When it comes to our view of individual liberty, one of the most unexplored areas of distinction between libertarians and religious conservatives* is how we view neutrality and bias. Because the differences are uncharted, I have no way of describing the variance without resorting to a grossly simplistic caricature—so with a grossly simplistic caricature we shall proceed:
On Valentine’s Day, just one day before having to tender its application to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, Italy’s pragmatic Prime Minister Mario Monti showed no romantic spirit by canceling his nation’s dream to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
In a last-minute decision made Feb. 14, Prime Minister Monti explained at a press conference that the already overburdened Italian taxpayers simply cannot afford to finance the estimated $12.5 billion to bring the 2020 Olympic Games to Rome. “I do not think it would be responsible, considering Italy’s current financial condition.” (See video below.)
The news sent shock waves through the national media and angered Rome’s Mayor Gianni Alemanno, who had aggressively put together the logistical plan and budget.
Yet Monti is no dupe and was honest enough not to hoodwink his nation into taking on financial responsibilities it is in absolutely no position to accept. Finally, we are seeing an Italian politician demonstrating some degree of practical realism and sense of sacrifice. The Italian Premier, while spearheading historic fiscal reforms, wants the country to wake up and smell its caffe by finally shedding the need to fund unwarranted public expenditures.
While time will tell whether Monti and his government are making wise decisions, the heart-wrenching financial assessment was based on few simple black and white economic facts. Italy has an unbridled a national debt to GDP ratio, which has swelled from 115 percent in 2010 to 120 percent in 2011 while experiencing stagnant growth and uncontrolled inflation over the last 10-15 years. Next you have the nation’s toxic dependency on massive public welfare programs, despite Monti’s drastic attempts to change Italy’s entrenched entitlement culture. Then you add in widespread tax evasion, very little new entrepreneurship among young business persons, the Italian bond and spread crises, Standard and Poor’s further stripping of Italy’s credit rating (from A to BBB+) and downgrading 34 of the country’s top credit institutions at the start of 2012 and you got a country that is on the verge of insolvency.
It couldn’t get worse, but a day after Monti renounced any Olympics bid ANSA news service announced Italy had officially entered a recession with negative growth recorded for the last two quarters.
No Olympics, no gold. But whatever wealth seemed guaranteed at the end rainbow, it would be foolish to think the 2020 Games would bolster an entire national economy for more than a very limited period (and quite realistically, only the benefactors of Italy’s crony capitalism and the mafia-infested public works sectors).
It is high time that Italians themselves start permanently growing their economy through new forms of entrepreneurship — just like it did in its economic boom era when Italy last hosted the Summer Olympics in 1960 — and not count on riding on the tails of the government’s large-scale, short-lived public projects.
While the recent contraceptive mandate controversy has exposed the Obama Administration’s disregard for religious freedoms, it has also reveled their natural disdain for subsidiarity. As George Weigel notes, this incident tells us “something very important, and very disturbing, about the cast of mind in the Executive Branch.”
When we launched the PowerBlog in 2005, we had little idea that it would grow into one of the Acton Institute’s most popular and powerful communications channels. Nearly 4,000 posts, and 8,000 comments later, the PowerBlog is still going strong. And for that, we heartily thank our many readers, contributors and commenters.
Now we have for the first time a dedicated editor to help sustain and grow the blog for the advancement of the “free and virtuous society.” Veteran journalist Joe Carter is joining Acton as Senior Editor beginning today.
Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, online editor for First Things, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A 15-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously worked as the managing editor for The East Texas Tribune and the online magazine Culture11. He has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign, as a director of communications for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, and as director of online communications for Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator (Crossway).
Please join me in welcoming Joe to the PowerBlog.
Earlier, I wrote a blog post about The Legend of Zelda and Theology by Jonathan L. Walls. At 173 pages, the book is a collection of 10 essays from various contributors. Its goal is twofold: to present Christianity to Zelda fans who might not know much about it and to give those familiar with Christianity insight into how Zelda relates to the religion. It explains intricacies of Zelda for those unfamiliar, and thankfully the descriptions are brief for those of us who know our Zelda lore. Unfortunately there is some overlap with the synopses of Zelda across essays, but that’s a minor complaint and is only natural given the format of the book.
Jonathan Walls gives a very clear disclaimer about this book in his introduction that cannot be ignored:
…none of us claim to have found the intended meaning behind the Zelda mythology’s symbolism when we relate it to Christianity. A very astute theological thinker and friend warned me of the error of superimposing Christian beliefs onto games that very well may have been made without Christian beliefs in mind. Let me assure you, we intend no superimposing. Attempting to find an intentional and exclusive allegorical connection between Zelda mythology and Christian theology would be utterly erroneous and a dead end.
That being said, it’s time to look at how Zelda’s hero Link, Ganondorf, Zelda herself, and the games look from a Christian worldview according to Zelda and Theology.
The Problem of Evil
Jonathan Walls’ “Trouble in the Golden Realm: Ganondof and Hyrule’s Problem of Evil in Ocarina of Time” is one of the stronger entries in the book and looks at the philosophical problem of evil in the Christian and Zelda worlds. He channels C.S. Lewis often and identifies Pride as the “complete anti-God state of mind.” One such character with excessive Pride from the Ocarina of Time game is Ingo, a lazy ranch worker who is given control of the ranch by Ganondorf, the game’s primary villain. Ingo’s desire for power by calling the previous owner weak and himself hard working shows excessive Pride.
Walls goes on to tackle The Problem of Evil, summarized as: “If God is all-powerful and good, shouldn’t He just snap his fingers and wipe out all crime, hate and injustice from the world?” His explanations of free will and gratuitous natural evil are well articulated, relate to Zelda, and I’d even say they could prevent some non-believers from using The Problem of Evil as an argument against Christianity if they read the essay.
Secondary Worlds and J.R.R. Tolkien
Philip Tallon’s essay is in a “choose your own adventure” format. For instance, you can skip over the introduction to Zelda and J.R.R. Tolkien if you’re familiar with them. I read it straight through and it was still good, so the gimmick may be unnecessary. Tallon references Tolkien’s Andrew Lang lecture at the University of Saint Andrews on fairy stories. In this lecture, Tolkien elaborates on a secondary world called Faerie. Secondary worlds are, to Tolkien, a reshuffling of facts about our own world, as “only God has the power to create ex nihilo (out of nothing).”
The author acknowledges that Tolkien’s view of Faerie depends on fantasies being in the imagination and not visualized, as in video games. He counters with examples such as when “the gamer, on receiving from Nintendo Power a map of Hyrule with blank spaces at the edges, fills in the blank spaces with additional screens of his own creation.” It is also noted:
Hyrule has retained a level of abstraction. It is as if Miyamoto (the game’s creator) is aware of Tolkien’s worry that visual tricks might cancel out the imagination, and so intentionally hangs onto the charming children’s book quality of the first games.
This essay is lighter on relationships to Christianity, but does focus on Tolkien’s Christian faith and how Faerie relates in its presentation of magic and wonder.
The Afterlife and Majora’s Mask
Josh Corman’s entry about The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask examines the afterlife, purgatory, and sanctification. In the game, Link acquires the ability to use the souls of fallen individuals to become them and complete tasks that they failed to do while they were living. This relates with Christianity in that the end of life is not the end of the spirit. Interestingly, the game never shows the characters reunited with their old bodies, which is where this concept differs from Christianity. This essay evokes a unique interest in Majora’s Mask, which is one of Zelda’s stranger and more complex games.
Two essays in the book focus on virtues in The Legend of Zelda. In “On Hylian Virtues: Aristotle, Aquinas and the Hylian Cosmogenesis,” Justus Hunter looks at the Hylian virtues of power, wisdom, and courage and relates them to Aristotle’s account of virtue. He then explains Augustine’s and Aquinas’ accounts of virtue and how they differ from Aristotle. Aquinas says virtues are caused by God and Hunter goes on to look at what the source of Hylian virtues might be.
The essay “High Rule? Vintage Virtue in The Legend of Zelda” by Benjamin B. DeVan is more approachable for those who don’t know a lot about Christianity and Zelda. It looks at altruism and its role in Zelda games, particularly the first two installments that were released in the 80’s. DeVan claims that Jesus was indeed an inspiration for Link:
For example: Ganon’s minions believe Link’s blood contains the power of resurrection. Link walks on water like Jesus, though Link requires the winged boots. Link’s shields and gravestones in both games bear the cross (though Link’s shield in later games bears the sign of the Triforce.) The Adventure of Link once references a church bell ringing. Link descends beneath Death Mountain in one game and Death Valley in the other to defeat the Prince of Darkness and confront the Shadow/Dark/False Link.
He goes on to look for the source of morality in Hyrule:
The creative design of the gaming universe(s) inhabited by Link, Zelda and other Hyrule citizens parallels God’s work as the Grand Designer, High Rule(r) and Ultimate Source for morality in our world, whether or not people directly acknowledge it.
With this, the author targets atheists and their supposed sources for morality:
Atheists recount some motivations for moral behavior, describe examples and manifestations of morality and moral intuitions, but they do not, and perhaps cannot, supply an original source, authority or absolute adjudicator for moral principle, outrage and conviction. Is philosophical incoherence the price for denying a source for absolute morals?
Power and A Link to the Past
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is my favorite game from the Zelda series. Jeremy Smith does a good job in looking at the role of power in the game and addresses the question, “Why spend time helping people when it won’t matter when they’re gone?” In A Link to the Past, a parallel “Dark World” is created by Ganon that will disappear along with all of its inhabitants when he is vanquished. Smith finds that the religious guide in the game, Sahasrahla, would be a proponent of a cataclysmic Christ “who sees sees the spiritual struggle and wants nothing but to vanquish all things dark, as the legend tells”. On the other hand, Link emulates a catalytic Christ “who acknowledges the spiritual struggle but does not allow this to interfere with helping individuals and expanding the circle of God’s grace to people beyond.”
The Legend of Zelda and Theology is certainly a thought-provoking book. A few of the essays not mentioned here are a bit less exciting, but I wouldn’t call any of them bad. Some of the powerful essays will likely make connections and turn a few lights on for gamers who weren’t particularly religious before.
On the other hand, if you’re a devout Christian I recommend the book to illustrate why Zelda is possibly the greatest series of video games out there. What are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy at Amazon.
Most readers will recognize Peter Drucker’s name as the author of many books about management. The Austrian immigrant was revered in that field and sold millions of books. Few realize, though, that his academic training was actually in international law and that he moved toward business out of his conviction that management is a liberal art. I have embarked upon a research project to read and understand his social thought. In the process of reading his first book, The End of Economic Man, I have run into many gems, including this one:
Realization of freedom and equality was first sought in the spiritual sphere. The creed that all mean are equal in the world beyond and free to decide their fate in the other world by their actions and thoughts in this one, which, accordingly, is but a preparation for the real life, may have been only an attempt to keep the masses down, as the eighteenth century and the Marxists assert. But to the people in the eleventh or in the thirteenth century the promise was real. That every Last Judgment at a church door shows popes, bishops, and kings in damnation was not just the romantic fantasy of a rebellious stonemason. It was a real and truthful expression of that epoch of our history which projected freedom and equality into the spiritual sphere.
In a conversation this morning on the way into the office I complained of what I called the “tyranny of pragmatism” that characterizes the approach of many students towards their education. In this I meant a kind of emphasis on what works, and in fact what works right now over what might work later or better.
Then I was reminded of this little catechism that appears in the notes of Luigi Taparelli’s treatise “Critical Analysis of the First Concepts of Social Economy,” which appears in translation in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality.
Taparelli writes of “an odd catechism attributed to the Anglo-Americans but that we believe most appropriate for that ignoble part of any society that takes utilitarianism for its guide.”
It proceeds thus:
What is life? A time to earn money.
What is money? The goal of life.
What is man? A machine for earning money.
What is woman? A machine for spending money, and so forth
What is the purpose of an education today if not primarily to teach us what works to make money right now?