Jul 23 2012
The Evil of Denial

Watching coverage of the crimes at both Penn State and a Colorado theater, it becomes apparent:  There's stuff you're supposed to say, and stuff you're not supposed to say.

"Tragedy" is okay. "Mentally ill" is okay.  "Evil", with a capital "E" - not so much.  

This is because acknowledging evil is allowing that there exists something beyond our tangible, test-able world that wants to do us in... and that means our whole western edifice crumbles.  And so, instead, we resort to the language of neurology or we talk purely about upbringing, or we change the subject to safer ground, talking about preferred go-to explanations, like weapons policy or parenting failures.

Having the fortitude, in a culture that fancies itself "rational", to acknowledge evil, is not easy.  But you know what?  It might be easier than the alternative, of trying to explain holocausts, mass-murders, planned starvations, sexual abuse of children... with a vocabulary stripped of the words to to acknowledge the presence of actual, spiritual evil.  Denial may be natural, but that doesn't mean it's simple to pull off.  It can take years, not to mention, say, thousands of professors, to help us get past our barbarian suspicions that something transcendent is afoot.

Even Christians are embarrassed by it.  Some, of course, blame the devil for everything - that's one error - but others don't want to blame him for ANYTHING.  We're embarrassed, I think, because we don't want to seem so...so... backward, so out-of-step with our modern, western culture.  (Funny, isn't it?  In almost all other parts of the world, people have no problem whatsoever acknowledging realms of spiritual evil. And the same westerners so intent on cultural openness will immediately reject the idea of spiritual evil as backward. Same thing happens in discussions of sexuality.)

But eliminating the vocabulary of evil, the reality of Evil, doesn't leave us in a more enlightened world.  It does the opposite.

Timothy Keller:

The Gospel is the only approach that truly is not simplistic, that looks at the messed up families, looks at messed up hearts, looks at messed up neighborhoods and says, "There's biological problems, there's sociological problems, there's psychological problems, there's moral problems, there's spiritual problems, there's demonological problems...we're going to look at all of those things, we're going to deal with all of them. All of them!" ... Until you embrace the Christian understanding of evil, you are reductionistic, you are simplistic. You'll either make the liberal mistake of underestimating cosmic evil, or the conservative mistake, frankly sometimes of just saying we can't do a thing.

Of course, there is a stream of the Christian religion, in the west, that happens to be embarrassed by any aspect of the Bible that contradicts our reigning culture, and - guess what? - decides that the culture pretty much has it right, actually.  And there is another stream that embraces The Devil as all-explanatory, from why I caught a cold yesterday to why the sink got clogged when we were in a hurry.

As C.S. Lewis points on in The Screwtape Letters, both outlooks, themselves, may be suggestions of the Enemy.  The Gospel, thank God, actually gives us the resources to call evil for what it is, and provide a context for it that keeps us from being frightened.

Bad news:  Evil actually exists.  Even if we modern westerners might try to ignore it.

Good news: God knows it.  He does not escape it.  He sees it.  He does not detach Himself from it.  And He tells us that not only CAN it be defeated, not only are we to play a part in that, it WILL be defeated.  For now, we mourn with those who mourn, but joy comes in the morning.

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Jul 20 2012
The Long, Dark Knight of the Soul

I wrote this "review" upon release of the last Batman movie.  it's less a critique of a movie than one of a culture that, in its death throes, will attempt to find high-mindedness in nihilistic violence.  

I'm not "blaming Batman" for what happened last night.  That'd be naive, wouldn't it?  And what would also be naive is to pretend that our entire culture isn't a matter of sowing-and-reaping.  That's why it's called a "culture".

We grow it.

And we harvest it.

 

The Long, Dark Knight of the Soul

At one level, this movie is a bunch of violent, purposeless noise.

But there is a second deeper level.  At that level, "The Dark Knight" is a discourse on the nature of evil.

And then... there is a third, still deeper, final level. 

At that final level, this movie is a bunch of violent, purposeless noise.

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People are buying scalped tickets this weekend for $100 apiece.  The critics say it's brilliant.  You've likely heard them, speaking in uniform voice, extolling the profundity of this very, very important movie.  The hype has been unmatched.  It's the best of its genre -- ever.  Thoroughly engrossing, thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly -- you know -- important. 

So it's interesting to watch people emerge into the light of day in the hot Florida sun, looking for their cars in the crowded lots.  They look kinda...bored.  Like they did when they walked in.  Almost like they didn't just see 2.5 hours of non-stop explosions, ear-crushing destruction, screams, bleeding, shotgun blasts, and brutal torture scenes. 

Let the record show that in the waning days of western civilization, when we were artistically spent, the going rate for 2.5 hours of defibrillation was $9.  Anything -- anything! -- to get our hearts pumping again, if for a short time, before exiting to find where we put the Accord.

This movie is well-made, of course.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, "People who enjoy that sort of thing will certainly enjoy that sort of thing." 

"The Dark Knight" is that sort of thing.  Death, mayhem, horrifying chaos -- wrapped in ooh-that's-deep philosophizing that will prompt many an essay from high school sophomores.  Too bad it, ultimately, means nothing.

Granted, my experience was colored somewhat.  Carolyn and I were sitting next to a three-year-old, who was treated to a happy-time-with-dad buffet of burnt flesh, maniacal laughing, and corpses.  It's only PG-13, you know, which just means parents need show guidance, as they guide those they are to protect into their seats in dark, stranger-filled blood shows.  Where would we be without parental guidance?

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Focus on the Family gives this movie 2-and-a-half stars for "family friendliness".  For what family, the Mansons? 

Will kids say they liked it, though?  Will the junior high boys like it?  Here's an experiement: Ask a group of junior high boys for movies they saw that were NOT awesome.  I've done it.  There follows a long silence.  This is because they are fools. 

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"The Dark Knight" is cultural rigormortis.  It's what happens when we are done, and we are done.  Jacques Barzun had it right, when he wrote a history of western culture up through the 1990s, and said, certainly, that our age is defined by boredom.  We are excited by nothing, really, but maybe for a moment here, or a moment there, we can try to be turned on.  Sex can do it (or fake sex, much more likely) but brutal violence can work, too, if for a short time. 

Our culture is lying on the table, and "The Dark Knight" is just another jolt before the flatline resumes.

At least give us this:  Our mass-market (which included me, yesterday) is willing to pay for it, but also demands some sense that it was all, ultimately, high-minded, that it was making some statement, that it was horrific, yes, but redemptive, blah blah blah.  Expect many hip Christian types to write as much, because 1) That's the essence of being hip, and 2) Who doesn't like Batman? 

But it's not redemptive...unless...

Unless we can emerge in the sunlight, after ALL THAT HYPE for this masterwork, this ultimate expression, this marvel-ous creation, saying, "Really?  That's as good as it gets?" 

Then we walk out into the sun, and decide it's infinitely more interesting than what we just paid to see.

 

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Jul 10 2012
An Experiment: Today's OFF-AIR Show

I had to do other stuff during the normal show today, so here's an off-the-air show.

We (Producer Sherri and I) talk about singles groups.  And Las Vegas.  And Christian bookstores.  And Wimbledon.  And the reason why many of us on Christian radio end up sounding like people from other planets.

I'd love to get your comments, too, on the stuff we talk about here.  I know not everyone's going to agree with me on everything, and that's okay.  In the end, agree or disagree, we can all rally around the fact that this photo is of a pretty awesome baby numbat.

Click HERE to listen!

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