me Everything You Have:  On Being Stalked, by James Lasdun

Like probably everybody else, I read Lasdun’s book out of a kind of morbid curiosity; although, having been similarly stalked some years ago myself, perhaps with a bit more empathy than some.  My primary curiosity was somewhat disappointed, as my real interest was in the mind of the stalker herself, so I would have liked to read more of her communications, and heard more about her machinations, rather than sweeping statements summarizing her actions, but my strongest reaction was to conclude that both of these people’s lives would have been vastly different, and immeasurably improved, had they been in right relationship to God.

For the stalker, she was clearly engaging in rampant idolatry, making Lasdun the focus and center of her life.  I was powerfully struck by the sense that, had she applied her obsessive zeal to the pursuit of God, rather than of a hapless writer, her story might be one of an astonishing modern saint, rather than of a pathetic “sick girl” who wasted years of her life trying to ruin somebody else’s.

But this is also true of Lasdun himself.  He describes how the stalker’s actions impaired and damaged every aspect of his life, both personal and professional; even how, over time, the stalker became the center and focus of his life.  Again, I couldn’t help feeling that, had Lasdun firmly centered his life on his relationship with his creator, her ability to wreak such havoc would have been greatly reduced.  While being in right relationship with God does not mean that nobody will attack you (indeed, it is clear that we should prepare ourselves for quite the opposite), or even that such an attack will not result in injury, having God as the center of our lives through the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ does mean that any such attack can never ruin you, and indeed, will through God’s grace work for your ultimate benefit.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).  All things. 

The book is therefore an instructive cautionary tale, urging each of us to examine carefully just Whom we ought to give “everything we have.”   

Monday, May 20, 2013

Germany vs. France

Looks like she needs some medical attention.

Heard a news bit this morning that stuck in my mind; a German pop group, Cascada, was fussing about how they got a score of absolutely zero in the Eurovision contest.  “How could this have happened?” the reporter opined, then went on to speculate about some kind of political retribution for austerity.  Well, could it be that they were just, you know, um, TERRIBLE?  I mean, you’ve heard the old joke, right:  In heaven, you get French food, German engineering, and English pop music.  In hell, you get English food, French engineering, and German pop music.   

The non-commercially viable plans; German input welcome.
The same media outlet also ran a bit about some French guys doing an around-the world flight with a solar plane, but concluded with a quote from one of the fellows saying they never expected it to be useful for commercial flights, just to inspire people to think about alternative energy.  

Maybe the members of Cascada just need to go back to school and learn how to help these French guys make their solar plane technology commercially viable. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Arkansas Abortion Bill Not Pro-Life

Human fetus, 7 to 8 weeks of gestation

In all the controversy surrounding the Arkansas bill that would prevent abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, we’ve consistently heard it described as a “pro-life” measure.  This is one thing it isn’t. 

The bill would, if enforced, curtail some abortions that otherwise would occur, so it could fairly be described as at least somewhat “anti-abortion,” and certainly any abortion advocate who believes that any limits to abortion on demand constitute a threat to “abortion rights” could correctly label it thus, but to call this bill “pro-life” is misleading and just plain wrong.  By making it illegal to end the life of a human fetus—unless that fetus is less than 12 weeks old—it continues to affirm our culture’s current view that denies the human life, the personhood, of an individual, as long as they are immature enough. 

Let’s be clear:  any individual human life begins when the egg and sperm unite to start the life process that progresses through prenatal development to post-natal development; through however much of life that given individual ends up experiencing.  If we trace your personal life backwards, the moment when your life ceases to be recognizably you would be that moment before sperm and egg were united, when some other sperm might potentially fertilize that egg and thus begin a life that would be genetically somebody else.  This is not some far-“right” religious viewpoint.  This is the only definition of an individual human life that holds any kind of water, from a strictly scientific, biological perspective.  Your life began with the union of that egg and sperm; at no time after that is there a qualitative moment when you were not biologically recognizable as you, and then you were.  Biologically speaking, the ongoing process that is your life began with the fertilization of that egg by that sperm, period.

Thus, no scientist could reasonably argue now that a living human fetus does not constitute a living human organism.  A dependent one, certainly, but a newborn infant is also entirely dependent upon others for its survival; the only difference is that it need not necessarily be its biological mother that provides for it, whereas before it is born, that is necessarily so.  So upon what basis of argument can it be "not okay" to end the life of a child who is in the developmental position of being entirely dependent upon someone else for its survival, where that "someone else" might be a range of people, but "okay" to end the life of the same child in a somewhat less developed stage, where it is entirely dependent upon one given person for its survival?  

Indeed, ironically, the only people who would have a leg to stand on in arguing that an individual human life begins any later than with its biological conception would be people who hold the “human life as spirit” view—that the individual human life is entirely contained within a disembodied spirit, the body no more part of that human life than the clothes you happen to be wearing—and who believe that that spirit is somehow added to the fetus at some point after conception; for example, at the “quickening,” when the mother first begins to feel the movements of the child within the womb.  So perhaps people holding these religious views could argue that, since the quickening generally happens sometime after 12 weeks, this bill (if enforced) would prevent the ending of human lives. 

The Catholic Church, which has provided the most systematic reasoning and debating and clarification of this issue, does not hold such a spiritistic view; it clearly teaches that a human life is an embodied spirit; that when our bodies are formed in the womb, we are formed—our personhood is formed—as one integrated person.  The church’s teachings thus align with science’s confirmation that each individual human life begins at conception.  I suspect that most Christians would agree with this, even if their denominations’ teachings were less clear (or quite unclear) on the subject, and certainly the Bible’s repeated mentions of God “forming me within the womb” tend to confirm (the Bible doesn’t speak of a separate “forming” for the spirit and the body, but the “forming” of the person—of “me”). 

This means—returning to the issue at hand—that any law that continues to allow abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy, however early, is continuing to reinforce the prevailing notion in our culture that it is okay to end a human life as long as it is sufficiently undeveloped.  As long as it is sufficiently helpless, unable to defend itself; sufficiently silent, unable to cry for help; sufficiently out of sight--we do tend to have at least momentary qualms when confronted with pictures of tiny human body parts torn to pieces, but of course by that time it is too late for the baby in question—but basically, yeah, if we can’t see them, we don’t (as a culture) really care.  But doesn’t that fly in the face of our usual American drive to defend the helpless and innocent?  One little girl trapped in a well in Texas and the whole country turns up to get her out, or at least tunes in to watch the rescue, with baited breath—can they get her out?  will she survive?—but 55 million helpless babies trapped in the wombs of women who don’t want them. . . ?  Is it really that we are so completely driven by visual media that if there isn’t a PICTURE available, we just can’t connect to the baby in question?  

Some may argue (an evangelical Christian friend of mine, who also happened to be a geneticist, once expounded this view to me) that, since many (perhaps most) fertilized embryos don’t even make it to full-term, we can’t really say that an early-term baby would “make the cut” anyway, so they shouldn’t be considered human lives until they reach some medically set stage of viability, anyway.  But that age of viability is changing all the time, and this argument could equally be made of any person.  None of us knows how long our life will be.  We may be diagnosed with a terminal illness in the next few months, and not survive the year; we may be hit by a bus tomorrow and die; we may drop dead before reaching the end of this sentence from a burst aneurysm we never knew we had.  Does that mean that I could kill you, and argue my innocence of murder from the possibility that you may not have lived much longer anyway?  

 It comes down to this—is it wrong to end a person’s life, yes or no?  However much longer it may have lasted—and we cannot know that, not for anyone, born or as yet unborn—however small, undeveloped, or apparently “unwanted”—and bear in mind that these classifications can apply to people after birth, too—do we have the right to end that life, because it is inconvenient, or even deeply distressing, to us?  Right now, our culture says yes—yes, you can end that life, as long as it is small enough, undeveloped enough, unseen enough.  This current Arkansas law just confirms that answer. 
Myself, I stand with Dr. Seuss:  A person’s a person, no matter how small. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hot on the heels of Mother's Day. . .

This morning, I heard on the radio a story that included mention of pajamas that tell your kid a bedtime story, and a chip that you put on (in???) your baby that will send you a message when they've wet themselves.  All I could think is, WHY is there even a market for things that will allow parents to have even LESS contact with their children?  The little-known (but well established by research) fact is that children can sicken and DIE from lack of real contact with human beings.  Actually physically die.  They literally NEED us to pay attention to them, to be WITH them, not just in the same general space, but truly WITH them.  It isn't a preference, it isn't "being spoiled," they actually, literally NEED human connection.  "Mommy, watch me!" is thus as legitimate and necessary a request as "Mommy, feed me."    How is it our culture has become so anti-human that we don't recognize that, even when science tells us that? 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Django, Anti-Christ Retribution for Slavery

My daughter admired this film so much, I decided to watch it if only to keep some contact with her tastes.  Perhaps it was an unwise decision, since it had a rather sickening and depressing effect.  Most upsetting of all was realizing that my precious girl finds this movie “hilarious” and “enjoyable.”

Clearly, this beyond hyper-violent revenge fantasy is so over-the-top that it is not intended to be taken “seriously,” but my daughter’s insistence that you are supposed to just “set all that aside” and “enjoy” it leaves me more concerned about the film’s ultimate effects on the viewer, not less—because of what one must “set aside” in order to “enjoy” it.

At the very least, it seems, there are three things you must be able to set aside, and it seems to me that, when these things are successfully set aside by more and more of a civilization, that civilization is increasingly on its way to anti-civilization.

First is the appalling tidal wave of intense and gory violence itself.  Clearly, the frequency and intensity of the violence, and the over-the-top nature of the gore-spouting effects, are intended to make the viewer say, as my daughter does, “well, that’s just not realistic. . . blood doesn’t do that. . . isn’t that color. . . etc., etc.”  But in the meantime, you are taking in example after example of human beings dying horrifically, and “setting that aside” as inconsequential.  There is no question anymore that repeated viewings of violence, no matter how “unrealistic” (and these depictions are less “unrealistic” than “surrealistic,” which is qualitatively different), do contribute to desensitization in the viewer.  This makes us less likely to feel anything appropriate in future situations of actual violence (for example, when confronted with reports of violence in the news, or even outside our very windows), and thus less likely to react in any constructive way (we may be “outraged,” for a moment, but take no actual constructive action to change the situation or ameliorate the factors resulting in the violence in question in order to potentially prevent future similar occurrences). 

Second is the pervasive and apparently irremediable racism that perfuses the world of the film, on both sides of the “black vs. white” divide.  All white characters are portrayed as wholly and egregiously racist, with the single bizarre exception of the enigmatic (and weirdly German) bounty hunter, who seems inclined to treat the black slaves he encounters as fellow human beings, but on the other hand is perfectly content to make his living “selling the dead flesh” of (apparently always white) wanted criminals, with not one thought for their humanity, up to and including having Django murder one wanted man now attempting to live a peaceful life as a farmer, as he plows a field assisted by his young son, who—as we must also “set aside”—must  now live with having seen his father shot down like a dog in the dirt, and how he will be able to live without his father, what sort of life he will have to pursue, we are given no clue whatsoever.  Thus all white folks in this world are demonic sociopaths, one way or another.    

Those on the other side of the racial divide in this film’s world seem equally racist:  Django is happy to “kill white folks and get paid for it;” and we see no other black face show an ounce of compassion for the devastation Django wreaks on the white folks later, other than Samuel L. Jackson’s character, who is portrayed as such a race-betraying “Uncle Tom” that we are apparently meant to cheer as he “gets what he deserves” in the end, an old and frail man tortured and then killed by a deeply self-satisfied Django.

Which brings us to the last, and arguably most insidious, thing we must “set aside” to “enjoy” this film.  As with so many other Hollywood “action” films, the “action” is driven entirely by a raging sense of vengeance.  Django, of course, has every excellent reason to hate, despise, and wish dead those who have injured himself and his wife; and all human beings can relate to this raging hatred and wish to inflict injury for injury.  And this film is designed to glorify that very wish, as we are meant to cheer Django’s heroic ride, on his bareback (“unchained,” just as he is) golden horse, shooting and blasting his way through every white habitation (whether they had anything to do with his situation or not, apparently), the blazing hero of every former slave’s retribution fantasies. 

But to cheer this on, to “enjoy” this, to even find it “funny,” as appallingly we are seemingly meant to do, means “setting aside” every inkling of human compassion and joining wholeheartedly in with the enemy’s mission to “steal, kill, and destroy.”  Django’s final retributive ride, like a roaring lion through the countryside, killing and destroying every vestige of white civilization he meets along the way, is the enemy’s work, plain and simple.  While we can absolutely understand his motivation to do just that, as Christians (of whatever color) we must reject it.  “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19), and whatever the horrors the slave-owners’ behavior may merit, it is not for us to inflict them (or join in approving the actions of one who does).  Sadly, it is all too frequent a message of Hollywood that violent retribution is right and just and should be applauded. 

In the end, such a depiction as this, even if you’re “not supposed to take it seriously,” simply adds to both the growing anti-Christ sentiment that “vengeance is mine, says whoever feels wronged,” and to the sense that racial hatred is endemic and irremediable; that it never goes away, it just gets more insidious.  In a worldview without Christ as the rally point, that may well be true, even inevitable.   This is just one more reason we must defend the Christian worldview, with our very lives, if necessary:  in Christ, there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).