Posts tagged with: fiction

Paradise0038New York magazine’s fascinating interview with Justice Antonin Scalia offers much to enjoy, and as Joe Carter has already pointed out, one of the more striking exchanges centers on the existence of the Devil.

When asked whether he has “seen evidence of the Devil lately,” Scalia offers the following:

You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore…What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

As my friend Irene Switzer kindly reminded me, Whittaker Chambers set forth a similar hypothesis in an elegantly written essay for Life magazine in 1948. “When the Age of Reason began,” the sub-head begins, “the Devil went ‘underground,'” his strategy being “to make men think he doesn’t exist.”

Setting the scene at a New Year’s party in “Manhattan’s swank Hotel Nineveh & Tyre,” Chambers constructs a fanciful conversation between the Devil and a “pessimist” — a Modern Man what-have-you, who exhibits familiarity with Reinhold Niebuhr and C.S. Lewis (an indication of rejection over ignorance, no doubt). (more…)

zombie-cartoon-will-work

“Mmm…neoliberalism.”

One of the more curious cultural movements in recent years has been the increasing interest in zombies, and in particular the dystopian visions of a world following the zombie apocalypse.

Part of the fascination has to do, I think, with the value of thought experiments in speculation about such futures, however improbable. There may be something to be learned from gazing into a sort of fun house mirror, the distorted image of humanity as seen in zombies.

But zombies have not only captured the popular imagination. They have also become the object of academic (or at least ‘intellectual’) discourse.

Peter Paik, for instance, has a working paper at SSRN on “The Walking Dead” as an exploration of attempts to escape the “state of nature,” characterized by pessimism regarding “a better future and the fear of moving beyond an economic system that permits unlimited acquisition.” Neoliberalism is for Paik the defining feature of the run-up to the zombie apocalypse, which might say more about the captivity of academic discourse to dominant modes of cultural interpretation than anything of value about real-world political economy: “The mindless, undead ghoul that consumes the flesh of human beings lends itself almost too easily as a metaphor about our current economic predicament.”

One of the takeaways from the surprisingly (at least to me) interesting World War Z has to do with a central insight into post-apocalyptic political economy, and is a word of caution pace Paik concerning the relative valuation of a “neoliberal” order. At one point, Gerry Lane’s wife Karin appeals to Gerry (Brad Pitt) to talk to his friend, Thierry, an official with the UN. Gerry response: “Thierry isn’t in charge of anything anymore.”
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Atheist SupermanLast time the Superman franchise was rebooted, I reacted pretty negatively to the messiah-lite qualities of Clark Kent’s alter ego. In this fine piece over at Big Think, Peter Lawler analyzes the nature of this tension in the context of the new film quite aptly:

The film also has all kinds of Christian New-Agey imagery that you can grab onto if you’re not much of a reader. Superman is compared in some ways to Jesus; he begins his mission at age 33, for example. But that kind of comparison doesn’t really hold up that well. Superman is only here to help us, not redeem us, certainly not to save us from our sins or from death. And he doesn’t have any deep insight into the meaning of life or love. His life, like each of ours, is shaped by choice and chance. He has extraordinary power that falls way short of omnipotence. He’s a man born to love and die—not a god. Superman’s Kryptonian father predicts that the people of our planet would regard his only begotten son as a god, but that we did not do. We’ve never become so Nietzschean or whatever that we’ve come to think a merely Superman can replace our need for God himself.

I haven’t yet seen Man of Steel, but Lawler’s examination has roused my hopes for the reboot. The imperial dynamics of Kryptonian technocracy look to be a fruitful vehicle for examining salient dimensions of our own experience today.

As Lawler concludes, “Krypton’s inevitable decline and fall is a victory of natural evolution over the effort to provide a conscious and volitional replacement for it. It’s not true that human liberty is defeated by evolution; the truth is that we are ‘hardwired’ for choice and chance and can’t flourish without them” (emphasis added; HT: Prufock).

Blog author: jballor
Monday, April 1, 2013
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In the current Acton Commentary, I take a look at what I call a “modern-day Robinson Crusoe,” the survivalist Richard Proenneke of “Alone in the Wilderness” fame.

But as I also note in the piece, there are some other instances of this classic shipwrecked literary device, including the TV show Lost. The basic point of these reflections on community and the human person is that no man is an island, even when they are on an island.

Consider this speech with the conclusion “if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone,” from Jack Shephard, in Lost episode 1.5, “White Rabbit.”

As the tagline of the “Hang Together” blog reminds us, the dynamic between human sociality and community is at the heart of the American experiment in ordered liberty. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Link with his Cross ShieldEarlier, 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.

Zelda and Theology BookVirtues Explored

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.”

Conclusion

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.

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, June 24, 2011
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Ben Shapiro was at the Heritage Foundation recently to talk about his new book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. Publisher HarperCollins describes the book as “the inside story of how the most powerful medium of mass communication in human history has become a propaganda tool for the Left.”

Shapiro made the point at Heritage (see the video of his talk here) that conservatives underestimate the power of narrative and its purpose — moving the emotions — and that’s the case we’ve been making here at the PowerBlog for some time.

“Narrative matters,” Shapiro said at Heritage. “Unfortunately, conservatives have abandoned narrative as an emotional tool … you hear it on talk radio all the time. We have all the logical arguments; we have the facts on our side; they just rely on emotion all the time. Yeah, [because] it works.”

But logical arguments aren’t often the stuff of mass entertainment. Liberals, on the other hand, move the emotions via story telling and write sympathetic characters who may “behave badly” yet advance their agenda. Shapiro:

They’re very clever about it; they recognize that if they slide their messaging in, it’s much more effective than if they simply come out and hit you in the head with a two-by-four.

In a May 2009 PowerBlog post about film making, not television, titled “Cheesy Christian Movies and the Art of Narrative,” I pointed out that “the cultural right still hasn’t mastered even the rudiments of cinema storytelling.” That may have overstated the case somewhat, given that more and more films are coming to screens that conservatives can like (see NRO’s list of best conservative movies). But by and large the right is still much better at rhetoric than it is at storytelling. My main point from “Cheesy”:

The power of narrative lies in its ability to reach the whole person, the heart and the head. It begins by creating an effect on the emotions — moving a person — and can register indelibly in human memory. Thus, narrative can serve as a powerful means of communicating ideas, but not primarily in message form. It works at a deeper level, sometimes tapping into the mythic consciousness of an entire people. That is why narrative is essential for political mass movements; once you get the hearts and the minds of the people excited, you can then move their feet in the direction you want them to go.

Also see “Obama and the Moral Imagination” my Acton Commentary from January 2009 about the use of narrative in politics.

On the Patheos website, Rev. Robert A. Sirico examines the current debate over the legacy of Ayn Rand in conservative circles, and the attempt by liberal/progressives to tarnish prominent figures like Rep. Paul Ryan with “hyperbolic and personal critiques of the woman and her thought.” But what if there is much to Rand that defies the caricature?

Rev. Sirico writes:

There is in Rand an undeniable and passionate quest, a hunger for truth, for the ideal, for morality, for a just ordering of the world. She is indeed frequently adolescent in this quest, yet this may be just what appeals to so many idealistic young people who read her before reading the Tradition in depth.

One of the most famous opening lines in literature is the question she poses and uses as a device throughout Atlas, a question now on display at Tea Party rallies: “Who is John Galt?” The answer is not immediately given in the book; it (he) remains mysterious throughout much of the novel. Yet it inexorably emerges: Galt is for Rand the ideal man—the Man of the Mind (the logos); the One upon whom the world and its creative capacity depend. He is, in a real sense for Rand, the God-Man.

As the plot unfolds, it might be said that Galt “comes unto his own and his own receives him not.” In fact, the world despises him, not because he is evil, but because he is good, and the leaders of the people set out to kill him because of his goodness and because those in darkness hate the light, their deeds being evil and contradictory. When the final confrontation with evil comes, Galt falls “into the hands of evil men” who seek to destroy him—these were the high priests of their day—and who have a certain fear of him because the people resonate with his message (all encapsulated in a speech anything but the length of the Beatitudes).

Read “Who Really Was John Galt, Anyway?” on Patheos.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 29, 2008
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Two of Eric Shansberg’s recent PowerBlog posts got me thinking of some other things I had run across in the last couple weeks during the run-up to Christmas Day.

The first item, “Santa and the ultimate Fairy Tale,” quotes Tony Woodlief to the effect that “fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale.” Schansberg’s (and Woodlief’s) take on this question is pretty compelling and worth considering, even though I’m not quite convinced of the value of the Santa Claus fable.

I’m still a relatively new parent (I have a three and a half year-old) and so I’m still in the midst of sorting out with my wife the best way to handle questions of the reality of Santa Claus. Until very recently, I had always been of the opinion that honesty is the best policy.

I’ve never liked the idea of putting God and Jesus on the same epistemic level (even if only for the first decade or so of a person’s life) as say, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus. Rather than “preparing” the child for “embrace of the ultimate Fairy Tale,” it seems to me that such practice can foster a hermeneutic of suspicion, such that when the child finds out Santa Claus isn’t “real” in any empirical sense, he or she will, at least initially, be inclined to lump God in with other “fairy tales.” That kind of approach seems to lead as much to Freud as it does to Lewis.

I don’t mean to be a killjoy. I’m a lover of literature. I am interested (along with Tolkien) in the question of whether the proper pluralization of dwarf is dwarfs or dwarves (I too prefer the latter). I was an English major in college, and I admit to getting a bit teary-eyed when Zooey Deschanel leads a group of hard-bitten New Yorkers in a rendition of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” at the climax of Elf.


And I agree that we need to cultivate the sense that the realm of empirical science isn’t the only or even the best way of talking about ultimate reality. But again, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that for our children we need to prepare the way for the Gospel with fiction, even well-meant fiction. If my child can’t rely on me to tell the truth about Santa, why should he believe what I have to say about God?

Rather than pointing to how such fairy tales pave the way for belief in the “ultimate Fairy Tale,” I’ve always thought that the youthful belief in Santa underscores the fundamentally fiduciary nature of human beings. We are believing creatures. We basically trust, at least at first, what other people and especially our parents tell us. We aren’t born cynical or un-trusting, but rather dependent and credulous.

This is an important thing to know about humans from a theological and anthropological point of view, but equally important is the recognition of how wrong that credulity can go. We are basically believing creatures, but without the Gospel that belief is corrupted and we create idols for ourselves. Would you say believing in Mardukh, Mammon, and Ba’al “prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale”?

All of which leads me to the item I thought of when reading that first post: the famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial from 1897. As you might guess from my comments above, I have mixed feelings about the editorial, but I thought I’d recommend it since it seems so relevant to Schansberg’s point.

The other post of Schansberg’s that caught my attention was his other Christmas Day offering, in which he contrasts the Lord of the cradle, the cross, and the throne, calling for a comprehensive apprehension of Jesus Christ.

That made me think of this quote from Ed Dobson about Jesus, contained in a story from the Christmas Day Grand Rapids Press (I was out of town so I only got to it over the weekend):

“Everybody loves a baby,” mused Dobson, 58. “But when you start reading the teachings of this baby, and about the sufferings of this baby, you begin to understand better who he is.”

The story goes on in a lot more detail about Dobson’s recent history since retiring from his pastorate at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids. There’s a lot more of interest in that piece.

But his quote speaks quite pointedly to Schansberg’s emphasis on the comprehensive Christ. We need to know of his birth, death, and resurrection.