Why is society increasingly condemning “transgender” people to suffering?

The title may cause some to think this post is going to say something else, but that won’t change the truth of that title: Why is the world turning against transgender people?

If you will forgive what will come across as a shameless self-promotion, I recorded this Tomorrow’s World webcast last time I was in Charlotte: (Apologies if you have sound issues while watching. I know it was a bit quiet when I watched it, and on my iPhone the volume kept dropping at odd times. Hopefully your viewing is better.)

That commentary is one I have actually wanted to give for a long time — actually, since the day after Joshua Alcorn (again, not Leelah Alcorn) died. The President’s irresponsible comments concerning therapy for such individuals occasioned an opportunity to bring it up again in the context of recent events.

You can click here for the Dr. Paul HcHugh article on transgenderism in the WSJ that I referred to in the video. (The article is behind a paywall, I believe, but the link there goes through a Google search link which may allow the full article to be displayed with some WSJ ads.)

(Photo courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Why are we condemning an increasing number of individuals to suffering and confusion and refusing to provide them the help they need? (Photo courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I’m sure I will discuss the topic again. One of the reasons I am being moved to Charlotte is to create more content to help keep pace with the growing scale of the Work, and that is intended to include webcasts. But until then, maybe I can vent a little more frustration about the topic here.

I have seen nothing substantial to refute the idea that Paul McHugh highlights in his article: Transgender people suffer from a disorder of assumption, just like those who suffer other such body-related disorders, and they need help. I’ve read some reactions to his paper, some from professionals in the field of mental health, and none of them seem to point to any significant evidence, at all, that the conclusion should be any different. You hear “stuck in the past” and “people have grown” and “now we know better” but no actual evidence that the changes that have happened in the profession in how they deal with the issue do anything more than reflect changing cultural attitudes.

The fact is, people who are trapped in a cycle where they are confused about their gender need help. They need a hand reaching out to them to help them through the maze they have become trapped in. Yet, we are in a place as a society where we are beginning to actually ban attempts to help such people in favor of simply accepting their suffering — even actively encouraging their harm to continue.

Those who consider themselves the “transgender community” seem to agree that they need help. They point to horrifying suicide rates, and, like Joshua Alcorn, claim that the solution is for society to become more accepting — claim that the cause of the suicides and depression is society’s unwillingness to accept them as they are.

There is, however, good cause to suspect such claims. As journalist Dale O’Leary reported in the 2007 book One Man, One Woman,

“If these problems were caused entirely by lack of public acceptance of [same-sex attraction], we would expect to find fewer problems in places where tolerance was high and ‘homophobia’ low. But this isn’t the case. Studies done in the Netherlands and New Zealand, for example, where there is generally high tolerance of sexual ‘diversity’ found the same high rates of psychological difficulties as those done elsewhere.”

[Quoted from here.]

Even that evidence aside, where is the good evidence that transgenderism is anything but a disorder of association? No one is arguing that we should accept the self-perceptions of those suffering from anorexia or bulimia. Rather, we are driven to help such people to see themselves rightly, to help them address the self-damaging misperceptions reigning in their minds.

And note: This isn’t an argument that people suffering from gender confusion chose to feel and see themselves the way they do. At the same time, there are many perceptions people have, about themselves and others, that are not accurate but which have been formed by a variety of circumstances, both psychological and even chemical. Again, which anorexic or bulimic sufferer actually chose to see themselves or their bodies in such a manner?

Some might say, “But, transgenderism can show up in individuals at such a young age.” Really? Like the 9-year-old dying of anorexia reported by Salon? Like the 1500 anorexics between 13- & 15-years-old, 400 between 10- & 12-years-old, 99 between 8 & 9-years-old, and 98 between 5 & 7-years-old treated in England over a three year period according to the NHS, as reported by the Daily Mail? (Warning: The link is to the Daily Mail…) And those are reported cases. Conditions like anorexia are often unreported — surely that is so in children so young, where the condition is not normally expected.

I’m sorry, but the argument that “I have felt this way since I was very young” just doesn’t mean, in any way, that it is the way you are meant to be and doesn’t mean that it isn’t a condition that you can be helped to overcome and escape.

Yet, as those who have overcome anorexia often relate, overcoming it can take a long time with continuous help and an environment supportive of your healing. So, why are we, as a society, choosing increasingly to abandon those suffering with gender confusion — robbing them of both professional care that could help them and an environment that encourages the healing they need?

Part of the problem is that it has to do with sex and gender, and our society has a huge hang up about that. To suggest that male and female identities are anything but “fluid” these days is to invite wrath, regardless of what actual biology and (real) psychology might say. (Let alone the Bible! “Turn on the rage machine — someone mentioned Genesis!”)

It is caught up in the same storm that is dedicated to convincing everyone that people are “born” homosexual. Weakening one case weakens the other, and the direction in which our society is currently dragging itself demands that the “born that way” dogma not be questioned in any way whatsoever.

Yet it is a dogma that is begging to be questioned. Consider this comment from David Benkof, a homosexual historian, himself (underlining mine):

“Of course, none of this means people don’t have sexual orientations today, it just means sexual orientations are specific to our culture, and thus not basic human nature. In tech-speak, that means being gay is in the software of some people’s lives, but it’s in nobody’s hardware.

“The compelling evidence nobody’s born gay doesn’t necessarily have to shred the LGBT agenda. Legitimate reasons for more liberal attitudes and policies regarding gays and lesbians still exist, such as freedom of association, the right to privacy, and respect for other people’s experiences. But those who demand social or political change because gays are born that way just don’t know much about history.”

[Found here.]

I know — people will dismiss Benkof as a self-hating orthodox Jewish homosexual. That is to their detriment, because his point is well founded, corresponding to all we know right now in science and in culture.

His point is a good one. One does not have to relegate homosexual urges, mindsets, proclivities, or inclinations to pure “choice” and conservative social commentators from a wide variety of directions have admitted that there can be many influences that push a person in such a direction — just as is the case for many conditions, such as alcoholism, violence, other body disorders, etc. Even those searching for a “gay gene” have admitted that the scant evidence they have found for correlations between genetic features and homosexual men would not argue for anything that “causes” homosexuality but, at most, something that would have to combine with multiple other factors to bring about such strong influences in someone’s life. The “gay gene” that somehow “makes” a person a homosexual is a myth — it has been declared so by those who have come the closest to finding anything that might be called such, even while those who point to their studies ignore what they actually say.

Who could question that there are influences in this world that can push a person into wrong and harmful lifestyles and thought patterns — lifestyles and patterns they would never actively choose for themselves? I wouldn’t. But since when did we declare that just because there may be such influences we should embrace them rather than help people overcome them?

And it is no different concerning the transgender movement.

I read an excellent article in the Federalist yesterday titled, “It Isn’t Hateful To Point Out Bruce Jenner Isn’t a Woman” (May 12, 2015). It covers similar ground as I did in the video above, with a special emphasis on the insanity and harmfulness of mainstream journalism’s response to the transgender movement (e.g., accepting false pronouns), but I love how well the author, Daniel Payne, makes his points.

For instance, he asks what I think is a very relevant question: What if someone “identified” as a different race or ethnicity? Like me — I’m about as caucasian as Barry Manilow and Weird “Al” Yankovic, but what if I began identifying as Chinese or African-American? What if I believed — as in deeply, truly believed — that I was another very different ethnicity or race? Would everyone have to begin ignoring reality and start referring to me by the ethnicity I identified as?

Similarly, if a young woman suffers from anorexia, should everyone simply accept the individual’s self-perception — how she “identifies” — over the facts? Especially if the facts mean that she is suffering in her state, whether she believes she is suffering it or not?

The answers to these questions should be virtually self-evident. Yet, the insanity of our current culture means they are not. At least not when sex is concerned.

And even worse, just as our culture is creating more body-image problems in the young through the onslaught of marketing, movies, etc. that saturate their minds, we are doing the same thing with the young when it comes to gender confusion. As Dr. Paul McHugh had reported in his WSJ essay, somewhere around 75% of those who express gender confusion when they are young do pass through that time with such confusion spontaneously disappearing without intervention. Expect that number to drop as society begins increasingly sending such young people more and more messages, through every form of media imaginable and through the mouths of the perceived authorities in their lives, that teach them “This confusion means you aren’t really what you seem to be. Trust and follow that confusion.” How terrible. Frankly, how satanic.

Rather than solve a problem and seek to help people, we are intensifying a problem and abandoning people to it.

May God have mercy on our nation as we increasingly sentence more and more people, young and old, to suffering by refusing to help them — even by making it illegal to help them. What a messed up place.

Some Social Commentary via the Marvel Universe: Feminists, Values, and “Going Dark”

Marvel Studios Logo
Our entertainment choices and works of fiction can bring out interesting observations on our culture. (Image: Marvel Studios logo; click for source & owners.)

After long absences from the blog like this, I normally start off with some sort of poking-fun-at-myself comment like, “Hey, looks like I forgot about my blog!” Well, this time I can actually say that. With our in-progress move to Charlotte taking up quite a few brain cells, not to mention actual trips to Charlotte for weddings, video work, and Council meetings, I truly did forget I actually had a blog out here.

And I must say that I suspect that the days of this blog are numbered, as much of the content-creation work I will be doing in Charlotte will begin to take the place of one of the things I have informally used this blog to do: keep me writing and create an opportunity for my congregants to stay in touch with me during the week, even if I am just writing about my kids’ innovative chess techniques. (On display here and here, by the way — beware the Power Pope!)

But, today I return to my poor neglected blog to get three things off of my chest — some social commentary born of observations from the growing Marvel Universe onscreen (technically, the Marvel Cinematic Universe). For those who don’t get the geek-speak (though, increasingly normal-speak), that refers to the fictional universe being created to display, and make money from, Marvel comic book properties on the big screen (and the small screen — looking at you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).

And I should make a couple of confessions and pre-comment comments here at the beginning. For one, this post is not a recommendation of any of these fictional works. I find that many could have good cause in their conscience not to partake of anything related to any such movies. Still, the films are looming large in the public eye, and if something has the public’s attention and can be used to make helpful, godly observations, I’m going for it. No one actually has to see the movies to appreciate the points I want to make, any more than one needs to actually read Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf to consider someone’s analysis of the book and what it might say about current trends in society.

Secondly, these comments aren’t really going to be about what happens in the movies as opposed to how our culture has interacted with the movies and what that interaction says about us. The characters in the movies are fictional. No one should emotionally invest in something that does not exist. But the people around us? Very much real and alive, and what can be learned, hoped, dreamed, regretted about real people is very important, indeed.

OK, on to the comments I want to make. Not many — just three.

(1) The incredibly stupid and immoral hatred some feminists have expressed concerning the value of motherhood in the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron movie.

The writer and director of the recent Avengers cash cow, Joss Whedon, is normally someone who likes writing tough, tail-kicking parts for women — just one more person in this world who is promoting the terrible idea that women can fight, punch, kick, etc. as hard as men. The recent Avengers flick is no different, with the Black Widow character, portrayed by Scarlett Johannson, being your standard female repentant-super-assassin-turned-good. Nothing really new here.

Except there was something new. (Spoiler alert, by the way.) In the movie, the character is reflecting on what had been done to her when she was young to help make her a government killing machine, and she laments that those who reared and trained her also sterilized her so that she would not be distracted by the possibility of having children and becoming a mother, not unlike ancient kingdoms did with male servants, making them eunuchs. The character admits a sadness that she would never be able to have children.

Bring on the feminist hand-wringing.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Joss Whedon apparently considers himself a feminist, and his constant stream of unrealistic super-tough female characters should establish his pro-feminist “street cred” according to many. Yet, in actually writing about a female character who laments that her ability to conceive and bear children was taken from her, he is perceived as having committed some great crime against the feminist cause. The angry outcry was great (imagine rants to the effect of “How dare he define women by their ability to make babies!”), and by some disputed accounts (included disputed by himself) the backlash drove him off of Twitter.

This is ridiculous on so many levels, but let me just focus on two: For one, it is insane to call oneself a feminist and to complain when a woman — portrayed as being tough-as-steel and an equal to all the men around her — laments that her ability to have children was taken from her against her will. Why in the world would someone complain about such a thing. Would they have preferred that she said, “You know, although they actually robbed me of one of the most gifts and powers a woman has in the world, but I don’t care — in fact, I’m better off”? Or even, “Yeah, they took my ovaries. No big whoop.” How ridiculous. For people who love to protest that the government should stay out of women’s wombs to protest that a female character in a movie objects to having a government ignore that and forcibly curtail a woman’s reproductive rights is completely illogical. I thought it was just that, “reproductive rights,” that they were defending? Apparently, they are only defending them if “reproductive rights” means “the right not to reproduce.” That would certainly explain how so many of them seem to hate large families (calling such mothers “breeders” and such). Crazy.

The second point about this is how utterly ungodly such complaints are. Being the one through whom the entire human race is perpetuated is one of the gifts and privileged burdens God has given women. There is a reason Adam honored his wife by calling her Eve, “the mother of all living.” To wring one’s hands and “sigh and cry” that a fictional character dare to complain that she was sterilized against her will is perverted. It is just one more example of the world being upside down. Really: Absolutely perverted. Let a fictional woman be the epitome of a “super woman” — able to fight with the toughest of men and beat them — and she is praised, but let her lament the loss of one, single, beautiful aspect of being a woman, and suddenly she is anathema and an enemy against all womankind. Really — satanic.

(Side note #1: I know that part of the rancor was also spurred by the very positive image of a pregnant wife and happy family behind the Hawkeye character, setting up the contrast between the wife and mother, who seemed very fulfilled, and the Black Widow character, who was damaged and conflicted. But if I don’t limit my rant a little bit, I will never move on, will I?)

(Side note #2: The irony in all of this — Scarlett Johansson was actually pregnant during the movie’s filming.)

(2) Captain America’s commitment to doing the right thing over success or even survival.

I could go on and on about this one, because I think it reflects one of society’s great faults — infecting even mainstream Christianity at an increasing rate, as evidenced by the growing “Christian” acceptance of homosexual “marriage.”

At one point in the new Avengers movie, Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) are debating the virtues of actions Stark had recently taken — which were independent and against the wishes of the rest of the team, though taken with good intention. Rogers takes him to task and says it was wrong for him to do that — that they should work together. Stark counters that if they stick with such a value then they will lose. And Rogers says, We’ll do that together, too.

I’m sorry, but that sort of sentiment is sorely absent from our culture: The idea that right is right and wrong is wrong, and we do the right thing regardless of even extreme consequences. (Well, I shouldn’t say that, I suppose. There are a number of things that today’s new moralists might be willing to sacrifice everything for, but, without going into too much detail, let me say that there is a very different spirit there.) John Quincy Adams is believed to have said, “Duty is ours; results are God’s” and implicit in that statement is the understand that you do your duty, regardless of the results. If it is optional, it isn’t duty.

Rogers’ statement in the flick that even if we lose, we lose together — that it isn’t worth doing the wrong thing, even if it means we lose — is, IMHO, very counter to the culture around us (and, I admit, the examples which come to mind for me are likely not examples that would be celebrated by many of those who made the movie).

Consider the Boy Scouts. I admired their stand against accepting homosexuality as lifestyle to be embraced as opposed to being a perversion to be acknowledged as such — at best, a condition to help people avoid and resist. As an institution standing for values and ethics, they took an unpopular stand on those values and ethics, and they recognized that one cannot repeat the Boy Scout Oath to keep oneself “morally straight” while also practicing homosexuality. (And, of course, any sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral, including heterosexual acts.)

What I saw in the Boy Scouts, as the public disapproval mounted and boycotts ensured, was a willingness to see the Boy Scouts destroyed before there would be any giving in. I saw that they were willing to allow the organization to be disbanded before they gave ground on their moral stand, in a culture that desperately needed such public, moral stands.

And, well, that didn’t last, did it? They took their moral stand until they didn’t.

We currently see individuals and businesses taking such stands — against not only civil lawsuits, but against state governments. Facing the loss of their livelihoods and tens of thousands of dollars in fines for not being willing to violate their consciences and celebrate homosexual “marriages” with their gifts and talents as photographers and artists, they stand and say, “Even if we lose and even if you destroy our businesses and our ability to earn and support our families, we cannot but stand here. We will not move.” Good for them. I see that sort of sentiment in Captain America’s statement (even if the industry that wrote that line wouldn’t agree with the examples I am using), and I wish there were more of it coming out of Hollywood.

It’s the sort of stand that the rest of us had better gear up for. Some values really are worth losing over.

(3) Marvel vs. DC — “Going dark”

There is quite a bit of pop culture buzz out there about the clear difference being seen in Marvel movies (in particular, the Disney-owned Marvel movies) and DC movies.

[Aside: For the uninitiated, Marvel and DC are the two major comic book publishers. Marvel makes the Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. and DC makes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. They have been considered rival publishers for decades. As a pre-teen, while I was aware of DC publications, I was very much a Marvel fan. I actually read Stan Lee’s letters in the comics, proclaimed “Make Mine Marvel,” and totally get it when someone exclaims “Excelsior!” (Please read all of that in the context I am about to provide, below.) The old comic book rivalry is turning into a movie rivalry, as Marvel movies featuring Marvel superheroes are doing box-office battle with DC movies featuring DC superheroes. This part of the post refers to this “conflict.”]

I freely admit that I wasted a sadly vast part of my youth on comic books, understanding enough about how immersive that world can be to decide I do not want my children to be a part of it. My old Marvel Godzilla comic books are all they have read of that industry, and we’ve talked about why I’d rather they never take up the comic book habit. Don’t get me wrong — my children aren’t perfect in the media-feeding department, and neither is their dad. But that particular vice — comic books — is one we have successfully avoided in their youth.

And my revulsion toward allowing them to get into comic books was based on my own youth and experience in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, that revulsion is only enhanced by what comic books became not too long after I stopped participating, and what they became could be summarized in one word: Dark.

Some people trace the beginning of the dark trend now seemingly everywhere in comics to the 1986 publication of Frank Miller’s Batman story “The Dark Knight Returns.” I don’t know that that is true — I can see the beginnings even in my day earlier in the decade, but, regardless, comic books became, on the whole, nastier, grittier, uglier places to be. Again: Darker.

Gone was the “Boy Scout” hero (will we lose that adjective? ) who refuses to kill his foe — essentially, a Lone Ranger with super powers. In came the gritty, dark anti-heroes of questionable morals and ethics. Bad guys became more sadistic and horrifically cruel. Grotesquely violent. Gone were heroes like young Peter Parker, who struggled to understand the right thing to do on occasion, while still understanding that there was a right thing to do. (As a teenage boy struggling to understand how to do the right thing, myself, I got that.) In came the “heroes” who observe with jaded and cynical eye that there is no real “right” thing, and that sometimes we have to be bad, go to dark places in ourselves, etc., etc. ad nauseam.

Now, we have movies. Marvel has become known for bright, humorous fantasies, in which characters are still inherently virtuous — difficult pasts, yes, but overcoming those to do the right thing and stand for right things. Their characters make jokes and inhabit a world that is a pretty pleasant place to be in when the universe isn’t being threatened by aliens or whatever.

DC, on the other hand, has become known for darker visions, in which even the heroes have a dark edge to them. Batman seems always on the edge of darkness. Even “Boy Scout” Superman (there’s that adjective again) gains such an edge in the new movies. When young Superman’s dad actually suggests that perhaps the young lad should have refused to save a school bus full of children from drowning rather than risk revealing his powers, the movies declared their dedication to a different sort of moralizing. A darker moralizing. Some will claim that such discussions and comments simply reflect and admit the existence of hard questions, but the problem is that it has lumped easy questions into the hard question category. That doesn’t reflect great moral maturing; it reflects a great moral confusion.

There was quite a bit of chatter on the Internet when the rumor spread that DC had made a rule across its productions that there was to be no joking at all. After all, these are “serious” movies. And someone showed me recently how the recent Superman had been artificially processed before being released so as to remove all bright colors, making even the very color palette of the flick a tool for enhancing the dark, monotone, moody feel.

Many have wondered when the Marvel movies, too, would follow suit. After all, dark is “the thing.” Most figured that the plan for Marvel was to start their movies nice, happy, and bright, but — eventually — once you have reeled everyone in, “go dark.”

To their credit, they say there are no plans to do that. Marvel head honcho, Kevin Feige, is reported on Reddit to have said that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will never “go dark” in the movies:

“There is no dark turn in the MCU. He says every year fans come up to him and ask him if this movie is when the MCU goes ‘dark’ or takes a ‘dark’ turn. He said while the trailers may seem ominous or have a sense of impending doom, the movies do not have that feel, and will not. He said he ‘Hoped people would catch on by now’ – there will be no giant dark turns in the MCU where it then continues to head in that direction. The humor is in the DNA of the movies, there are no plans to change that.”

Movies aside, what I care about is what it says about the culture. And I think that the dark/not dark DC/Marvel difference here is interesting.

On one hand, people these days seem to want “dark.” There is a reason that people keep asking Feige when the “dark turn” is going to happen. It’s expected, and many people want that sort of darker, edgier content. We see similar desires seeking to be satisfied in television programming such as the CSI shows and crime dramas, where the perpetrators are increasingly terrible and sadistic. (I saw enough of one episode of “Criminal Minds” to realize I never want to see another one, ever.)

On the other hand, an encouraging other hand, there is still something in people — at least some people — who don’t want “dark.” Even putting aside the insane amount of money the first Avengers movie made, it was a comment in one of the reviews that got my attention. I can’t find it, otherwise I would link to it, but the reviewer commented about the consistent applause scene in that movie: When all of the heroes are gathered together for the first time in a circle to battle their overwhelming foes. The camera circles, the music swells, and the audience is treated to a moment they have been cinematically manipulated to appreciate for the previous hour-or-so. But the fact that the audience actually applauded and cheered at that moment grabbed the reviewers attention. Actually, it grabbed many reviewers’ attentions. As one noted, everyone was applauding a scene that most all of them had already seen in the trailer for the movie.

Actual applause seems rare in movies these days — at least to me. (Admittedly, I don’t actually see too many movies.) I remember as a kid seeing one of the Star Wars movies and hearing my mother applauding in the theater — the only one applauding and, of course, totally embarrassing me. (Of course, now I wish she were still here to embarrass me in the movie theater. Thank you, Father, that no one is gone from us forever.) Yet here were these normally jaded, cynical moviegoers, unabashedly applauding this scene in the first Avengers movie.

The reviewer who grabbed my attention explained his own opinion about the matter. He said that in a world full of darkness that has taken over even the heroes of our fantasies, there was something wonderful about seeing the good guys assemble together, overcome their differences, and act like good guys.

I think he was right. At last, I hope he was right.

Some say art should reflect reality back at us and cause is to meditate on it. Whatever. I’m not saying that there can’t be benefit to that, but the idea that movie blockbusters are there to do that is pretty ridiculous on the surface. History seems to show, at least to me, that art does less reflecting on reality and more shaping of it. Rather than becoming a mirror in which we can reflect and change, it becomes an amplifier, magnifying those qualities it depicts and reducing those it ignores. Boys N the Hood may have sought to make parts of gang life seem terrible and inglorious, but there was a reason, as police told me and some assembled teachers back in the 90s, that whenever they raided gang homes that they always–always–found that movie in the home, often playing in the VCR at the time. It caused fewer to reflect on the dangers of such a life than it caused to see it as something glamorized and something worthy of being glamorized, which is different, however subtly.

The world is dark, to be sure. But there is a reason that Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” What we reflect on tends to be what we become.

And the idea that, as much as people clamor for “dark and gritty,” they responded, perhaps despite themselves, to a cheesy, hopeful moment where good guys are actually good is encouraging to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not blind. I’ve seen ads for Marvel’s Daredevil series on Netflix and have read the reviews. I’m not even interested. If there is money to be made in grit and guts–in “dark”–then expect companies who want money to follow that money. And I’m also not deluded to think that what qualifies at “not dark” today is still, in many ways, quite dark. Sometimes the “not dark” material stands out against the “dark” material simply because it is “not as dark.” (I know: A lot of repetitious uses of “dark” in those sentences. Forgive me some lazy blogging…)

But, still, in a world of dark clouds (there’s that word again!–expect it a couple of more times, at least…), please don’t begrudge me one silver lining, however thin it may be and however quickly it may be receding. As the world becomes more and more obsessed with the perceived glamor of “evil” and the appeal of dark worlds and dark thoughts, the fact that at least one movie company sees profits in avoiding such a turn, however indirectly, is encouraging. Don’t know that it will last, but it’s still encouraging.

And, to wrap up: Again, none of this is meant to endorse or encourage anyone to actually see these movies, any more than Paul’s use of the “Unknown God” idol was meant to encourage idolatry or his use of gladiatorial imagery in multiple passages was meant to glamorize or approve of being entertained by watching slaves and prisoners fight to the death in the arena.

But as these sorts of flicks loom larger and larger in the culture — and as long as they make money, they will continue to loom large — they become yet another way to reflect on that culture. Sometimes the culture reveals itself best while it is occupied with trying to enjoy itself.

Some thoughts on the Sony hack and canceling “The Interview”

It’s been a while since I posted! Even this one I will keep brief. (Ha! Believe it or not, I do mean that when I say it. “Brief” is just hard for me. Even harder when I’m pressed for time. Ask Blaise Pascal about that.)

I find all of this buzz about the hack of e-mails and assets from Sony Pictures, the threats to movie theaters that might show their movie, The Interview, and the subsequent cancellation of the movie’s premier to be a little fascinating. here are some thoughts, lazily listed in bulleted format…

(By the way: If you have no idea what I am talking about, the BBC summarizes the matter pretty well here: “The Interview: A guide to the cyber attack on Hollywood”)

  • I’ve seen more attention paid to this cyber attack than all the other attacks that are surely made against other targets, including non-Hollywood businesses and the U.S. government. I suspect the fact that the target is Hollywood makes a big difference.
  • Total cave on the part of Sony Pictures and various theaters. I wonder if this is because of the terrorist-style threats concerning showing the movie (surely part of it) or if it is because of the potential that more embarrassing information may be released from the information hack.
  • North Korea is strongly believed to be behind the attack (actually, the U.S. has recently declared that Pyongyang order the attack. Makes you wonder (if you haven’t wondered already) how easy it would be for the sorts of groups some (like perhaps the president) may want to call “JV league” to make a damaging impact on the nation through cyber warfare. If you don’t think we’re terribly vulnerable, you haven’t been paying attention.
  • So, a movie about Muhammed is too intimidating a possibility for any Hollywood studio to touch, knowing how violent elements in the world will react. A movie that paints Kim Jong-un in an unflattering light gets canned at cost in response to a digital attack with promise for more. Yet, movies that make Noah a psychotic weirdo and turn Moses into a fictional tool that serves only to satisfy a director’s personal vision get an easy pass. Not suggesting that anyone attack theaters over Noah or Exodus, mind you! Indeed: turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). Just pointing out the interesting difference.(In other, related news: I have written a commentary about the new Exodus: Gods and Kings movie and have submitted it to editorial. If it is usable, it will hopefully be published on the lcg.org and tomorrowsworld.org websites within a few days.)
  • Given the involvement of Seth Rogen and James Franco, The Interview is probably a vulgar piece of trash. Just saying.
  • Seeing how the media has responded and continues to respond to the leak of private info from Sony is interesting, too. IMHO, it begs to be compared and contrasted with other leaks and violations of privacy, such as WikiLeaks’ publication of confidential government information and the publication of the names and addresses of gun owners in an effort by activists to shame and stigmatize such individuals, whether or not it endangers them.
  • Related to the above, the availability to the media of salacious information about the very individuals the media tends to revere has produced some interesting soul-searching (and naval-gazing) on the part of journalists. Would that such introspection on the media’s part occur in other areas, as well.

And, that’s all for now. Not the deepest topic, I know, but nice for a blogging hit-and-run. 🙂

Is football the worst sport ever?

Football Boy
So, it that a football old-timey boy has, or a watermelon? I think it’s a watermelon.

[Note: Due to the fact that I worked on this from a short draft I began back in November of 2014, the effective “date” of the post here on my blog is 11/28/2014, even though I wrote this on 6/3/2015. Rather than move it to the proper date, seeing how there are already comments and such, I’m just leaving it here it is. I think we’ll all survive, won’t we? — WGS]

So, is football the worst sport ever, and its industry the picture of sin-incarnate? Part of the world is wondering if it is, these days. But which part of the world you are talking about makes a difference.

If by “football” you mean “American football,” then, for all its vices–shared, paralleled, or “one upped” by many other sports–the answer seems to be “no.” The American public seems to be slowly moving past Deflategate and is waiting disinterestedly for the next scandal. But if by “football” you mean the same thing that virtually the entire rest of the world means by “football”–for us Americans, that would be “soccer”–then some are, indeed, wondering if the answer might be “yes.”

[Note for those non-Americans reading today’s post: My apologies for calling football “soccer” for the rest of this post. Since most of my visitors–folks in my congregations, et al.–are Americans, I’m going to go the route that makes the most sense for them. But, for what it’s worth, I do think that “football” is the better description of the sport!]

If you haven’t been keeping up with the scandals of FIFA these days (the international governing body for professional soccer), you’ve been missing out. I won’t try to summarize it all, but it is amazing how corrupt the sport is. The Wall Street Journal just published an interesting op-ed piece comparing FIFA to the Clinton family’s approach to politics. Here is my tweet of that (using the Twitter link below should solve any paywall problems, I think:

If you want to know more specifically about the FIFA scandal, just Google it.

But it brings to mind attacks I have seen on football as the sport somehow most deserving of attack as somehow inherently sinful and immoral that deserves special attention above all other sports. And I continually don’t get it, when there are so many other better targets, as this FIFA news helps to demonstrate. [And, please note: I don’t say this as a fan of football. I didn’t watch a single game last year — not even the Super Bowl. I say it as someone who is an anti-fan of poor logic and of abusing the Bible to try and convince others that one’s personal opinions and convictions are equivalent to God’s own judgment.]

I recognize that Mr. Herbert Armstrong had commented in the past on why he didn’t have football at Ambassador College, and his thoughts are still very instructive. They don’t unarguably lead one to conclude that football, let alone watching it on television, is inherently evil or sinful, though they do lay out important principles, whether one draws similar conclusions or not. And those few I have seen who try to use his words to say so not only abuse his statement but also tend to ignore all other evidence of his opinions on the matter to turn what he said into a much stronger, broader, and far-reaching statement than Mr. Armstrong intended, and one flatly contradicted by Mr. Armstrong’s repeated approval and endorsement of the Church’s energetic participation in the Rose Bowl Parade, which he didn’t see a problem with even in light of Romans 14:22. I’ve blogged about such abuses of Mr. Armstrong and others before (“Zombie ministers: How some abuse the dead”) and on this topic, specifically (actually, I think, in the “Will there be football in the Millennium?” blog post), so I don’t see a need to kick that dead horse any further. The point of whether or not watching football can be biblically established as inherently evil and sinful is unaffected by any of that–neither proven nor disproven. One is simply left to say that some individuals’ time would be better spent on using Scripture to examine themselves instead of trying to publicly canonize their own personal preferences.

The FIFA scandals seem, to me, to simply be a reminder that some perspective is needed. In the past I dug around (digged around? dig dug around?) trying to see if I should think of football as the preeminent example of sin in sports? Is it at some sort of pinnacle deserving of special condemnation above the others? After all, if it were simply the matters that Mr. Armstrong brought out, those are now represented in our day in a vast array of popular sports, and certainly not just professional football. If the focus on hate-ranting about football as a uniquely, inherently evil sport to play or watch were rooted in some sort of justifiable reality and not just some anti-football blogger’s weird personal obsession, then maybe there was something I was missing.

For instance, is football (remember, American football) the Most Sinful Sport Ever™ because of its attitude toward player concussions?

 

Frankly, that would be highly debatable. Actions and recent lawsuits have pressed the case so that actual studies are being done. There are some very good arguments that soccer needs similar studies as the anecdotal evidence keeps piling up that the sport may be just as a injurious in this regard. However, while football treats a possible concussion during the game as a big deal (game paused, doctors brought out, players evaluated and possibly removed), soccer is known for blowing it off, as displayed in hoopla during the last World Cup. As one article said, “[Q]uite frankly, soccer doesn’t really care about concussions.” (Though, hopefully, recent actions may mean that will finally change for soccer. Bring on the actuaries!)

Still, perhaps football might be the Most Sinful Sport Ever™ because of fatalities and injuries, overall.

Well, no, not there, either.

If we were to ban the most deadly sport in America for young people, that would be softball. Actually, we should ban boys’ gymnastics and water polo, as well, each of which have higher rates of mortality per participant among high school students than football does. But, really, softball is the killer—more than double the rates of mortality per player than even second-place water polo according to statistics gathered from 1982 through 2011.

And if we move from mortality to simply injuries, there are other competitors looking for the title, as well. The high school sport with the greatest rate of injury is cheerleading. And by the way, that’s not cheerleading in support of sports teams, such as football and basketball, but competitive cheerleading—that is, competitive cheerleading against other teams of cheerleaders.

Really, when you look at the stats, injuries are sort of all over the place. But at least in America, competitive cheerleading blows them all away. (Texas Aggies are smart enough not to have cheerleaders. We’d rather have our gals in the stands with us than on the field getting injured. Gig’em!)

Where there is a lot of money to be made, there is lack of regard for human health and safety. To claim that football has a lock on this vice would be weird.

So, maybe with all of the money in football, it qualifies as Most Sinful Sport Ever™ because of graft and corruption? After all, it would be foolish to think that Deflategate is the only shady thing that goes down in the NFL.

Still, as the FIFA scandals demonstrate (and have before today’s headlines), football is not only less than unique, it is probably far from the worst. If anyone thinls that football is the worst in this category, they don’t pay attention to news. And if people were to think football were somehow the worst, they aren’t good at  And they didn’t lose money to Pete Rose.

Perhaps attitude makes football stand out? I mean, you have to admit that there is a lot of carnal attitude on the faces of some of those guys after a tackle or a touchdown.

Yet, if that makes football inherently or uniquely evil or sinful, it would apply to—well—pretty much every major sport these days. Haven’t you seen the prideful, “I’m the king of the world and I’m going to bite your face off” look on the faces of other sports figures? Ever watch basketball? Soccer? Actually, ever watched tennis—or even golf?

Fans of football can be truly atrocious in their behavior, true. Maybe the sport uniquely inspires such sinful attitudes in those who follow it?

Well, no, it doesn’t. In America, we have no idea how carnal fans can get relative to some other sports. There is a reason they call them “soccer hooligans” [OK: (Non-American) football hooligans].

Then there are the cheerleaders. No doubt about it: professional football cheerleaders are undeniably inappropriately clad.

But if you think they’re the worst in football, you haven’t seen the cheerleaders they use, for instance, in professional basketball. [No, I’m not linking to pictures…]

The objection some seem to have about football that, perhaps, makes them feel deep down that it truly is the worst of the worst may be that it seems such a violent sport to them.

But is it, really? The hits are sometimes, maybe even often, rougher than they should be, to be sure. We already covered that, and inappropriate aggression is present in a lot of sports. I’ve blogged about illegal, shameful schemes to purposefully hurt other players, and they are just that: illegal and shameful. And, also, not unique to football. (Think Tonya Harding. Or pitchers taking out batters and the subsequent brawls.) But does it seem more “violent” because there is grappling, pushing, and tackling? Do the presence of those items make it somehow inherently, violently evil and sinful? Like wrestling?

(Did you follow the link? I know—that was mean. But fun. If you want to claim that grappling, pushing, and tackling is inherently, violently evil and sinful, take it up with Jacob and Jesus Christ in the resurrection.)

Really, do we have to ban all roughhousing in sport or play? As a father of four boys (and, as rumor has it, I, myself, am a male, as well), I can say that physical play—wrestling each other, etc.—even intensely physical play is rightly natural to being male. And I say “natural” in terms of God’s design, not “natural” as a euphemism for carnal. The fact that a sport includes physical contact simply can’t, in and of itself, make it inherently sinful.

Bad attitudes on display in that contact? Yes! That would be sinful! But then, it would be sinful in any sport, right? In fact, it would be sinful even if there were no physical contact, right? So, where does that leave us? Right! With football still not being inherently sinful and certainly not uniquely “more evil” than other sports.

The idea that rough-and-tumble play among friends will not be allowed in the Kingdom has no basis in Scripture. To quote verses about “violence” to say otherwise is to assume what one desires to prove and is a logical error of the novice. You would first have to prove that all such play is violence. Have fun with that. And, even if you were to succeed against all odds and rationality, far more sports and play would be condemned than football—once again not making it unique in some way as the sinniest sinful sport in civilization.

Actually, someone who is truly offended by real violence in sports has so many other targets to choose from, and worse offenders, indeed. Consider ice hockey. Who hasn’t heard this joke: “I went to a fight once, and a hockey game broke out”? There’s a reason for that joke. In fact, even if it is a matter of just picking on America, in North America the rules concerning actual, literal player-on-player violence in hockey are looser than just about everywhere else in the world. Fights are actually expected, and are part of what the fans want.

Really, it’s hard to justify picking on football as the pinnacle of “sports evil” in the area of violence. (And, again, simply quoting verses about “violence” assumes what one wants to prove.)

Finally, perhaps football qualifies as Most Sinful Sport Ever™, at least as a public symbol, because it is so popular. Consider the TV ratings for the Super Bowl–they are huge. Maybe that should make football a special “punching bag” above all other sports.

Well, that just doesn’t cut it, either.

It took until 2010 for the number of Super Bowl viewers in America to get past 100M, climbing to a record 112.2 million in 2014. In 2015, that record was bested, bringing in 114.4 million.

Being a truly international sport, it is hard to aggregate the viewing figures for soccer’s World Cup, but even conservative measures of World Cup viewing put the totals for the final game at more than double that of the Super Bowl, such as the estimated 260,000,000 in 2006. And that doesn’t even count the number of people without access to television who obsessively follow the World Cup’s games through other means (print, public announcement, etc.). In fact, over the course of the entire World Cup tournament, total viewership of some of the action is estimated in the billions.

Actually, all of these things said… considering the often prideful and combative attitudes of its players, the corruption of the governing bodies, the lack of compassion for its players’ head injuries (including among children), the “hooliganism” and violent and riotous criminal activity associated with its fans, the vast, vast viewing audience—with some fans virtually addicted to the sport and its “heroes”—and its central role in the culture of Israelitish nations, I would say that someone sincere about tackling sin in sports would pick soccer over football any day. (Of course, I mean real football over American football.) And that’s even true if one is seeking to focus on the vices of Israelite nations, for which soccer is far more popular when one remembers that America is only one star in that constellation.

So, we don’t really watch much football at all around our house, but it isn’t because we see it as some sort of “super-sinfullestly sinful” sport. We see it as most other professional and college sports—something that isn’t inherently sinful, but which money, fame, and attitude corrupt, like they do with most things. Even international chess. I’m glad that my boys play flag football at camp, which is certainly less likely to cause injury than tackle football. (Though still with its risks, which is not a bad thing, especially when bringing up boys.) But if they ever play a game of tackle on a future Thanksgiving afternoon, or watch a game on TV that day? I don’t see any good, biblical argument that tells me I would have to condemn them as engaging in an inherently sinful activity by doing so. (Actually, since 75% of the Smith boys are fencers, I think a friendly post-Thanksgiving duel is more likely in the future, but that’s beside the point.)

As for me and my house? We’re going to begin a relentless public crusade against thumb wrestling. Well, at least I am. I’m tired of my wife always winning. It’s not my fault I have short thumbs.

[I said I would provide links, but I’m feeling lazy. Still, I will instead offer a search of the blog on the word “football”–it should have them in there, somewhere. 🙂 ]

Music and emotion, plus a nice analysis of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” from NPR

As it does from time to time, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” captured my mind and sent me off to some web searches and music history reading. That realm is not familiar territory to me, to be sure, but I do love the Adagio. I’ve mentioned it in only two other blog posts that I can find:

Which only means I have practiced some restraint, since I thought I had mentioned it in others and had thought to do so.

You’ve probably heard it before if the name does not sound familiar to you. Parts of it were used in the famous death scene of Elias in Oliver Stone’s Platoon (a movie I have not seen, by the way, and suspect I couldn’t recommend), and it was played very memorably, and beautifully, by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in England, lead by American conductor Leonard Slatkin for Last Night of the Proms on September 15, 2001 as a tribute to those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks only four days earlier.

The “Adagio for Strings” is widely considered one of the most beautiful and emotionally evocative pieces of classical music in the modern era, and it achieves its impact with such a simple structure — perhaps part of the key to its success. As I think I mentioned in one of those blog posts, it is one of the musical pieces that stirs me to wonder about the manner in which we connect with music: That a piece of music can be so broadly recognized as beautiful and, with no words at all, can so consistently evoke such melancholy emotions in such a variety of people amazes me, and tells me that there must be underlying laws and design in place.

I mean, having different people read the same story and both agree that it is sad is one thing. But having different people hear the same wordless music and agree that it is sad is another. What is truly “sad” about a collection of notes and chords? We are sad about things happening to people (including ourselves) and animals — and even places, attached, perhaps, to memories. Memories, intangible and evanescent they may be, can evoke sadness, and that is understandable. They are attached to experience, real or imagined. But music? A collection of sounds? Though attached to nothing in reality beyond vibrating air molecules, it can provoke very real emotions in our hearts and minds. In fact, the emotion evoked may be the one real attachment the music has.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not concede that every musical expression has a specific, objective emotive assignment — a consistent and “right” emotional effect it causes — and I do not concede (at least not yet) that any musical expression must have such. But only the fool would fail to see that music can be, in some ways and circumstances, a means of accessing emotions directly, even if no real experience exists at that time to justify the emotion.

Barber’s “Adagio” is certainly a piece capable of creating such access.

If you’ve never heard it, there are plenty of resources online. On my iPhone, I have a copy of the great Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in performing the “Adagio for Strings,” and he seems, to me, to do it just right. A conductor needs patience, methinks, to go at the slow pace that gives fullness to the Adagio’s impact, and I think Bernstein hits the nail on the head. Feel free and purchase a copy of that from iTunes (like you need my permission). Also, the original performance by Arturo Toscanini in 1938 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra is available in various places. I think Toscanini paces it just a little to quickly, but that’s just me. I’ll try to include a link below where you can hear it.

In fact, let me shut up at this point and just give you some links. 🙂

I think NPR’s program discussing the structure of the Adagio and how it achieves its emotional effect is really worth reading for those who would be interested. That can be found here: “Barber’s ‘Adagio’: Naked Expression Of Emotion” — apparently part of a series they do on what makes particular pieces of music (et al.?) great. Don’t read it until you’ve heard the piece, though. Hear it first, dissect it later, but I did enjoy reading the NPR piece analyzing the music, and reading it last night prompted me to listen to it a few more times this morning. There is a playable music file on that page where you can hear it. Also, you can hear it’s original (slightly more briskly paced) performance led by Toscanini in 1938 at this NPR webpage: “The Impact of Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’.” After hearing it performed a tad more slowly, you can let me know if you prefer Toscanini’s tempo.

And here is a YouTube video of the BBC performance on September 15, 2001 that I mentioned earlier. It is the Last Night of the Proms, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra being led by conductor Leonard Slatkin, playing Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” in memory of those killed four days before in the terrorist attack in New York. You might want to make your first hearing a purely audio affair, listening with eyes closed; however, if the visuals won’t interfere the performance below is very good, in my, admittedly, musically naïve opinion.

“Noah” and “Clash of the Titans”

I actually saw the “Noah” movie when it came out and wrote a commentary about it for the Tomorrow’s World website (“Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’: Pro-Satan Propoganda”). I won’t repeat much of what I said there, though I will add that if you are desperate to see Russell Crowe in a boat, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” is more historically accurate, more educational, more moving, more inspirational, and less depressing.

But I had a number of thoughts related to the movie, and I have planned for sometime to mention them briefly in a blog post. Now that I finally am, I think I will just stick with one. Seeing how my thoughts ran away with me in my last post, I’d like to keep this one more focused.

On reflecting on the junk pile that was Aronofsky’s “Noah” in the days after seeing it, I was struck by the thought that the movie reflected a certain approach to the Bible that reminded me of how Hollywood treats myths and legends.

"Release the Scandinavian Sea Monster from Norway!" cried the Greek Deity (image from MGM's (Warner Bros') "Clash of the Titans")
“Release the Scandinavian Sea Monster from Norway!” cried the Greek Deity (image from MGM’s (now Warner Bros’) 1981 “Clash of the Titans”)

For instance, consider the movie “Clash of the Titans.” I can’t speak to the modern incarnation, let alone its sequel “Wrath of the Titans,” as I have seen neither and didn’t feel to motivated to do so. The 1981 Harry Hamlin-headed (ha! aliteration) “Clash of the Titans” — that I have seen. It was a state-of-the-art stop motion animation fest, the last work of the stop motion master, Ray Harryhausen, and I ate it up as a kid. (Note: Not an endorsement, just an admission. My judgment wasn’t the best in my late pre-teens. It is sad that many of my generation may hear “Laurence Olivier” and think of his role in this flick as “Zeus” instead of — oh, I don’t know — maybe almost anything else Laurence Olivier has ever done.)

But it wasn’t exactly the most accurate representation of classical Greek mythology, right? After all, the “Titans” don’t even show up in the flick. And, “Release the Kraken”? Really? Greek god Zeus is going to release a Scandanavian sea monster? Was the Scylla not available? Surely the Kraken’s trip from Norway all the way to Joppa would have given Perseus a little extra time, now? But I digress…

My point is that Hollywood feels no obligation to honor the “spirit” of old Greek myths. They are all fictions, and writers certainly feel free to do anything they want with them. They are not like actual biographies — not that some writers feel any obligations to accuracy in those, either, I suppose. Unlike biographies or actual historical events, myths — Greek, Roman, whatever — are simply collections of names and ideas for writers, into which they can insert whatever meaning they want. Make bad guys into good guys, good guys into bad guys, borrow a creature from a different part of the world — no harm no foul. It’s not like Perseus is going to send lawyers demanding that the truth be told accurately, when there is, in reality, no truth.

Just look at the versions of Hercules Hollywood has out out over the years. (I still haven’t scrubbed the 1983 Lou Ferrigno debacle from my neurons.) It’s about what the writer wants to say, not any need to stay faithful to a “reality” since there is no reality in the myth to which one owes any faithfulness. I get it. The story isn’t actually history, and it is freely available to the writer to use to say whatever he wants, whether he wants to make a popcorn flick or something preachier.

While it’s not the first of its kind in this way, Aronofsky’s “Noah” helped me to find words to the thought that the Bible is, now, just the same as Greek myth to the entertainment industry. It’s a potential source of stories (regarded by them as) detached from reality — detached from real people or real events or real history — that can be used at whim to say whatever the writer wants to say.

There is no need, for instance, to worry about communicating the events of Noah’s life accurately if you truly believe that there was no “Noah” to begin with. He’s just another Perseus — a character for your Dramatis Personæ. Flesh him out however you will. Put whatever words you’d like in his mouth. Give him whatever motivations your heart fancies. After all: He isn’t real.

And, of course, these being biblical stories, the same goes with God. After all, if the story is not a historical account of God’s actions in the world and if God, Himself, isn’t real, then we can treat Him just as another character, another vehicle for our own message, ideas, and entertaining concepts. He might as well be Zeus or Athena. Have him punish angels for being too sympathetic to humanity? Sure, why not!

Some would say that Cecil B. DeMille did the same with “The Ten Commandments” — not to mention scores of other “biblical” movies — and to some extent I could agree. But not completely. If you watched “The Ten Commandments,” you saw the disclaimer at the beginning. And while the movie that followed that disclaimer took its liberties (did it ever!), there was an air of respect for the source material running through the movie. Enough respect? No, probably not. But compared to what Aronofsky brought to Noah’s story, DeMille can come across like a fundamentalist theologian.

While the creative types in Hollywood may have decided that the Bible is myth — as available to them to preach their own messages and entertain according to their own values as anything made up by the Greeks or Romans — they are still constrained by two forces: (1) the need to make money off of the public, and (2) the public’s tolerance of the abusing the Bible.

Because while the public’s tolerance for Bible abuse is broadening, there is still some resistance. There is still some unease. It may be virtually microscopic, but it still exists.

It is, though, on the way out. The elite of the entertainment industry are already there and have been there for quite some time. To recast a biblical story in your own image is considered “brave” and “bold” filmmaking, especially if that image is far from the actual message of the Bible. (Applying such adjectives to such works, by the way, is ridiculous. There is nothing “brave” or “bold” about mocking the Bible in our society today. It’s practically fashionable. Let’s see a filmmaker in a major movie studio reinterpret a story from the Quran — that might earn the adjectives “brave” or “bold.” But don’t hold your breath.)

And the public is on its way there, too. Tolerance for the Bible-as-myth is higher than ever, with no signs of shrinking any time soon. Perhaps Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” starring Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton will pleasantly surprise in December. The teaser trailer looks interesting, yet, at the same time, most promotional material for such a flick will almost certainly focus on those things appealing to the pro-Bible crowd, while hiding the sure-to-offend qualities to be revealed after the ticket is paid for. Concerning Exodus, I am, perhaps irrationally, allowing myself to be hopeful, but guarded.

Regardless, if the Red Sea parts to reveal a stop motion Scandinavian sea monster and Moses rushes in to battle it in the Batmobile, I’m requesting a refund.

James Garner: “the union prevailed”

Yesterday I read the news that James Garner died this past Saturday, and I was saddened. Hence the Tweet:

My dad... er... I mean: James Garner as Maverick
My dad… er… I mean: James Garner as Maverick (from Wikipedia)

I didn’t know him personally, to be sure. But I have many fond memories of watching him on “The Rockford Files.” Not because I was necessarily a huge fan by myself at the time–I was only four years old when the series premiered and nine years old when it ended. But my dad loved the show, and I came to enjoy it to some extent because it was entertaining (to the extent I got it at that age) but primarily because my father thought it was entertaining. (Actually, in similar manner I have my dad to blame for my intense, youthful exposures to British comedy and a number of other television “resources” I’ve come to love/hate which formed much of my sense of humor and comedy tastes, but that is another discussion.) It’s very likely my imagination due to that Dad/”Rockford Files” connection, but I came to think that my father sort of looked like Jim Rockford… er… James Garner, and seeing Mr. Garner, even in his later work, frequently made me think of my dad. While I don’t know that I could argue that Dad would have been considered a handsome fellow (though I’m thankful my mother thought so for a while) and he certainly wasn’t as tall as the six-foot-three actor, maybe I could say that Mr. Garner looked like a Hollywood version of my dad. Perhaps he could have played my dad in the TV movie version of my life. (Regrettably, my own part would be played by Jon Cryer if, after his 1980s “Ducky” days, he had become a much portlier version of his current self, perhaps in an alternate timeline. Or maybe a young Don Rickles with early-onset older Don Rickles looks. Again, a blog post for another time…)

No doubt my association of Mr. Garner with Dad is part, perhaps a big part, of the sadness I felt at the news of the actor’s demise. And no doubt it is part of the fondness I’ve felt for the actor through the years.

I did come to enjoy the easy manner his characters displayed. I didn’t see tons of his work, but in addition to “The Rockford Files” I’ve seen plenty of old “Maverick” episodes, and the “Support Your Local Sheriff!” and “Support Your Local Gunfighter” movies were family favorites (well, at least “me & Dad” favorites). He didn’t exactly play the stereotypically heroic type in those roles, but he was a character I could identify with sympathetically in a number of ways–fun to watch, approachable, OK with his gun but even better at talking himself out of rough spots. Unlike some of today’s action stars with their stoic, fearless faces, when one of Garner’s characters was in a tight spot, he looked like he was in a tight spot–one of the reasons I enjoy Harrison Ford’s acting here and there, as well. When you’d be sweating, it’s sort of neat to see the hero sweating, too. I’ll miss that. (I can’t speak to his other roles some have mentioned, such as in The Notebook, et al., as I haven’t seen those, I’m afraid. A little too “Hallmark Channel” for me, not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂 )

James Garner with his wife and family in 1961 (from Wikipedia)
James Garner with his wife and family in 1961 (from Wikipedia)

But what I think is really neat–and what gave this blog post its title–is a paragraph towards the end of Yahoo! News’ publication of the AP story on James Garner’s death. You can read it by clicking on the Twitter link above, but here is the sentence that grabbed me from that paragraph: “In 1957 (sic), Garner married TV actress Lois Clarke, and the union prevailed despite some stormy patches.”

“…the union prevailed…”

I’m sorry, but in today’s world–let alone when it comes to those in the Hollywood culture–those three words are amazing. Wikipedia says that they actually married in 1956, but, regardless, that marriage lasted, apparently through some difficulty, for almost 60 years. And it did not end until one of them died. Through all of its ups and downs, through whatever the “stormy patches” were, the union prevailed.

Those words in the article captured me, and, frankly, it was that statement that moved me enough to write a little about it here.

And “prevailed” is a wonderful word choice. It gives a sense of victory and overcoming. It gives a sense that something should be celebrated. And something certainly should be. Reading the AP article makes for a wonderful review of the life and accomplishments of James Garner, but as far as I am concerned, knowing no more about the man than what I saw on the screen and what these tribute articles have told me, those three words represent the single greatest accomplishment on the list: “the union prevailed.”

While I have enjoyed his performances on the screen and while watching his shows and films with my father are some of my favorite “time with Dad” memories, those three words added something to my thoughts of Mr. Garner that had not been there before: respect and admiration.

His performances in those movies and television shows will ensure that the name and face of James Garner is remembered, at least for a generation or so until the names and faces of newer stars and younger actors finally crowd it out of the cultural synapses. But when the day comes when all things are revealed and the vast multitude of invisible ways in which our choices have truly touched and affected the lives of others, for good or ill, throughout time are clearly made visible to us, I truly believe that the fact that their union prevailed will be seen to have had an impact far beyond what any movie or television series ever has. More than any of those films or shows, I suspect that, in many ways, that marriage will be seen as James Garner’s true legacy.

Good on you, James and Lois. And may all our unions prevail.

Disagreeing with Oprah

Thanks, Oprah, but my clothes are beginning to fit a bit too tightly as it is.
Thanks, Oprah, but my clothes are beginning to fit a bit too tightly as it is.

Some may believe the title is blasphemous, but, wow, I really do disagree with Oprah. She talks with me frequently, though briefly, every few days, and I generally just sit and shake my head in disagreement. Still, she prattles on, as if my opinion means nothing.

We meet at Starbucks.

OK, we don’t really meet at Starbucks, but I do hear from her there. Starbucks has been pushing the Teavana/Oprah effort to sell some sort of tea, and all of their “don’t burn your fingers” coffee cup sleeves have, for some time, featured little “inspirational” quotes from Ms. Winfrey.

For instance, my current cup (a saltless-salted caramel mocha, if you must know) sleeve tells me, “You are not hear to shrink down to less, but to blossom unto more of who you really are.”

Other nuggets from other cup sleeves:

  • “Know what sparks the light in you. Then use that light to illuminate the world.”
  • “Your life is big. Keep reaching.”
  • “Live from the heart of yourself. Seek to be whole, not perfect.”
  • “Be more splendid. Be more extraordinary. Use every moment to fill yourself up.”
  • “The only courage you ever need is the courage to live the life you want.”
  • “Follow your passion. It will lead you to your purpose.”
  • “No experience is ever wasted. Everything has meaning.”

Ugh. I have to be frank. I hate these things.

Allow me to rant just a bit…

It is fake spirituality. It sounds good, but it is vacuous and meaningless enough to be filled up with anything you want.

I imagine Hitler coming in for a latte, looking at his cup and seeing, “The only courage you ever need is the courage to live the life you want,” and feeling “inspired.” Or perhaps, “Know what sparks the light in you. Then use that light to illuminate the world.” Worse, yet — what if his cup said, “Follow your passion. It will lead you to your purpose”? Das ist eine gute Idee!

I know a lot of people who do not need to be encouraged to “live from the heart of yourself” — me included. “Use every moment to fill yourself up.” That just sounds weird. Families have been destroyed by some of the things that “spark the light” in some individuals.

Re: Ugh.

True spirituality is that which takes you closer to the true God. Period. Anything else is a substitute and a fake. Worse, it can be anti-spirituality: Carnality and mere human vanity in disguise. These quotes aim to have a spiritual feel, but they are generally hollow and empty, finding their only “substance” in their commitment to unapologetic narcissism. And the last thing our civilization seems to need is more encouragement to be a bunch of narcissists.

I’m thankful John the Baptist didn’t wash down one of his honey & locust sandwiches with a Teavana Peach Green Tea Lemonade while reading Ms. Winfrey’s advice, “You are not here to shrink down to less.”

Rather, he understood, “He [Jesus Christ] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Perhaps one day his wisdom will be recorded on a cup sleeve. Until then, I will just hold my nose a little while getting my mocha.


UPDATE: Apparently, I am not the only person to find this irritating. Just came across this at the Houston Chronicle and, from there, this British review of the tea (ouch) where the quotes are called “vacuous waffle” and the tea, itself, is called “this absurdly precious, unerringly pretentious, wholly underwhelming ambergris spewed from the belly of a corporate leviathan.” Ah, the British. 🙂

Britain’s modern Molech revival

The Bible contains many warnings to ancient Israel concerning an abhorrent practice of the Canaanites, who had previously possessed the land God had given them. We see one such example in Leviticus 18:21, “You shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech…” It was an abominable practice, in which people sought to appease the heathen god Molech and influence him to their benefit by sacrificing their own children in fire. Who would have thought that this ancient heathen god would so plainly rear his head in the modern Britain? A Channel 4 “Dispatches” episode in the United Kingdom–“Exposing Hospital Heartache,” aired Monday, March 24, 2014–revealed that many British hospitals are not only incinerating the remains of aborted and miscarried babies as “clinical waste” but are also burning some of those bodies as a means of heating their buildings in “waste-to-energy” programs. The television program was preceded that day by a number of reports in the news providing the grisly and tragic details. In one such article–titled “Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals” –the Telegraph’s Sarah Knapton reported:

“Ten NHS trusts have admitted burning fetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat…

“At least 15,500 fetal remains were incinerated by 27 NHS trusts over the last two years alone, Channel 4’s Dispatches discovered.”

More than 15,000. As Ms. Knapton reported, some families who experienced the trauma of losing a child early in pregnancy were not even consulted on what they wanted to do with their child’s body. Grieved and bereft parents were in some cases told that their child’s body would be “cremated” when, in actuality, the bodies were added to “waste-to-energy” plants where they could be burned to aid in heating the hospital. The concept of using the human remains of children as a fuel source, let alone equating it with “clinical waste,” has created a row to which the UK Department of Health has felt compelled to respond. As the article reports, Dr. Dan Poulter, health minister for the department, made a public statement, saying, “This practice is totally unacceptable.” No. Having your hotel reservation mishandled may be “totally unacceptable.” Being served a meal you did not order in a restaurant may be “totally unacceptable.” Having the parcel you sent to your grandmother lost in the mail may be “totally unacceptable.” Burning the remains of children to heat a building is an abomination. It is a travesty–a heart-wrenching tragedy and a nauseating violation of any sense of God-given human value. And the fact that it has been an institutionalized practice in place for years without protest by its practitioners is a sign of cancerous rot in the soul of a nation. The tepid response by officials is telling. One one hand, they must publicly recognize the outrage many are feeling. It can’t be ignored. The act of using the bodies of children as mere fuel to heat hospitals violates basic sensibilities. It prompts many to ask, “How could such a thing be allowed?” And yet, the widespread practice exposes a horrific public pretense. The policies that allow abortion on demand–and the arguments at the heart of such policies–consider the pre-born child to be no more than “tissue.” Yet, no one complains about burning fingernail clippings. There is no outrage when a hospital discards and incinerates a removed appendix. There are no public apologies or excuses or promises of reform forthcoming from the UK’s General Dental Council about the manner in which excised molars are thrown away. But, as much as effort as our “modern” societies and our societies’ governments pour into their philosophies and arguments defending the practice of treating abortion as nothing more than the removal of “tissue” from a pregnant woman, public outcries like this one demonstrate that deep down, our society still knows better–it still knows what it will no longer publicly admit. It isn’t “tissue.” It’s a child. Tissue hasn’t been burned in an “eco-conscious” solution to heating hospitals. Babies have been burned to heat hospitals. Molech would be pleased.

Image of Earth from NASA's Terra satellite

News Reporting Fail: The National Science Foundation Survey

The National Science Foundation has published the results of a survey it conducts from time to time as an “assessment” of Americans’ scientific knowledge. However, some of the sloppy reporting of the results confuses belief with knowledge.

For instance, ABC News online article completely twists the results. In one paragraph, they report:

“Only 39 percent answered correctly with ‘true’ when asked if ‘The universe began with a huge explosion,’ while only 48 percent knew that ‘Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,’ according to the statement.”

The statement that “only 48 percent knew that” human beings have developed from other animals grabbed my attention. It implies ignorance of a fact, when the statistic probably says no such thing.

The lazy ABC News article can’t take all the blame, as they are “reporting” on a press release about the survey which makes the same mistake:

“For example, only 74 percent of those queried knew that the Earth revolved around the sun, while fewer than half (48 percent) knew that human beings developed from earlier species of animals.”

For people dedicated to science, they are woefully ignorant at interpreting the results of what should be a simple survey. If they can get such a no-brainer wrong, how can they be trusted with interpreting more complicated results?

I say all of this because, if the survey is conducted in the same manner it apparently was back in 2004, what it did was ask if the following statement was true or false: “Human beings as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” Stating “False” on this statement is apparently being interpreted by many to imply that they are not familiar with popular theories of evolution–as if it is a given that anyone taught the “fact” of human “evolution” would agree with that statement.

However, there are many, well-educated, scientifically literate individuals who are very familiar with the neo-Darwinian synthesis of evolution theory who simply disagree that the statement is true. The survey did not measure ignorance about a fact. It measured doubt about an assertion.

Some reporting did get it right. For instance, the Independent Business Times wrote more accurately:

“The questionnaire also found that less than half (48%) of Americans believe that human beings evolved from an earlier species, while 39% said they believe that the universe began with a huge explosion.”

Also, United Press International reported:

“On two controversial questions, whether the universe began with a large explosion and whether humans are descended from other species, fewer than half in the United States said those are true.”

Actually, kudos to the UPI for the next statement, which–unlike the lazy ABC News “effort”–reflects some actual work performed to help their readers understand the facts they were trying to present (you know, reporting). For instance, the quote above was followed by this:

“The Atlantic said those percentages go up by a significant amount when the questions are rephrased to ask if the big-bang theory and evolution are scientifically accepted.”

Get that? Those surveyed understood that evolution is widely accepted in the scientific community, they simply don’t feel the matter has been proven to them sufficiently. The question measured belief, not knowledge.

(An aside: Some of you out there may think that the only conceivable way one would fail to conclude that humans evolved into their current form from other decidedly non-human species would be if the non-believer is scientifically ignorant, so the interpretations of the results are correct in all these reports. You are free to conclude that. You are also free to tape a rolled up newspaper to your head and declare yourself a unicorn. But don’t confuse the things you are free to declare with reality. Dawkins’ “ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked” comment reveals more about Dawkins’ arrogance and boorishness than it does about those who reasonably doubt the standard evolutionary dogma. Moving on…)

Actually, the UPI did much better. Rather than allow their small news item to be yet another “Americans sure are stupid, amiright?” article, it goes further:

“Generally, U.S. residents showed a knowledge of science comparable to those of other countries with high levels of education, including Japan, the European Union and South Korea, the NSF said. In fact, they did better than EU residents on the question about whether Earth moves around the sun.”

So, more people in the European Union stated they believed that the sun goes around the earth than Americans, and the Americans apparently did not do significantly better or worse than Japan, South Korea, or the EU.

Consequently, the article is almost “dog bites man” news–that is, not really news at all.

But that really isn’t true. There really is a story. The fact that one-quarter of the people surveyed didn’t seem to understand that the earth moves around the sun instead of vice versa is really spooky–let alone that apparently our international brothers and sisters faired about the same. (Of course, given the move by some European leaders to make the EU the center of all life in Europe, it is perhaps not surprising that they thought the EU at the center of the solar system, itself.) (Yes, that is supposed to be a funny political joke.) (Yes, I am aware that it isn’t that funny.)

But it is a shame that there wasn’t more real reporting and that what reporting there was–the UPI report being a notable exception–was so lazy and poorly done. Then again, the survey is more likely than not simply a public means for the National Science Foundation to feel important about itself, so, for them, perhaps it is “mission accomplished.”

[UPDATE: A little more from the articles… The IBT article stated, “Almost 90% of respondents said they believe that the benefits of science outweigh any dangers…” You have got to be kidding me. I don’t know which is worse, the confusion of the response or the inanity of the question. Maybe some context can make more sense of this point. Are the alternatives simply “science” versus “no science”? If so, then it’s a little like saying, “The benefits of food outweigh the benefits of no food.” But if the statement is meant to say something significant, then a blanket consideration is not possible unless the practice of science, by itself, is a virtue, which would make the need to evaluate some research from an ethical perspective meaningless. But tell me that some of the experiments done on children during the Holocaust were all OK because it was in the name of “science.” I’m pro-science, but goofy statements like that reflect a lack of sophistication that the science community–like the NSF which presses this dumb survey–normally accuse others of. It highlights the effort as more propaganda than anything. And, for the record, I have a hard time calling the Big Bang an “explosion” and I’ve heard a number of scientists say that they don’t like calling the Big Bang an “explosion.” When space-time, itself, is expanding, “explosion” just doesn’t really cut the mustard. So, yes, I find that question irritating, too.]