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Wednesday, December 31st, 2008
I just got back from seeing Valkyrie. My expectations had been dampened by some bad reviews, but given what they said about the acting, I knew there was a good chance I would not agree once I got into the theater. Thankfully, this proved to be the case.
I think different people have different priorities regarding what they expect out of an acting job. Many skewered Kevin Costner for his on-again off-again English accent in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. While this was something I noticed, it seemed like a minor detail to me. He drew me into the story, and that was what I cared about. Same here. Cruise didn't even attempt a German accent once he started speaking English in the first few minutes of the movie. He was definitely Tom Cruise in this film, but he still seemed to carry important qualities of the man he portrayed. I do know that by the end of the movie, I cared very much what happened to him and admired his character deeply. I like Tom Cruise a little better for taking on this role and delivering it as he did. Yes, his personal life is odd, but I can separate the actor from his life.
Perhaps someone else could have done better, but nobody recent comes to mind. Maximilian Schell could have played this role had it been made shortly after the war. Then again, looking at imdb, he did play in a movie called Der 20, Juli in 1955, which covered the same events. An actor named Wolfgang Preiss played von Stauffenberg in that movie.
This movie had me pondering the nature of resistance. My key thought was just how difficult it is to arrange anything so late in the game. Even those who support you are so deranged in their thinking that you are unlikely to succeed. This is one reason that the philosophical work is so important when we do not face such times. People need to learn to resist the spirit of the age. Otherwise even if they come to their senses on a big issue such as not having Hitler as head of state, they will be muddled as to how that fits with other duties and how deep a cleansing the country really needs.
For their own sakes, I wanted the resistance to succeed. Knowing what was coming, I was glad it did not. But that was not a thought I had during the movie.
If you want to read an honest review, try this one by Roger Ebert.
12:04 am Pacific Standard Time
Monday, December 29th, 2008
Edwin De Vera posted a link to a Fox News interview with Chris LaTondresse, founder of RecoveringEvangelical.com. LaTondress gives his reasons for a switch from voting a Republican ticket to supporting Obama. His explanation began with the words, "There is over two thousand Bible verses in the Bible that deal with God's care and concern for the poor. There are less than two dozen on homosexuality and even fewer that address abortion. You certainly wouldn't get that impression from looking at the political agenda of the far right. For my generation if we have to choose between those two thousand verses on poverty or the two dozen it's a no-brainer. And there's a whole generation of evangelicals who is applying their faith in broader and deeper ways to a broader and deeper agenda than ever before...." He lists some of the issues.
The statement has some plausibility. Many people do latch onto a single issue and once they have don't take the time to ask what else might be worth considering. I even like that reconsidering which issues are central could lead to a change in voting pattern—even when the change is one I would not myself choose. What bothers me, however, is a certain thought process. It is one that this man probably held as a Republican voter and has taken into the Democratic party without alteration. It's a thought-process that bothers me when I see it in practice among Republicans, too.
The thought process goes something like this: "x, y, and z are my big issues. Candidate B actually seems to be willing to enact legislation supporting my side of those issues. So I'll vote for candidate B." The logic here seems so straightforward that many would wonder how it could be questioned. "Don't you want your agenda to succeed?" What is missing are some other critical questions. "What role should the state have in issues x, y, and z?" In many cases, I could agree with someone about a particular issue, but disagree strongly about the role of the state in solving the issue.
I once had a professor for New Testament Interpretation who was very adamant about a certain point. When deciding which reading had the best attestation behind it, there was a mistake too many people fell into. "You don't COUNT manuscripts. You evaluate them." The fact that there were more manuscripts of a particular reading didn't automatically mean it was better. They could all be later copies of a botched copy. You had to evaluate. WHY did one reading have more manuscripts supporting it? Where did they come from? How early were they? What kind of sense did their readings make? What kind of account could you offer for how a misreading arose? Likewise here. Counting two thousand Bible verses on poverty verses less than two dozen on homosexuality doesn't tell me what I need to know. How many verses would it require to find out whether something was wrong or not? (That is, assuming they say what it is claimed they say. I have time for arguments that question the original significance of these verses. But that goes into the arena I'm arguing for here: evaluation.) And did God bring up another issue more times in order to ensure that our current political leaders paid attention to it?
If we go for too straightforward an application, we will have other problems, too. If the Bible is a simple guide to political positions, that will not lead to ignoring homosexuality altogether. It will lead to seeking the death penalty for the practice. For while homosexuality is mentioned little, the verses cited are severe. Does Chris LaTondresse hold that homosexuals should be killed, but place the matter low on the agenda? Somehow I doubt it. He did one part of the evaluation, deciding that this command was not binding on us in this age, and then asked how relatively important the issue was. From my own libertarian perspective I am, like Chris, unlikely to give a party extra points for pursuing this matter too far. But this comes not from counting verse, but from evaluating them. What I expect my pastor to do on the basis of the verses may differ. (I hope he preaches from the lectionary. The verses will come up from time to time. He won't likely preach topical sermons on the subject.) I really don't expect that for every 16 mentions of homosexuality, I'll hear two thousand on poverty. Statistics are not that determinative for me. Evaluating is.
I agree with Chris that poverty is an issue which needs addressing. I fear a bit, though, when I hear it addressed just by counting verses. If someone came to me and said that God had a particular view of how people should live with regard to land, and said that our current state is thwarting that at every turn, I would be more likely to listen to that than to a statistic of how many verses there are and how many people are in poverty. Statistics don't tell me what I need to know.
Perhaps LaTondresse is right that the rising generation really does seek to apply its faith in broader and deeper ways than past generations. I just get suspicious when all this means is that the revised Biblical Scoreboard shows a different set of candidates should get my vote. I think a broader and deeper discussion should go to the roots of our political philosophy. Otherwise we're just trading one shallow discussion for another.
12:17 pm Pacific Standard Time
Friday, December 19th, 2008
I was reading Paradise Lost with a friend recently, and asked him what he thought of the invocation at the beginning. What spirit was being invoked? The Holy Spirit of course. My friend saw that. I pointed out that this had historic precedent in other poems. Homer invoked a muse. I had a high school teacher who thought Milton was prideful to ask for the same spirit that inspired Moses. But knowing the puritans, Milton really had no other choice. There was one spirit to whom he could appeal.
It is interesting that an invocation is given at the Presidential Inauguration. President-elect Obama has chosen Rick Warren to give the invocation. Many have said it was not a political decision. But if it isn't, it is something very close. It is a symbolic decision by a politician who knows the power of symbols.
I think if I were President, I might be inclined to forego having a pastor do the invocation at the Inauguration. One Lutheran pastor I know said he didn't like going to city council meetings to begin them with prayer, as that might convey a divine stamp of approval on anything that might be done in the meeting following. Likewise, here. I don't approve of civil religion. I want to be clear about something here, though. It is not that I don't find it moving, or that I have an innate distaste for civil religion. It moves me. I enjoy it. But it's a guilty pleasure that violates my principles.
I would rather have my pastor offer his own prayer at my home church, and he could decide as a pastor what kind of pastoral care I was likely to need. The parish would be the context for that, not the national stage.
This is just a leaning, however, and I think that perhaps it is good to consider what should go into choosing a minister for a purpose such as this. Do you automatically choose a pastor from your own church? A pastor which matches the constituency that got you elected? A pastor that matches the nation at large? The further out you go, the more difficult a matter it is. But this is why church and state should not be mixed. People will end up feeling excluded.
Over at Salon.com, Joan Walsh asked her readers to leave suggestions for better choices of a cleric in the comments to her post. Many of the responders had a decent logical reason for why their clerical choice was a good one. But even when I saw the logic, I felt myself sidelined. Katharine Jefferts Schori (or Gene Robinson, or Jesse Jackson) would not make me feel included. (I may be equidistant from Jefferts Schori and Warren.) I could feel included by many conservative mainline pastors, or evangelicals of the old school. Yet I know why such people might bother others. Further, the presidential connection might harm the minister more than it helped the President. I don't think this problem of inclusion can be solved by logic. It can be solved by the separation of church and state. And then perhaps a transcript of the president's pastor's prayer could be posted after a small service with no TV cameras. Those interested could feel more deeply included in the pastor's spiritual life. But everyone who wished to be celebratory about the inauguration would feel able to without a break.
Perhaps the Olympics get it right when they go ahead and invoke Greek gods. While at one time this would have been true idolatry, at least in our time we know we are pretending. Better to take Zeus's name in vain than that of our Lord.
12:16 am Pacific Standard Time