How can I choose this warm-hearted comedy about a pregnant teenager, when the year was rich with serious drama? First, because of all the year’s films I responded to it most strongly. I tried out other titles in the No. 1 position, but my heart told me I had to be honest: This was my true love, and I could not be unfaithful. It is so hard to make a great comedy at all, and harder still to make one that is intelligent, quick, charming, moving and yes, very, very funny. Seeing “Juno” with an audience was to be reminded of unforgettable communal moviegoing experiences, when strangers are united in delight. It was light on its feet, involving the audience in love and care for its characters. The first-time screenplay by Diablo Cody is Oscar-worthy. So is Ellen Page’s performance in the title role, which is like tightrope-walking: There were so many ways for her to go wrong, and she never did.
- Among my wife's responses to Juno, which we had the joy of seeing yesterday evening. Juno is Diablo Cody's first screenplay, and she and director Jason Reitman exceeded my very high expectations with this charming, courageous, honest, and--even with its rapid-fire popular culture references--fully believable story.
The dialogue is extensively quotable, yet each line is perfectly situated in the narrative. Juno may be only 16, but her knowing allusions to music, movies, and TV shows before her time is not altogether unlikely in the age of blogs, Wikipedia, and YouTube. Kudos to Cody for using pop-culture references to define and develop her characters and for crafting characters who speak from who they are. Like the title character, the film is relatively short and pregnant with meaning.
A reoccurring image in the film is the guitar, and I think it is a fitting metaphor for what this movie's artists accomplish. Each scene seems fairly simple in its plotting and presentation, but the simplicity is that of a chord, a harmony comprised of many strings vibrating at once but with the result of one sound. Indeed, every scene vibrates. The plot moves in ways both expected and surprising, and the film artists perform with such subtlety and grace that each scene could conceivably go in many directions. I found myself not only questioning what will happen next, but also wondering what all is really happening now.
I'll save more particular analysis for a later date, but suffice it to say that if your experience of the film is like ours, you'll leave the theater misty-eyed and smiling.
"For the Christian, faith in the Lordship of God dominates his entire vision of history. If God is the Lord of individual lives he is the also Lord of history: God directs this uncertain, noble, and guilty history toward Himself. To be more precise, I think that this Lordship constitutes a "meaning" and not a supreme farce, a prodigious caprice, or a last "absurdity," because the great events that I recognize as Revelation have a certain pattern, constitute a global form, and are not given as pure discontinuity."
"Hence the Christian is the man who lives in the ambiguity of secular history but with the invaluable treasure of a sacred history whose "meaning" he perceives. Likewise, his life accumulates the suggestions of a personal history wherein he discerns the link between guilt and redemption.
The Christian meaning of history is therefore the hope that secular history is also a part of that meaning which sacred history sets forth, that in the end there is only one history, that all history is ultimately sacred."
- Paul Ricoeur, Christianity and the Meaning of History
"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion love actually is all around."- The opening lines from Love Actually, one of the movies we traditionally watch during the Advent and Christmas seasons, in additions to other times throughout the year. Not for the kids, though. It merits its R rating, to be sure.
Here's the clip:
A couple more scenes:
I doubt it.
I for one have had more posts on political and governmental issues during this liturgical season than posts reflecting upon the meaning of Advent or Christmas. I have a hunch that we'd be in a better position, politically and otherwise, if we had our material and spiritual priorities in order. I'll have to work on that myself, but later.
The political issue perhaps perceived as the most important in our political climate is the war on terror, specifically the fight against Jihadists terror, or as Sean Hannity would say, the confronting of evil in our time. It's not just Mr. Hannity who uses the terms of good and evil when framing the war on terror. It's pretty common, at least for those who use such terms.
This raises a question: can politics and government offer a sufficient response to the existence of evil in the world?
In some ways, sure. The State exists for the purpose of justice, and to this end government can be an effective tool for securing rights, protecting life, and restraining evil. The military might of the State seems sometimes to be the only effective means of arresting the plans of evil men and the spread of evil ideologies across the globe. However, when it comes to responding to evil itself, the political instruments of man are grossly inadequate. A war against an evil force may destroy the evil, but it achieves its ends by destroying the evildoer or restraining his capacity to commit acts of evil. What a war cannot achieve is the the redemption of the evildoer. Politics has its limitations; saving souls is not among its powers.
In a few days is a major celebration in the Christian communities: the Feast of the Nativity. Christmas. Christians celebrate at Christmas the birth of Jesus, that God became man, incarnated, bent low in humble love for his creation in order to bring creation, particularly those creatures made in his image and likeness, into communion with himself. Christ conquered sin and evil in the only way that is truly possible, that is truly sufficient, that is truly appropriate: through the power of Divine Life and Love. In this world, we know such power as the power of grace. It is not a power that is foreign to us. Indeed, to be Christian is to participate in this power of Divine Life and Love.
The Christian is called to fight evil in the world first and foremost by participating in God's plan of salvation. This is not to say that political responses to evil are invalid, but that political instruments cannot solve the problem of evil. They cannot convert, purify, restore, or save. Only grace has the power for such lofty goals.
The Left and Right political spectrum that shapes much of our political thought and analysis represents varying positions and priorities on issues, differences in political, social, and economic philosophy, and differences in morality. The Left/Right categorization also tends to differentiate approaches to and understandings of the roles and purposes of government.
Do you find that you fit nicely into the Left/Center/Right framework?
What do you think is the role or purpose of government?
What do you think is the most pressing moral issue today, and do you think there is a political solution to the problem?
We commit intellectual violence any time we use language to diminish the meaning of someone or something. Language is of course limited: any word we use referentially cannot contain or express the full meaning of the referent. The signified is more than the signifier. Does this mean that any use of language commits a violence of sorts? Not necessarily. We can avoid the violence of words when we use words knowing and communicating that there is more meaning in what we refer to than what is signified in our language. It is when we use language that demeans (de-means), that speaks of the signified as if it were nothing more than what is contained by our signifiers, that we are guilty of an intellectual violence. With words we cut away realities that do not fit into our frameworks; we slash aside components that escape our constructs. The violence of language that I find so abhorrent disrespects the truth of that to which the language refers. It is not among acceptable acts of violence that are directed at healing or purifying; it is violence against the very essence or being of the referent. It is a violence that harms.
Torture, likewise a violence that harms and a violence that is directed against the being of the tortured, is defended in many cases today by evoking the value of safety and the duty of the State to protect its citizens from harmful enemies. The enemy in many defenses of torture is depicted in language as no more than an enemy, his or her unique identity and personhood forgotten, ignored, or dismissed. Captured enemies are seen and treated as mere means in our projects of protection, not as ends in themselves. Recognizing hostile intent or threats to safety is a proper role of the State, but when we reduce the meaning of persons to concepts of "enemy" or "threat," then we are in danger of treating them not in accordance with who and what they are, not as whole persons, but only as parts of our projects. When enemies are demeaned, then torture ceases to give us pause; it becomes acceptable, even something we should be proud of in the service of our safety and security.
Of course, dehumanizing rhetoric is not limited to the defense of torture. It is at the root of many of our defended acts of violence. Violence against the unborn is justified because we see them and speak of them as less than human beings. The killing of innocents in war is more tolerable when we think of them as nothing more than collateral damage. Immigrants who have entered America not in accordance with our laws are called "illegals," their humanity and personhood thrown outside of our hearts and minds as we consider their identity only in terms of their having violated our laws. Slavery and racism are evils that fester in false and demeaning usages of language.
Any Utopian plan to rid the world of these acts of violence would be a fool’s endeavor, and, if the history of Utopian projects is any indication, would result in its own acts of violence in the name of bringing an end to violence. There are problems that are unsolvable by any human instrument, and the problem of violence is one of these. Nevertheless, we have the power to decrease the violence in our world. While we may not have the capacity ourselves to stop the perpetual acts of violence that plague our homes, cities, countries, and our world, we can put a stop to our own intellectual violence by using language in a spirit of humility, hospitality, and hope.
"As the greatest thinkers in the history of mankind have at all times seen--I am thinking particularly not only of Plato, but also of Spinoza--there can be no justice where there is no respect for truth. Only, when we talk of having a 'respect for truth,' we do not mean merely that we are going to use high sounding phrases; we mean that we are going to keep all the channels open, sometimes exceedingly tenuous channels, by which we can hope, I will not say to attain truth, but at least to approach truth."Is there much hope for justice in our contemporary political culture?
- Gabriel Marcel, Man Against Mass Society
The Bush administration has told a federal judge that its 2005 destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes did not violate a court order because the captives in question were being kept in secret prisons at the time, not at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.Gotta love the logic of the Bush Administration.
"When was the last time you left a movie theater sad that your time with a main character was over? And you walk into the street wanting to find that person somewhere out there? My theory is this experience tends to make people generally kind."I can't wait to see it. The trailer can be viewed here.
- Barbara Nicolosi writes after watching the film Juno.
The House on Thursday approved an intelligence bill that bans the CIA from using waterboarding, mock executions and other harsh interrogation methods.I don't know enough of the particulars of this bill to state whether or not I think it ought to be passed, but I am pleased to see Congress attempting to bring legal clarity to the issue of waterboarding and other tortures.
The 222-199 vote sent the measure to the Senate, which still must act before it can go to President Bush. The White House has threatened a veto.
One would hope that the President's veto threat is a response to other sections of the bill and not to restrictions of what tortures it can legally administer, but such seems not to be the case:
The administration particularly opposes restricting the CIA to interrogation methods approved by the military in 2006. That document prohibits forcing detainees to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner; placing hoods or sacks over detainees' heads or duct tape over their eyes; beating, shocking, or burning detainees; threatening them with military dogs; exposing them to extreme heat or cold; conducting mock executions; depriving them of food, water, or medical care; and waterboarding.
"I think there should be something in science called the "reindeer effect." I don't know what it would be, but I think it'd be good to hear someone say, "Gentlemen, what we have here is a terrifying example of the reindeer effect."--Al Gore, as told to Jack HandyIf I may be allowed to add my own:
"How come the dove gets to be the peace symbol? How about the pillow? It has more feathers than the dove, and it doesn't have that dangerous beak."--Cindy Sheehan, as told to Jack Handy
"I hope if dogs ever take over the world and they choose a king, they don't just go by size, because I bet there are some Chihuahuas with some good ideas."--Dennis Kucinich, as told to Jack Handy
"When I found the skull in the woods, the first thing I did was call the police. But then I got curious about it. I picked it up, and started wondering who this person was, and why he had deer horns."--Dick Cheney, as told to Jack Handy
"We like to praise birds for flying. But how much of it is actually flying, and how much of it is just sort of coasting from the previous flap?"--Kyle Cupp, as told to Jack Handy
The torture policy of the US government is in the news again today, with CIA Director Michael Hayden testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the destruction of videotapes showing harsh interrogation of terror suspects, and also with former CIA interrogator John Kiriakou admitting that waterboarding is torture and that it was performed in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who broke from the torture in less that 35 seconds. The Bush Administration won't comment on whether waterboarding is torture, stating once again the matter-of-fact and unexplained assertion that we don't torture.
When someone is waterboarded, they are actually drowning, contrary to the misleading language of the media: water fills the lungs and the person waterboarded believes he is dying. It's not that different from the mental torture of mock execution. Christians might also remember that the particular torture of crucifixion culminates with the crucified drowning on his own bodily fluids. If drowning someone is not torture, was Jesus' drowning on the cross not a part of his passion? Just a question to ponder.
In addition to the physical and mental harm done to those tortured, the violence of torturing also causes spiritual harm to those of practice it. Are we really willing to dive (metaphorically) into the boiling blood of the Plegethon, harming and perhaps even dooming our souls to damnation, in order to save lives?
Some Suggested Reading:
1. TPM's Timeline of the CIA's Torture Tapes
2. Andrew Sullivan on the definition of torture
3. Sullivan's response to the Kiriakou interview
4. Mark Shea's response to the Kiriakou interview
5. Charles Krauthammer's defense of torture (yes, by that name)
Is there a common element to the worldviews of violent theists and violent atheists?
I think so. It seems to me that violence is not inherent in or a necessary consequence of either religious belief or the denial of a God. It is when we mistake ourselves for God or present ourselves as the ultimate founders of truth that the propensity to violence emerges. The will to violence grows and develops when we look on all alternative ways of thinking (and alternative uses of language) as erroneous and in need of elimination.
In the realm of religion, thinking of our theological language as encapsulating the whole of truth is called fundamentalism. In the realm of reason, the position that our philosophical language is the one, true philosophy is called ideology. Fundamentalism and ideology may be harmless enough when confined to a book, but when the idea that everyone must think in one particular way using one particular language framework is enforced with the sword, gun, or guillotine, then we have bloodbaths enough to keep the Phlegethon flowing and overflowing its banks.
It is tempting to believe that fundamentalist or ideological violence could never happen as normal state of affairs here in our peaceful, democratic country. Yet when I watch the theatrical debates on cable news or listen to the verbal exchanges on talk radio, where seldom is the desire to learn, to give, and to understand part of the programming, but where the normal objective is to defeat and destroy opposing points of view, I have to wonder how far we are as a people or as a society from slitting each others throats in the name of truth, goodness, and right thinking.
I understand the need for secrecy and confidentiality in government affairs, but at some point the government has to come clean about what it has done in our name and with the authority we give it, especially if its actions are morally or legally questionable. Otherwise, we ain't free.
Ali A. Allawi thought that this failure to see the other beyond our own projects and understanding led to many of the disasters of the Iraq War. We didn't understand Iraq as it was in itself, and therefore we were oblivious to even likely consequences of our invasion. Being something of the postmodern type, I don't think we can know nations,or anything for that matter, as they are in themselves, which is why we ought to interpret in a spirit of humility and hospitality, welcoming the other as he, she, or it truly is but realizing that we don't see that totality of meaning. When relating to countries like Iran, we ought to strive to understand them as best we can, but in awareness that Iran is more than we understand it to be, certainly more than a mere "threat" or "not-a-threat."
This is not to say that real threats do not exist; it is to say the threat is always more than a threat, and an accurate interpretation would account for more meaning in the threat than its threatening relation to us, whether that threat be another nation or, say, from an author of children's books.
Daniel P. Moloney, in the journal First Things, wrote in 2001:
The Christian myth has such a powerful hold over our narrative imagination that it is probably impossible to write a believable epic, especially one about the Last Things, without relying on it extensively. Pullman challenges the most fantastic and yet most persuasive parts of the Christian myth—Creation, the Fall, Sin, Death, Heaven, Hell—and one credits him for gumption. If his alternative were more compelling, I would recommend parents keep their children away. (Pullman has just signed to do a “reference work” called The Book of Dust which will lay out the creation myth in full, and thus probably won’t be appropriate—or interesting—for children.)Dr. Marc T. Newman argues that the philosophical underpinnings of His Dark Materials are Nietzschean:
As is, I can fairly characterize His Dark Materials in this fashion: imagine if at the beginning of the world Satan’s rebellion had been successful, that he had reigned for two thousand years, and that a messiah was necessary to conquer lust and the spirit of domination with innocence, humility, and generous love at great personal cost. Such a story is not subversive of Christianity, it is almost Christian, even if only implicitly and imperfectly. But implicit and imperfect Christianity is often our lot in life, and Pullman has unintentionally created a marvelous depiction of many of the human ideals Christians hold dear.
What Pullman's promoters desperately hope is that parents will not get beyond the colorful covers, which appear to depict nothing more than an action/fantasy series filled with talking animals, exciting battles, and a child protagonist. What they desperately fear is that parents will discover the dark and sinister philosophy that unfolds within the pages of Pullman's work — a philosophy that condones the killing of children to advance knowledge; disparages virtue and glorifies cunning; and which poses the idea that the solution to humanity's problems is the killing of God. In short, the philosophy that underlies much of Pullman's fiction is Friedrich Nietzsche's — a German philosopher whose work was influential with the Third Reich.H/T: Policraticus
Formerly, the ideal of asceticism was to attain maximum enjoyment of pleasure with a minimum of agreeable and especially useful objects. Its aim was to enhance man's ability of drawing pleasure even from the simplest and most accessible things, such as nature.
Modern asceticism, however, developed an ideal whose ethical core is the exact opposite: the "ideal" of a minimum of enjoyment with a maximum amount of pleasant and useful things! And indeed we can see that wherever work has assumed the hugest dimensions (as in Berlin and the large Northern German cities in general), the capacity and art of enjoyment has reach the lowest degree imaginable. The abundance of agreeable stimuli here literally deadens the function of enjoyment and its cultivation. The surroundings become ever more glaring, merry, noisy, and stimulating -- but men's minds become increasingly joyless. Extremely merry things, viewed by extremely sad people who do not know what to do with them: that is the "meaning" of our metropolitan "culture" of entertainment.
- Max Scheler, from Ressentiment, 1915
The USCCB review of the film examines the movie on its own terms, choosing not to incriminate it based on its association with its source material, the novels by Philip Pullman. To me this is a fair approach, as the movie, while a film rendering of the books, is nevertheless a separate work of art, and as such, could potentially have an entirely different moral vision and thematic framework from the books in which it is based. I haven't seen the movie nor read the books to know if this is the case with The Golden Compass. It may not be, but there is no infallible magisterial authority within the Church over matters of literary interpretation, and I don't see that the directors of the USCCB film office should be fired for positively reviewing the film in and of itself. They could be wrong about The Golden Compass. I've disagreed with many of their reviews in the past (mostly where I like a movie they didn't). Film reviewing is not a matter of dogmatic theology or official catechises. It's a fallible guide, at best.
It could very well be that The Golden Compass movie and the books are morally dangerous and ought not be read by children, and it is certainly likely that viewers enchanted by the movie will pick up the allegedly anti-religious novels. Sharing one's concerns is perfectly appropriate; treating one's interpretation of fiction as a non-negotiable issue is not.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the penitential season before Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity. During Advent, we await the birth of Jesus at Christmas and, with faith and hope, the second coming of Christ. Our awaiting during Advent is actualized not by our pacing around the room, doing nothing but look longingly toward the future with no eye to the present, nor by our sitting around tossing a ball against the wall to pass the time in the spirit of Captain Hilts or Maggie Simpson. Advent is a time of hopeful preparation and atoning penance; it is a time for building the Body of Christ, for giving birth to the love of God in the world, and for making present, to ourselves and to others, the graceful face of God.
As we await the birth of the child Jesus, we strive to live our vocation as children of God.
"We are by nature messianic. We cannot not be, because we exist in a state of expecting something to happen. Even if we're in a state of hopelessness, a sense of expectation is an integral part of our relationship to time."
- Jacques Derrida
It was statements such as this that inspired me to reexamine the philosophy of Derrida, whom I once took, because it was common knowledge in my circles, to be an enemy of truth--really the enemy #1, whose lies and deceptions I would uncover and expose to the light of truth that I had in my possession. In other words, my true philosophy.
I can credit Derrida, among others, with helping me to see that what I lived was not the virtue of hope, but a sense of optimism that I held the secret in my certain philosophy. My hope was in myself; it was a hope that could never be a virtue, let alone a theological virtue. Strange it was the an "atheist" showed me the fragility of all things human, and that if I were to have hope in anything, it would have to be in something radically other than myself, something undeconstructable.
Derrida believed there were some things that could not be deconstructed, such as friendship, justice, and the "name of God." I believe that in the end, when we speak of friendship, justice, and the name of God, we are speaking of the same thing, and it is in that that we can have hope.
If our ideas of those we know intimately and well cannot capture their fullness of being, how much more do our ideas of other peoples, other cultures, and other societies fall short? Some historians have questioned the accuracy of speaking of our own national identity , not to mention national identities foreign to us. Ali A. Allawi, a senior advisor to the Prime Minister of Iraq and a former Minister of Finance in the post-Hussein Iraq, argues that Iraq has been viewed and interpreted by the US not as it is in-itself, but terms of how it fits into US foreign policy: Iraq as an ally against Soviet expansionism, as in danger of being controlled by the Iraqi Communist Party, as a means to enhance the relative power of Iran, then later as an obstacle against the spread of revolutionary Islam. Allawi thinks we should view Iraq as it truly is and for its own sake, but is it even possible to view and understand a foreign nation as it is in itself?
If it is possible, how do we contain the myriad known facts and the manifold hidden truths within our vision and interpretation? If knowing a nation as it is in-itself is not possible, in what sense can we speak of a foreign policy that is grounded in reality?