Friday, May 28, 2004

Saved! Preview

Whoa, two posts in one day. But I have to snip this review of the new movie Saved! from the always wonderful It's about a Christian High School, and it sounds amazing on so many different levels.

“Saved! is like those monster vampire high school kind of movies, only here the monsters are Jesus-freak teenagers.” —producer Michael Stipe (of R.E.M. fame)

According to Hilary Faye, the only person attending American Eagle Christian High School who isn't a born-again Christian is Cassandra, a Jewish "bad-girl" whose immoral reputation ("She was a stripper before she started going here!") has been juicing up the school's gossip mill. Hilary brags that she'll be the one who finally converts Cassandra, and turns the girl's eternal destiny into a horse race. When she finally has the opportunity, she approaches the "task" of leading Cassandra to the Lord as a dentist would a root canal, fretting that she doesn’t have all her “gear” with her to do the job right. Cassandra, in response, taunts and ridicules Hilary by feigning the salvation experience, then telling her it "didn't take," and that she converted to Satanism the following day.

I can't wait to see that.

A slightly more subtle mockery is made of very young children accepting "Jesus into [their] hearts and getting saved." The same applies to God's divine plan for His children. Bible studies. Christian clubs. Prayer meetings. And Christian education. Christianese lingo—made to feel insincere—is trotted out at every turn ("Let's get our Christ on," "Let's kick it Jesus style," "Down with G.O.D.," "You're not born-agay, you're born again").

That's right. Let's get our Christ on. I love it.

Mary gets pregnant when she has sex with her boyfriend, Dean. (The camera focuses on the shaking bed.) Why does this young Christian virgin, committed to remaining pure until her wedding night, choose to consummate her affection for Dean? After Dean informs her that he’s gay, she takes it upon herself to win him back, finally concluding that the only way to straighten him out is to sacrifice her virginity "for the cause." (She tells her friends afterwards that Jesus told her to do it and that He promised he would restore her virginity if she did what He said.) Upon completion of the act, she rolls over in bed (showing moviegoers her—very thin—sports bra) and whispers, "Thank you Jesus." I should note that before going all the way with Dean, Mary tries to wake up his masculine attraction to women by making out with him and having him fondle her bikini-clad breasts (in-frame). [Spoiler Warning] Neither make-out sessions nor copulation work. Dean ends up “happily” dating another guy after meeting him at a Christian rehab facility known for its "degayification" processes.

Oh, that'll be classic.

A girl confesses to God that she "let that Promise Maker (a dig at Promise Keepers) touch me in the rectory." When Cassandra bares her breasts during the school chapel service, the camera glimpses skin. (There are no full-on shots.)

Quality. Pure... quality.

Challenging Faith

Sometimes it seems like porn has an unsung competitor for the most common theme on the internet. The darkhorse in that particular race is Christian apologetics. It's also quite the cottage industry in paper publishing circles.

Why the emphasis on "reasonable" faith? Isn't faith the "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and therefore beyond reason?

I suppose it is, in theory. But I don't think many westerners, including Christians, find that very satisfying. Hence, the 616 000 hits in a google search. We don't find it satisfying because of the fundemental basis for western culture - that the universe is a rational place. We expect rationale and logical thought to be accurate guides to truth; so when a concept is irrational, we suspect that it is incorrect.

When questioning the rationality of an individual's religious beliefs, I find there are a number of responses.

1) the person insists their beliefs are rationale. They cite historical sources to support the truth of events recorded in their sacred text. They attempt to use scientific language to argue that natural processes cannot account for the origin of matter or life, and therefore, God did it. Etc, etc. These statements may or may not be accurate. The point is, that they sincerely believe their beliefs are entirely rationale.

2) The religious person insists the unbeliever is spiritually, willfully blinded to the truth. The unbeliever is incapable, for whatever reason, of seeing how rationally true a particular faith is. I think this tends to be the second step in a lengthy discussion. It's hard to argue against; it's entirely possible that one has some kind of spiritual or subconscious block that limits their abilty to form proper conclusions. However, the religious seem to ignore the fact that this argument is a double edged sword - that maybe the religious people are the ones with the block.

Originally, I was going to build this post around a thread I started here. It's a science fiction author's forum; the author is a Mormon. There is a large number of Mormon members at the forum, so I started a thread with questions like "Why does the Book of Mormon say there were horses in the New World before Columbus?". Clearly, this is a huge issue for a Mormon attempting to maintain a rational faith.

There were two answers. First, some posters said that archeologists are willfully ignoring evidence for horses and a Jewish civilization in Mesoamerica in the first few centuries after Christ. The second answer was a moderator deleting the thread.

That is response #3. Ignoring challenges to the rationality of faith.

So three responses. Produce evidence, say the doubter is willful, or to ignore the question entirely. Sometimes you'll get all three responses from the same person.

This applies to everyone with strongly held beliefs about philosophy or religion, of course. Theists, atheists, agnostics, we all have these three responses.

I say all this because of something one of my Christian friends says a lot. Whenever we talk about the rationality of faith, he says there are two fundemental positions that will completely guide how you see the evidence. Either you believe in God, or you don't. This, he says, is the basic question of life.

I think he's pretty clearly wrong: the basic question of life is whether or not the universe is rationale. Western culture in general says it is, and eastern culture (think of zen koans here) says that isn't necassarily so.

If the universe is a rational place, let's act like it. We've got a criteria for truth that helps distinguish between competing ideas - rational thought. Let's use it.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

T.V. And Story Telling

(This post completely spoils the series finale of Angel)

Well, it's the end of an an era for these guys. But while they are talking about the end of their church, I'm going to talk about TV!

As a cultural medium, TV doesn't get much respect. It's the boob tube, the idiot box. I tend to think otherwise: I think TV is an incredible medium for both non-fiction (think journalism) and story telling. It's all in how the program is handled. Certainly TV has its fair share of stupid content; but really, how many books on the shelves at Chapters are worth reading?

I think fiction on TV is always best in an hour long serial. This allows the writers maybe 16 hours of screentime a year (not counting commercials) to tell a story.

It tends to be science-fiction/fantasy series that do the most to take advantage of all that screentime. Consider Babylon 5; an epic story that filled some 75 hours of screen time. The character and plot development possible in those 75 hours just isn't present in a 2.5 hour movie. Enemies became friends, friends became enemies. Cowards became heroes, murderous fools became religious leaders.

I want producers to take advantage of this more often. With so much screentime, so many amazing characters and stories can be told. Emotional weight be slowly built up over the years, slowly, carefully, and the viewer can enjoy an amazing payoff when the story concludes.

A fine example of a long buildup paying off: the series finale of Angel that aired last night. A series cut down in its prime but still given enough warning that the story could be concluded, the series ended in an unflinchingly courageous finale.

The thematic backbone of the last five years of Angel's run was summarized in the penultimate episdoe: evil exists not to be defeated, but to be faught. And the finale stayed true to that perfectly. Extraordinary sacrifices were made, and they gave evil a vicious kick to the nether regions. But evil wasn't vanquished or exiled, and the good guys didn't win. All they did was fight, and fight hard.

The final scene sees the four surviving members of the group in a dark alley, with the rain pouring down relentlessly. One is mortally wounded and soon to die. They stand quietly talking, and then the camera pans to their left. There is a huge demon army marching towards them, complete with dragon and a good dozen cave-troll like creatures.

Spike asks their leader Angel, "Anything in the way of a plan?" and Angel replies "I kind of want to slay the dragon." Angel picks up his sword, and calmly says "Let's go to work." The four heroes walk towards the army... and thus ends the series. They didn't win, they didn't vanquish evil, but they sure fought it. I wonder if a 2.5 hour film could have created a final scene with such resonance? I doubt it.

Let's hope there are more people like Joss Whedon and Michael Strazynski out there who will take advantage of all that screen time. The budgets might be lower and the glory not as great, but there are still amazing stories to be told.

So farewell to Angel. Like any good ending, it left me with fulfilled sense of meloncholy. It was a great ride while it lasted and I'll be able to watch it in re-runs, just like I can rent a movie again or pick up a book a dozen times, but I'll never be able to experience it again for the first time.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Christian Right Declares War On Homosexuals!

Sort of.

Let it never be said that the Left doesn't have its fair share of paranoia and persecution complexes. The normally erudite internet scholars over at Barbelith are going ballistic over this article.

As with most legislation, it's really difficult to find proper summaries, so I can't say that I really understand the bill. However, from the perspective of the news page, here is the main issue of concern: "If passed the bills would allow refusal of treatment for specific medical conditions that uniquely affect the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, including hormone therapy for transgender people and assisted reproduction for same-sex couples."

The link says the bill allows doctors to refuse specific kinds of non-emergency services.

I'm a card-carrying liberal, I voted Green in the last provincial election, and I'm all for gay marriage. But I'm siding with the "fundies" on this one.

I've got a lot of sincere, honest Christian friends who believe homosexuality is a sin. Now, I disagree with them when they argue against gay marriage - because that isn't any of their business. If two guys want to kiss each other, that doesn't affect them at all. They need to butt out.

It's entirely different for the state to tell a Christian that they have to directly assist somone commit what the Christian sees as a sin. Forcing a Christian doctor to assist someone change their sex is no better than forcing a Christian minister to perform a gay marriage. It is simply trading one form of discrimination for another.

The larger issue is one of medical ethics. Other bills like this have either recently passed or will soon be passed; they do things like protect doctors and nurses who refuse to perform or assist with abortions, or protect pharmacists who refuse to hand out morning after pills. These seem like perfectly reasonable protections.

It's all about personal principles. Everybody has to have them; they are our emotional skeletons. They hold us together. Without principles, you're an invertebrate. If a person's principles clash with those around them either on a small scale, friendship level or a large scale, societal level, that person has to decide how important those principles are - and whether or not to act on them.

Forcing medical personal to assist in an abortion or a sex change operation may very well clash with deeply held personal principles, and I'm not willing to force somone to choose between their principles and their job, in the context of elective procedures. It's simply wrong to force a doctor to perform an elective procedure they find morally offensive.