Current Events

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July 4: Frederick Douglass’s indictment of American Christianity’s links with oppression, and a call to stand for justice

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?
“Many of its [the church’s] most eloquent Divines… have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system…
“For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! …[Theirs] is a religion for oppressors… a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble…
“The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in its connection with its ability to abolish slavery.
“…Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday School, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery, and slave holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds, and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.”
-Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, 196, 200-201

When we sit today, and we think about the fact that people continue to deny the reality of systemic racism; that black people are disproportionately imprisoned, stripped of the right to vote due to being deemed “felons,” and disproportionately sentenced to death; that so many feel a compulsive need to make self-declarations against “Black Lives Matter”; we must acknowledge that America’s Original Sin remains, and continues to divide us.

Let the people of Christ stand up against oppression! Let God come and break the rod of the oppressor, as in the days of old (Isaiah 9:4). Let us condemn practices that exalt the rich over the poor; and the proud above the humble. Let us confess where we have done wrong, and pray for guidance to bring justice. Let us stand up with people of color and denounce religious, political, and societal practices that work to divide us. Christianity ought to be a religion which lifts up the oppressed and downtrodden–may it ever be!

The Fugitive Slave Act and Sanctuary Cities: An historical precedent for a modern practice

I’m reading through Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings and am continually struck by how relevant and fresh Douglass’s work feels to this day. Early on, the editor described a situation leading up to the writing of a letter by Douglass that reminded me of our modern discussion of sanctuary cities

Douglass sent a letter to William Lloyd Garrison, a major abolitionist figure, about the case of George Latimer, a fugitive slave. Latimer had been captured and a judge had refused the writ of habeas corpus to him, basically condemning him into slavery. But Bostonians went “wild with excitement” (see editorial note in the book cited above, p. 5) and raised enough money to purchase Latimer’s freedom. After this case, Bostonians rallied and got the state legislature to pass laws prohibiting state officials from assisting people trying to arrest fugitive slaves and also making other limits on state entities for cooperation with marshals and others attempting to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

One thing noticeable as one reads contemporary debates about the Fugitive Slave Act is how Southerners and those who supported slavery in the North did not go around calling for “states’ rights” at that point. Indeed, they were calling for the federal government to toss aside states’ preferences and laws in order to enforce slavery. It’s demonstrable that many states made this explicit in their articles of secession. This, in turn, shows the Civil War was manifestly about slavery.

But what does this have to do with sanctuary cities? Well, sanctuary cities are, once again, local and states’ rights being contrasted with the laws of the federal government. But time and again, you don’t see those groups who are calling for “states’ rights” standing up and crying out when the federal government attempts to impinge on states’ rights to make sanctuary cities. Nor do you see people complaining when the President tweets about how he wants to ban sanctuary cities or complains about his ban being blocked in the courts. 

Douglass wrote of Latimer: “Slavery, our enemy, has landed in our very midst, and commenced its bloody work. Just look at it; here is George Latimer a man–a brother–a husband–a father, stamped with the likeness of the eternal God, and redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, out-lawed, hunted down like a wild beast, and ferociously dragged through the streets of Boston, and incarcerated within the walls of Leverett-st. jail… what crime had George Latimer committed? He had committed the crime of availing himself of his natural rights…” (6). 

Sanctuary cities seem to parallel this in so many ways, and as Christians our call for justice for those who are being given sanctuary ought to echo his. For the immigrant also has natural rights. One might protest and say–ah, but “illegal” immigration -is- a crime by the laws of the United States! But how much moreso could others have claimed that violation of the Fugitive Slave Act was a crime or that running away from slavery was criminal! Yet Douglass cuts through that rhetoric and points out the true nature of the crime: that people are attempting to exercise their natural rights as human beings. 

The immigrant is also stamped by the likeness of the eternal God and redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Sanctuary cities offer solace for these fellow image-bearers. Douglass’s words ring as true today as they did then.

SDG.

“Passing Through Gethsemane” – Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity

A very fragile human moment.

I’ve never watched Babylon 5 before, but I got the whole series on a great sale and have been watching it from the beginning. In this post, please do not SPOIL anything past the episode discussed. There will, of course, be major spoilers for this episode.

Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity- “Passing Through Gethsemane”

There are moments when you’re watching something on TV or a movie when you realize it’s a transcendent time. Something about what’s happening on the show clicked; one of those moments where everything aligned. “Passing Through Gethsemane” was one of those episodes for me. It may be the first time TV has ever touched me on such a spiritual level.

Near the beginning when we see Brother Edward, a Trappist Monk, talking about the Garden of Gethsemane. He says that there, Jesus could have chosen to leave, postponing the inevitable. It was a “very fragile human moment” that resonates so deeply with Brother Edward. Later in the episode, we discover that  Edward has been mind wiped and is, in fact, a notorious killer. He himself starts to discover this as a telepath reawakens his memories–apparently as a step of a plot to get revenge from families of the victims. Edward finds himself in a kind of broken psyche, realizing who he was, but also that his entire life and outlook on the universe has changed. Who is he, now?

Edward asks whether there is “enough forgiveness for what I’ve done” as he contemplates his former life, and the implications of being that same person. The answer, provided by Brother Theo of the Trappist Monks, is simple: “Always. Always.” Edward’s killed by the families of his victims, but he chooses to go to his death, knowing what they will do. He sees it as his own “passing through Gethsemane” and the fragility of the human condition one finds there. He apparently saw justice and forgiveness align and chose that path.

One astute reader pointed out the problematic nature of seeing Edward as a good man, since he was, in a sense, made that way. As a viewer, I viewed Edward-as-he-is as a completely new and different person than Edward-as-he-was, the murderer. This is aside from the moral question of the mind-wipe as punishment which seems highly questionable at best. (Feel free to comment on that below, I’d love a discussion on that, too.) As I reflected on this, it reminded me (as a Lutheran, particularly) of baptism. Edward’s old self was like the Old Adam, which we drown in the waters of baptism, creating a rebirth and, in a sense, a New Adam/self washed clean by Christ. The metaphysics of this metaphor playing out become quite complex as one thinks about it, because here the question of the morality of a mind wipe is writ large. But I’m thinking of the outcomes, not in a consequentialist way, but in a pragmatic one. If Edward has been created anew, however that happened, he seems a new man. For the baptism analogy, this plays out quite well and, while likely unintentional, makes me think even more on that sacrament. 

Theo and Sheridan have a conversation about “Where does revenge end and justice begin?” and Sheridan makes a point that forgiveness is a “hard thing”–likely himself thinking about his wife. But then, we discover Malcolm–one of the men who committed the vigilante act against Edward–is mind wiped and himself one of the Trappists. And Theo turns Sheridan’s words back on him. Knowing Sheridan is enraged by this vigilante killing, Brother Theo says that Sheridan himself just made a comment about forgiveness being a hard thing. Sheridan pauses in his rage and shock, and finally shakes the new Brother Malcolm’s hand. 

It’s not often that you get to see full on theologizing in a television series, but this episode presents just that. Of course, it never fully realizes the whole of the Christian message, but it is powerful and compelling for Christians all the same. It may also speak to those who aren’t Christian, due to the beauty of the moment. And I suspect that’s what the writer(s) was going for. Christ, here, is seen as facing a “very fragile human moment,” but the total importance of it is made to sound more like an ethical moral choice than something about the fate of humanity. However, there is no question that this episode beautifully shows the humanity of that moment. Yes, Jesus Christ is God the Son, but we must not forget that he was the God-man, fully human as well. I was struck deeply by how this episode made that point so clearly. To humanity as turning on this moment with Christ in Gethsemane, able to “delay the inevitable” but choosing instead to pass through Gethsemane. It’s beautiful. 

The other ethical-theological aspect here is the notion that individual humans can also “pass through Gethsemane” with their own trials/temptations. We have our own fragile human moments, and those can define who we are. Babylon 5 doesn’t portray the help we receive from the Holy Spirit here, but I still think it is to be commended both for the genuine look at the humanity of Christianity and the beauty of its story.

Appendix: A number of comments on Facebook when I shared this post raised questions about the death penalty and the justice of the mind wipe. I’m opposed to the death penalty, and I think that the book and movie of “Just Mercy” help explain some of the issues surrounding that. They’re highly applicable to discussions of the mind wipe as well.

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– My “Eclectic Theist” site features a number of posts discussing my first watch-through of Babylon 5. Check them out here!

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Also see my other looks into television (scroll down for more).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

“A Crown of Swords” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (Re)reads The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue our look at the worldview in the series with Book 7, A Crown of Swords. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Evil Comes in Many Forms

It’s easy to see evil as being all of one sort. The childhood cry of “The Devil made me do it!” is a familiar trope. In The Wheel of Time universe, it’s easy to try to assign all evil to the Dark One or blame one of the Forsaken. It’s just as easy to assume any evil done by an Aes Sedai is due to their being part of the Black Ajah. But the truth is that evil comes in many forms. Evil can be like that of Elaida, who allows her zealousness to overcome her goodness, her thirst for power to overcome her caution. Evil can come from fundamental beliefs, pushed to their extremes.

Elaida is an absolute case study in this, as she starts to lose her grip and becomes controlled by the Black Ajah. Yes, some of her evil is due to that influence, but she’d never have accomplished what she did without her own striving and willingness to compromise justice for an ideal.

Changing Perspective

Viewing things from a different perspective is a theme that remains central to the series. Are men who channel a danger to everyone, or are they a potential way to thwart evil with the use of the Power? The notion of men who can channel faces numerous challenges depending upon one’s perspective in this book. It’s fascinating to see Jordan play with this theme. What applications might it have to our own experience today?

Stereotyping Sex

We continue to have Jordan using the characters to draw out stereotypes about sex. Nynaeve complains about men gossiping all the time to each other–a stereotype that runs opposite of common stereotypes today. Time and again, characters complain about “men” doing something, or how “women” always act in a certain way. I am still trying to discern for myself whether this is Jordan intentionally playing with stereotypes and turning them on their head, or whether Jordan means that there are inherent acts in men and women.

If the latter, that seems to go against reality. Behaviors are learned, and men and women are created equally in the image of God. To reduce their worth to stereotypes or their range of activity to certain assumptions is to do wrong.

Links

The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on The Wheel of Time (scroll for more).

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Faithful Solace of Metal- Reconstructing Faith with Demon Hunter

We live in interesting times, for better or worse. Recently, the weight of many things settled down on me. The stress of dealing with various personal problems, along with the broader pandemic impacting everyone through the novel coronavirus COVID-19, really was hitting me hard. So I sought solace in music. Usually, I listen to audiobooks on the way to and from work (and pretty much any other time I have a chance to listen to something for any length of time). But I felt that I needed something more–some music to sooth the soul.

Demon Hunter is a band I’ve loved for decades, since their debut self-titled album. I have listened to each album many, many times. I was listening to their music on shuffle, and the song “The Last One Alive” from their album Extremist came on. The lyrics resonated with me in a way nothing had before. As I listened, I realized that it was something I had desperately needed, and also was able to reflect on the way that the metal music of the band “Demon Hunter” had helped me reconstruct my faith and get through many difficult times.

Living through a pandemic certainly lends itself to thinking of doomsday scenarios, for better or worse. The song starts with a poignant line: “Did anyone survive?” But after this question, it delves more deeply into the trials we face each and every day:

Where angels fall and darkness reigns
Where time dissolves the brightest flame
Ever the same

Whether I’m the last one alive
Or ascend before my time
Better I’m the last one alive
Than a soul denied

So this is how we break
And this is where we find the only hope within this place

The lyrics spoke to me on such a deep level as I was driving on the interstate on the way home. The music moved me, and I couldn’t help but feel the connection with God, the cry for help, and the hope inherent in the song. We live in a world where angels have fallen, and where it does seem, so often, that time wears away at even the best parts of the world and the most uncorrupted things get shattered. When we live in the midst of a pandemic, how easy it is to cede our hope. But whether we are the last one left alive or not, whether we ‘ascend’ before our time, dying younger than one might think is fair, it remains true that God will not deny us, and that our lord Jesus has already saved us. That is where we can find the hope, and that means that even if we think all hope is lost, it is not.

Time may dissolve the brightest flame; angels may fall; it may seem that everything changes and yet remains the same; but in spite of all of this, hope remains.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“We Believe in Dinosaurs” – The Ark Encounter Examined

The Ark Encounter is a controversial attempt to create a monument to what one group of people sees as biblical truth. “We Believe in Dinosaurs” documents the making of the Ark, both before and after, through several different lenses–a creationist working on the project, a geologist opposing it, an atheist protesting it, a woman who speaks in defense of creationism, a business owner hoping it will revitalize the town, a pastor who sees it as too closely uniting church and state, and a young Christian man who’s changed his mind. Recently, I had the chance to watch the documentary on PBS. It’s also available on Amazon.

One thing that makes the documentary so fascinating is that range of voices and perspectives it presents. Doug Henderson is the lead project designer at the Creation Museum and in the documentary he helped design the exhibits and leads a team making animals to go on the Ark, among other things. He’s a fully convinced Young Earth Creationist who believes the world is about 6,000 years old and that a global flood can account for the geologic record of our planet. He admits to having some doubts in the past, but that he resolved those doubts through a firm reliance on what he sees as the correct way to interpret the Bible. One of the most poignant moments of the documentary has him appealing to the camera with the notion that “I’m not crazy” and that he’s just as normal as anyone else, he just believes the Earth is young. It’s a rare, emotionally vivid moment in creation-evolution debates where the facade of certainty is stripped away and, as a viewer, one can witness that these are real people with real concerns. It’s powerful.

David Macmillan used to be a young earth creationist, and even donated enough to have his name on the wall at the Creation Museum. His own journey led him to question the truth of young earth creationism and he points out that it was a questioning of the rigidity of interpretation as well as scientific findings that caused him to change his view. As a viewer, he related to me quite a bit because his journey is very similar to my own.

Dan Phelps is a geologist who thinks the Ark Encounter is anti-science and has done the work to demonstrate it. But he rose to prominence in opposition to the project not because of geological disputes but due to his taking issue with tax dollars being used to supplement the building of the Ark. What was most alarming to him was that the Ark Encounter’s job applications at every level, whether project leader or janitor, required strict adherence to the full statement of faith of Answers in Genesis. This meant not only that atheists need not apply, as his op-ed got titled, but also that no Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, and even many, many Christians need apply either. To have this kind of hiring policy while also getting government money was alarming, and the documentary follows the fight against this government funding. Ultimately, this battle was lost and the Ark Encounter received grants and other aid from both state and local governments, despite claims both that the Ark is an evangelistic tool and the strict hiring practices.

One of the most alarming parts of the film is found when Jim Helten, President of the Tri-State Freethinkers (an atheist organization) who raised money to make billboards slamming the Ark Encounter and Creation museum as the “Genocide and Incest” museum is interviewed for the radio. What’s alarming about this is the way the Christian reacts to the atheist in this encounter. Jim alleges that the Ark implies incest and genocide because the flood kills everyone not on the ark, whether innocent or not, and then that the world has to get repopulated through incest because only Noah’s family was on the Ark. One can debate the nuance (or lack thereof) of Jim’s interpretation, but the Christian on the other end of the line turns around and immediately consigns Jim to hell. He says he’ll pray for Jim to not be in hell, but finally becomes unhinged and says “and there’ll be a million serpents biting your legs for eternity” as though that’s a reasonable response to Jim’s charges and his efforts to put up somewhat inflammatory billboards. Jim points out that he’s being threatened with eternal torture for asking for evidence. It’s another one of the moments that the documentary does so well of creating times to think and reflect and wonder. How is it possible that an ostensibly Christian person would think such a response was justified–and where did the line about the serpents come from?

A major aspect of the documentary is showing the Ark Encounter’s impact on the local community. It’s not clear what explicit promises were made, but it is clear that the people of Williamstown, Kentucky were given the impression that the Ark Encounter would bring a business boom to their community and help revitalize a downtown that Jamie Baker, interviewed in the documentary, said was so slow at times you could almost see tumbleweeds. The documentary covers several aspects of this hope, showing one group singing a song about their excitement related to the Ark Encounter. Just a few years later, that same place is a vacant facade, to go along with all the other places for sale or rent in a downtown that hasn’t been helped at all. One person in the documentary said they were promised shuttles would bring people into town to eat and shop, but that they only rarely see even a car driving through.

It is not clear, again, what promises were made to the people of Williamstown, but whatever hopes were raised have since, apparently, been crushed. The Ark Encounter isn’t helping the community in a monetary way so far as one can tell from the documentary. This, despite the city selling 78 acres of land to the Ark Encounter for $1 and giving them $175,000. This may not seem like a big problem–businesses make promises and bully people into helping them turn a profit all the time. But the Ark Encounter is an ostensibly Christian exhibit! Its staff has to subscribe to a strict statement of faith. One would expect integrity and openness from such people, not attacks on people who question their practices and attempts to block or obfuscate information related to their exhibit.

“We Believe in Dinosaurs” is a fascinating, challenging watch. It presents many sides, both sympathetic and not, related to the Ark Encounter. I haven’t even gone over several other people who show up in the documentary, and there’s much more there. I highly recommend it to anyone, given its broad range of interests from religious freedom, church and state issues, questions about science and faith, and more.

Links

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Just Mercy” – A Christian look at the movie

“Just Mercy” is a film based upon a true story that is shocking and utterly challenging to viewers. I’d like to look at the film from a worldview perspective. I’ve already written about the book, as well. There will be SPOILERS in our discussion here. I’m not going to summarize the plot, but a summary may be found here.

Cliched Reality

I was struck by a couple reviews I saw talked about how the plot was cliched. There’s the trope of the corrupt, racist sheriff. There’s the unapologetic DA. The judge who participates in defending the system. But what such complaints ignore is this is a true story. The tropes become more than the alleged cardboard cutouts here–the racist sheriff was re-elected six times after Johnny D. is exonerated. The narrative of racism is supported by the fact that Johnny D. was hated by the white community for sleeping with a white woman. It was an unforgivable sin, and they decided he needed to pay with his life, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, cliches are real.

Systemic Racism is A Thing

There are some who argue there’s no such thing as systemic racism. The naivete of that sentiment would be quaint if it were not so damaging. Some seem to think that after the Civil Rights era, racism magically was drained of all power. But here we have a powerful portrayal of injustice based upon race with dates that are well within the memory of most adults.

I was especially struck by the comparison of the death penalty to lynching. There’s something to be said for the comparison, too. Laws that appear to be color-blind can be absolutely racist when they are applied in ways that are not color-blind in any way. Black men are much more likely to be sentenced to death. What’s even more alarming is seeing cases like those in this movie. One of them had a jury recommend life in prison, but the judge overrode it and sentenced the man to death. How much power is that to give to one person? To allow the feelings and biases of one person to condemn another to death, even against the recommendation of a jury!

Going along with this, there is the question of who is chosen for the death penalty. When black men are the ones sentenced to death, questions of perceptions (why are black men seen as particularly deserving of capital punishment?), bias (why are black men seen as especially dangerous?), and more must be raised. This is a clear example of systemic injustice. What people often don’t realize is that saying something is systemic racism does not mean that it must be outrightly, knowingly racist. It simply may have racially biased outcomes. See, for example, Kendi’s discussion in How to Be an Antiracist (my review here).

The Old Rugged Cross and Spirituality

There’s no question faith runs throughout this movie. Whether it’s Bryan Stevenson talking at his first meeting with a man on death row about being in the church choir or the call Stevenson makes at the end for a mercy tempered by justice and even a little unmerited grace, faith is a powerful, resonating theme.

One of the most poignant moments in the movie is when Herbert Richardson is led to his execution. Richardson was a Vietnam veteran with clear signs of PTSD. Yes, he killed a little girl, but the very nation state for which he fought and descended into hell abandoned him and left him on his own. Richardson’s stay of execution is denied, and he is led to the electric chair as the haunting melody of “The Old Rugged Cross” plays in the background. He sits in the chair. He is electrocuted by the state that he laid his life on the line for every day. It’s awful. The Old Rugged cross.

Conclusion

“Just Mercy” is a powerful, challenging movie. It challenges assumptions. It challenges bias. It challenges your soul. I don’t think it would be possible to watch this film and be completely unmoved. Please, watch it.

Links

The Death Penalty and Just Mercy– Bryan Stephenson’s personal look at capital punishment– Stevenson’s book is just as powerful as the movie and deserves your attention.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Man in the High Castle” – A Christian Reflection on the Finale

Amazon recently released the final season of “The Man in the High Castle” and it was full of revelations, deeply moving moments, and the intense buildup fans of the series have come to expect. Here, I’d like to discuss the finale in light of a Christian worldview. There will, of course, be major spoilers for the whole series since we are talking about the finale.

The Breaking of Swords

The climactic scene in the final episode shows the revelation that John Smith has died, and upon finding out about it, Bill Whitcroft, the newly-minted leader of the Nazis in the United States immediately throws off his swastika and calls off the attack on the Western States. An immensely powerful scene follows, in which hordes of bombers suddenly turn aside from violence. The people who are watching in anticipation of their almost certain deaths look on in awe as the bombers turn away and their lives are saved. They set down their weapons on the battlements as the music swells with emotion. It was a conscious choice–a choice for peace rather than war, for turning aside from violence, for the breaking of swords.

The scene also makes me think of a recently released book entitled Beating Guns, in which the authors talk about political topics related to gun control, but also about the eschatological hope of literally beating guns into plowshares. In fact, one of the authors has a group that does that literal act, having truly turned a number of weapons into various garden implements and tools.

Each of these acts–literally working to beat guns into garden tools or choosing to go the way of peace instead of the way of destruction–demonstrates something about Christian eschatological hope that is often missed in the broader discussions of end-times theorizing. Too often, Christians obsess over details of alleged end times prophecy but miss the fact that Jesus has already come and that calls us to a radical renewal and change of the world–one that calls us to peace and overwhelming love.

The call to peace is powerful, and some of the greatest Christian thinkers have made it central to their theology. For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of a radical call to peace that went against security. Rather than having the security that comes with force of arms, Christians are called towards a life that turns the other cheek and trusts in God.

Evil Begets Evil

John Smith is a kind of ultimate tragic figure. There’s an absolutely stunning sequence in this final season as Helen Smith discovers what John is doing. Interspersed with flashbacks showing how John initially tried to resist the Nazi regime until ultimately capitulating to it and even watching his friend get shipped off to a concentration camp, we discover with Helen that John Smith, as he gains control of the United States, is planning for a continuation of the Final Solution. A particularly chilling moment is when she discovers the map for where the concentration camps would be placed. Helen realizes this is for real–John is planning to not just continue but also magnify the atrocities that the Nazis perpetrated.

Finally, Helen confronts John on their ill-fated train ride. She asks him: “How did we get here–you and me, how did we get here?” She has come to the realization, fully owning that what she has done, and what her husband has done, is an incredible evil–a crime that will be remembered throughout all history. When she calls it a “crime” John Smith says, “I know.” She replies, “It has to stop.” His response is absolutely horrifying, not because it is utterly evil–it is–but because of how we can see that this kind of evil is something people can almost fall in to. He says: “I don’t know how.”

He has gotten so used to the state of affairs that he is inoculated to it. Evil is simply a way of living, it is how they live. It has supported and propped up their lives. It is so incredibly easy for we as humans to give in to evil. We allow it to become a norm. We look the other way when we see injustice and we accept it as a fact of life. People will, after all, do horrific things. What can we do?

But we cannot do this. We cannot accept evil as it stands. We must not. We are called to do better. We must tear down unjust institutions, acknowledging that they are part of what makes it so that we “don’t know how” to do any different. We must call for reform, for a setting down of arms, a march of peace. We cannot ever allow ourselves the comfort of that hideous evil to hide behind: ignorance.

A March of Saints?

The ending of the series is surprisingly ambiguous. I kind of loved it. We see the quantum machine opening up, apparently allowing people from all sorts of alternate worlds come in. The march of people coming in from all over is a stark contrast to the restrictive control that the Nazis have been trying to impose. It’s a kind of march of saints as people go looking for each other from across worlds. It is beautiful.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Also see my other looks into television (scroll down for more).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Frozen 2: A Christian Perspective- Changes, Safety, and Love

Frozen 2 released on November 22, 2019 to a smashing success. The first movie is among the most beloved films from Disney in recent times, and the second had much to live up to. Here, I offer a look at some major themes in the movie, evaluating it from a Christian perspective. Let me know what you thought in the comments! There will, of course, be SPOILERS in what follows.

My Love is Not Fragile – Seeking the Unchanging

A major theme throughout the film, whether it’s “Some Things Never Change”–one of the headlining pieces from the soundtrack, or the constant question of whether love can endure through hardships and whether promises can be counted on.

Perhaps the most poignant line in the movie for me was when Kristoff was talking with Anna near the climax. Anna apologizes for leaving him, and his response is “My love is not fragile.” It’s a strong affirmation of the strength of his love for Anna. Love is perhaps the central theme of the interactions of the characters–whether it’s friendship, the love among family, or the love of a relationship, it is presented as being the kind of thing that doesn’t change.

Of course, we also know that that kind of love does change–it waxes and wanes, and can even fade away entirely. Relationships break, conditions are set where there ought to not be any, people lie, cheat, and betray each other.

From a Christian perspective, though, we also know that love is something unchanging, because it reflects the nature of God. God is love, and God’s love is not fragile–it is the sturdiest, most powerful thing in the universe. Because of God’s love, we are saved. Frozen 2, then, reflects that truth for us–even as we may wonder at the changing nature of the world around us, we can remind ourselves that “some things never change” and that that is where we can ground our hope.

Colonialism and Having it All?

Another central theme of the movie is that of conflict between Arandelle and the Northuldra people. It turns out that Elsa and Anna’s grandfather made a treaty with the Northuldra but betrayed them, angering the spirits of the forest and leading to a break between the two peoples that appears irreparable. But the time in the woods has led to a kind of uneasy truce between the soldiers from Arandelle and the Northuldra people in the enchanted forest.

As Elsa and Anna discover the truth of the past, it is Anna who takes direct action to heal the division, realizing that the building of a dam to benefit Arandelle was also a way to destroy Northuldra’s way of life. She gets the massive stone giants to destroy the dam, and Arandelle itself is saved by Elsa’s magic. In a way, this is an everybody wins kind of scenario. It is through the direct intervention of the spirits (more on this below) that the waters settle in a way that doesn’t continue to threaten Arandelle.

In our own world, we have many situations like Arandelle and Northuldra, many situations where one group of people have taken advantage of another, marginalized them, even actively killed them. How do we work to heal those wounds? Perhaps the most important first step is to listen–really listen–to the “other” and take seriously their concerns. Direct action may even be necessary–action that might place one’s own interests at risk. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that peace is something that must be dared, and as Christians we need to be willing to dare that peace. We need to be willing to dare that we can help make amends for past mistakes, and try to bring healing in places where there has only been hurt.

Spirits and the Spirit

I mentioned the forest spirits already, but it’s worth reflecting on them again. Each of the spirits is explained through natural phenomena, in a way. The fire spirit is a kind of salamander creature that burns, the wind is… wind, water is the movement of the waves, and earth is the power of the ground in earthquakes and some stone giants. Yes, these are mythical and magical elements, but they can also provide a way for looking at the world by Christians as well. We know that in God all things live and move and have their being (Acts 17:28), and the Spirit of God is working in our world still. Even as we find natural explanations for things like the wind an the movement of the earth, that doesn’t mean that God is absent; rather, it means that God is working with God’s own creation, sustaining it and nurturing it. When we destroy God’s creation with our greed or our inaction, we are dishonoring God.

Conclusion

Frozen 2 is a very different film from the first installment. It is deeper, older, and wiser. It has more inside jokes for adults, and it has themes that most kids probably won’t entirely understand. It is a way to speak with kids about the nature of God through God’s unchanging love and God’s sustaining creation. It also gives a way to look on the complex past of human relationships and how we need to work for reconciliation.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Harriet” (2019 film)- Faith and Freedom – A Christian look at the movie

“Harriet” is a fantastic film about the real life of Harriet Tubman. What struck me most, though, were the themes of faith and freedom found throughout the story.

Faith

Christianity is a central theme in the movie. Near the beginning, we witness an African American pastor preaching about how slaves must obey their masters no matter what. In a stunning twist, this pastor later turns out to be part of the underground railroad–a nod to the real life pastor who did the same in Tubman’s life. As a cover, it was brilliant: who would suspect the man who preaches about how slaves will burn in hell for running away would also be assisting that very act? The fact remains, though, that many, many white pastors supported and buttressed the enslavement of fellow humans through the use of just such Bible verses. What the Civil War did with theology is its own, fascinating story, but that battle between a literalistic reading of such passages and seeing the visions of freedom in narratives like that of Moses is played out in an engrossing way in this movie.

The use of spirituals throughout the film is also intensely personal and moving. The scene showing Tubman leading a raid that freed many slaves during the Civil War towards the end of the movie juxtaposed with her singing “Wade in the Water” is perfection itself. Too often, we tend to spiritualize spirituals, along with our hymns and liturgy–even what the Bible itself says. But there is no question that there are real life applications of these verses and these words that people sang. It would be impossible for those enslaved to not see themselves paralleled in the stories about Moses–let my people go! And it would be right for them to do so as a challenge to a simplistic reading of verses that tell slaves to obey masters. These kind of deep, complex issues aren’t fully explored in the film, but the fact that even begins to raise them makes it one of the most fascinating movies I’ve seen recently.

Harriet Tubman is portrayed claiming to have visions from God, and this claim is apparently paralleled in her real life. Several historians today believe this was a condition of epilepsy or something like it that was caused by the actual injury documented in the movie from the weight being thrown at Tubman’s head. But Tubman herself saw these visions as being from God, though perhaps not quite in the way the film portrays–as they warn of specific dangers before they happen. Is it possible that Harriet was used by God in this way? It seems the answer must be yes, for her life was clearly one of fighting for justice as a life of faith. Whatever messy theological problems come from that are questions for a different time, though they are worth reflecting upon. If our theology can’t account for the real, lived experience of people who claim to be used by God and demonstrate that in their lives, it probably is in need of some revising.

Freedom

Freedom is a basic human right,and throughout the film, we see Tubman repeating the phrase “be free or die” (and variations on it). This is true to the real life Tubman, as well. What is fascinating, again, is that this theme of freedom is not tied into a secular, abstract sense of freedom, but a theological, almost liturgical sense in which freedom is something that God will bring–bringing justice against the enslavers.

The constant sacrifice of the freedom of fellow humans is a theme that isn’t quite as strong in the film, but the horrible ramifications of the Fugitive Slave Act are vividly portrayed. The Fugitive Slave Act is one of the most heinous laws passed in the history of our country, and its contentious nature helped drive the country towards Civil War. What is particularly fascinating is the subtle jab at the “Lost Cause” that is taken towards the end of the movie. The “Lost Cause” thesis was a rewrite of history by those with Southern interests in mind to argue the Civil War was about states’ rights rather than about slavery. (It manifestly was about slavery, including trumping states’ rights in order to save slavery.) In the film, Tubman notes that the lost cause was the enslavement of other humans–a cause which is as morally bankrupt and “lost” as it is possible to be.

Reflections

There is no doubt that “Harriet” has me thinking about some of the deep questions of faith and freedom. I already put one biography of Tubman on hold at the library and eagerly anticipate reading it.

There were a few things that I did think were negatives in an otherwise excellent film. One was the character of Bigger Long, a black slave catcher. There is no direct evidence that any black slave catcher was involved in trying to thwart Tubman, to my knowledge (please point me to a historical source if you have one). It seems like this selection was made, apparently, to make it so that not every “bad guy” in the movie was a white person. Though it is true there were some African American slave catchers, they were obviously much less common than white ones. The decision to make Bigger Long an example of such is odd.

I also loved the scene with Harriet giving her speech to Seward and a crowd gathered there as they debated what to do about the Fugitive Slave Act, but was disappointed to see someone clearly portraying Frederick Douglass get scolded by Tubman as not remembering what it was like to be enslaved because he was too important now. The character of Douglass (who I don’t believe ever is explicitly named as such, but the hair styling and time he talks makes it quite clear) is shown giving a stirring call to thwart the enslavers just before this. This sensitivity on my part may be because I think Frederick Douglass is one of the most important, fascinating figures in all of United States history, rather than as a negative point. See my work reflecting on Douglass as a prophet of freedom.

“Harriet” as a whole is a fascinating, intense film that shows the evils of slavery without becoming voyeuristic about it. It also does an excellent job highlighting the difficulties with faith and freedom in our country’s history, as well as in the real lived lives of those back then. It also calls us to do better now for our society and overthrow the bonds–real or imagined–that thwart freedom and faith today.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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