11 April 2014

I remember The Passion Of The Christ

Shea has a post up about how wrong he was in his predictions about the movie, and his own little second degree of separation of involvement with it. It brought back my own memories of the hoopla from the weeks leading up to the release of the movie. (By the way, pray for Shea. His mother is dying.)

Like Shea, I was completely wrong in my predictions about the movie's chances of success. I thought that it had one advantage over the large budget blockbusters in that it was made on a relatively cheap budget, and therefore would not have to make much money in order to turn a profit. I couldn't foresee it making much more than that.

But there was a firestorm of controversy (aka free publicity) about the movie in the weeks leading up to its release,and there was a lot of hand wringing on the part of Catholics about whether or not they should go. It was anti Semitic, dontcha know. It was brutal, dontcha know. We knew that because a bunch of people who never saw it said so. It was also going to be brutal and in funny languages. No one would want to see it.

I myself was indifferent. Neither the language nor the brutality particularly bothered me. I had read medical descriptions of crucifixions and knew just how brutal they could be. I had been learning Latin as part of the degree I abandoned a year or two earlier, so that was no big deal either. I was neither hot nor cold for the movie, and unlike many around me at that time, I did not view either attending a movie or boycotting it to be an expression of my faith, but only an expression of my tastes as a consumer.

But others did, and inadvertently they helped me decide to see the movie. You see, many people in my old parish were searching for guidance on whether or not to see this movie, and they began writing e-mails to the priest and deacon, neither of whom were privy to any secret knowledge or previews of the movie, and therefore knew only as much or as little as did the congregation themselves.

And so it was that I took my mother to Mass one Saturday evening, the weekend before Ash Wednesday, that the deacon took to the pulpit and used the homily to give us his opinion of the movie.

I never did much care for this Deacon. He gave many of the worst homilies I ever heard. He ha a colloquial and informal style that I didn't care for, although others in the parish liked him. He supported women's ordination, and I am told that he predicted during the pontificate of John Paul II that the next Pope was going to allow married men to become priests at which point he would become a priest along with thousands of other men and the priest shortage would be over. In short, in response to "How wrong could this guy be?" the answer is: "Quite wrong."

On this day, however, he outdid himself. He delivered what has come to be, for me, the worst homily I ever heard. And that, dear friends, is really, really, saying something. I have heard homilies in favour of gay unions, in favour of female ordination, and a thousand other things to the point that it sometimes seems I have heard everything preached but Catholicism. But this one stands out in my memory as something special.

He was not going to the movie, he said, and he encouraged us all to do the same. Put the money into our Sharelife envelopes instead. He knew all about the Crucifixion, he said, and in fact he broke down weeping during the stations of the cross every Good Friday. He felt Mel Gibson did not need his money, was undeserving of our money, as he was Not One of Us, and iterated that if it was up to Mel, we would all be hearing Mass in Latin, the language of his brutal soldiers. Mel paid too much attention to the sacrifice, the old style, and not the new way.

The sermon went on and on, and as it grew I remember becoming angrier and angrier. I came here to give worship, hear the word of God, and offer once again the sacrifice of Calvary, not hear an amateur movie review. But here was this man was preaching one error after another in the context of discussing a movie which he had never even seen. Buddhists, I am told, believe that regarding knowledge as ignorance is noble, but to regard ignorance as knowledge is evil. And here we were.

And once again, after Mass, my fellow parishioners disappointed me. I thought that I could not be the only one who thought this was a farce, but no. One after another they greeted him on the way out and thanked him for helping them put the movie into perspective. Yes, they saw more clearly now. Thank you, Deacon, thank you.

I, however, and my mother as well, reached a different conclusion. I may have been neither here nor there before, but now I had made up my mind. I would go and see the movie, if only to shove it in this man's face. He did bring me clarity: if he was against it, there had to be something good in it.

So my mother and I saw a matinee some time afterwards. We were in crowded theatre filled with the most polite people you could meet. I did not find the movie either terribly shocking or enlightening. I was familiar with the Gospel accounts and with Roman executions. The movie was pretty much what I expected. I suspect that without the uproar and the ensuing free publicity it probably would not have done as well as it did, but that's only my opinion.

So that's my story about the movie. As I said, I didn't find it to be anything too revealing. The acting was alright, mostly. The filming was alright. I already knew the story. I saw a couple of historical inaccuracies, but nothing too earth shattering. On the whole I found the movie to be competent and adequate, but not much more than that. But for a fit of pique on my part... actually, I still would have taken my mother to it when she asked me. But even so. This was not about my faith. My faith lies in God, not in men and their works.

8 April 2014

Liberals win majority in Quebec.

Surprisingly, that's good news.  At least it will put the neverendum on hold for another election cycle.

If any of you ever thought to yourself...

...'that Bear fellow is a real jerk. I'd like to see him get his butt handed to him on a plate,' this may be your chance. I have inadvertently kicked off a combox debate with noted author S.M. Stirling over at Dale Price's blog on, of all things, World War One. I'd like to think I have been holding my own, but I think I will almost inevitably have to eat some crow on this one. We are both well read on the War (we even both had grandfathers who fought at Passchendaele) but he is more familiar with overall history and tactics of the war, whereas I tended to read more about the Canadian experience, books about particular battles, as well as memoirs and letters of the soldiers. The gist of it is that he thinks the generals in WWI were competent but stuck in an impossible situation. I am arguing that it was a situation made impossible by the incompetence of High Command which resulted in the pointless slaughter of millions. Fun ensues.

7 April 2014

Note to D&P: when you hit rock bottom...

Don't pull out a pick axe and keep going.

A few years ago we had the Development and Peace scandal, which some at D&P claimed was false, some admitted it happened, but has now been cleaned up. The scandal was that D&P, the foreign aid arm of the Canadian council of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) gave aid to many excellent foreign causes, but also to a few groups in Central and South America that in addition to other works of charity supported supported and promoted abortion rights, and possibly even provided abortions. We knew this, because bishops from Central America contacted the Canadian bishops and asked them to stop giving money to those groups, and offered them lists of several other charitable organizations that could do the same good works without also the bad.

Many of us were furious. Thanks to that group, we had supported a grave, intrinsic and objective evil. Some told us our reaction was overblown, and the bishops, who should have been overseeing this and making sure that this never happened in the first place, assured us that this would never happen again.

For my part, I had completely lost faith in D&P, and resolved to never again give them a cent. But some of my conscience weighted upon me. We are not supposed to refuse to give aid to those who need it, Jesus tells us. By refusing to give them money now, after they have sworn to have cleaned up, was that not what I was doing?

Then came this weekend at Mass. Reps from D&P spoke to us, and asked for our aid. They wanted us to give money, natc, but also to sign cards protesting the actions of some companies whose practises run contrary to the dictates of Social Justice. They also wanted us to purchase fair trade coffee and chocolate, and read a page or two outlining some of D&P's goals in Central and South America.

For fair trade, I am afraid I am far too cynical. How does one know that these products were made fairly? Whose word do we take for it- the people who took our money and lied a few years back? And what is fair? Is it really an improvement when sweat shops use air conditioners?

And then there was the sheet they wanted us to read. I wish I had kept it and could post it, instead of tossing it into the trash in disgust.

Among the stated goals of D&P was increased protection of "Mother Earth". Yeah. Gaia. While I believe in protecting Creation and caring for it, Mother Earth is a loaded term, and the only people who use it are either deceived or deceiving. Then there was another point: To support and encourage traditional self government. That almost always is in reference to aboriginal populations.

It comes up every now and then in Canada. One of the last times the idea was raised, I was surprised to see that one of the groups that opposed it were women from certain tribes, mainly out west. For some reason, many white Liberals have curious ideas about the natives: They were free, egalitarian, peaceful, earth loving, etc etc. The first mistake in this way of thinking is that they are treating the Aboriginals as if they were a homogeneous group.  Each tribe was different with different customs and different ways of ordering their affairs.  Some tribes almost fit the liberal description of them.. Almost. Others, not so much. The women from, say, the Iroquois, were all for self government: In traditional Iroquois society the women are quite powerful. However, in some other tribes, a man's wife was a possession, of less value than his horse. Other groups fall somewhere in between. It was not shocking, therefore, that some women of a few tribes did not particularly want to go that far back into the way things were before.

So support of traditional self government in Central and South America depends upon whom you are speaking. Does D&P realize that for some groups this would mean the right to enslave other tribes, put them to work building pyramids to the sun, and then have priest kings cut out their hearts on said pyramids so the sun will rise tomorrow? Or does D&P think all traditional native cultures were nice, misunderstood people?

One way or another, do it with someone else's money. For all the good you do, you poison it with this foolishness.

3 April 2014

What is possible

A while back I found myself wrestling with the storytel documentary on St John Cantius in Chicago.  I worked over and over with the idea that all this, as Fr Philips said, could be done anywhere.  It was daunting, because I saw an awful lot of "this" in that video, and I was skeptical that all of it could be done anywhere, or even if it should.

I recently watched another of Storytel's documentaries, this time on St Peter's church in Omaha Nebraska.  The young priest there watched the video on St John Cantius, and even traveled to St John Cantius, and began applying the basic principles of Fr Philips, namely restoring the liturgy and finding out who can do what and putting those talents to good use, and has had a remarkable success in turning his parish around from the brink of closure.  That indeed is a "this" that may indeed be done "anywhere".  And it can lead to some amazing results.

But it does give rise to an interesting, and at the same time sad, question: Why isn't the principle of finding out who has what talents putting them to use already in use? Why do we need videos to tell us that this is a good idea?

28 March 2014

Saw Noah tonight

I preferred the Bill Cosby version.


Since I saw the movie I have seen multiple reviews, some positive and mostly negative. One likes this, another hates that. Some find this to be good, others that to be be bad. One hates it for A, B and C whilst another hates it for X, Y and Z. On the whole, I find the reviews reveal more about the reviewer than they do the movie.

So, at risk of revealing my innermost self, because, after all, who would want to do that on a blog, I'll offer a few of my own observations.

As a piece of biblical exegesis, I would have to say, ummm, no. But I didn't go to the movie for that. Why did I go? you may ask. Hmmm. Good question.

As a vehicle of ideas, I found it unappealing. I sometimes felt as though I were being beaten over the head in a brutal rather way, and the ideas are ones I have heard a thousand times over in various ways. There was nothing new here.

As an exercise to convince me of a point of view, or, to use the proper term, propaganda, it failed utterly. I can't say that I am totally convinced it was propaganda, though others have no doubt.

But as a movie in and of itself, I found it profoundly unsatisfying. Greydanus in his review saw the director, an atheist who was raised in the Jewish tradition, struggling mightily with Big Questions. I didn't find the questions that big or the struggle all that mighty. So let me sidestep the Big Questions for the moment, and discuss the story.

Of course this is not the Noah of the Bible. No movie could be made solely from that story, because it is only a few pages long. New material must be inserted to fill two hours of movie running time.

So I knew going in that something was going to be shovelled in. But, and here's the big but, what is brought in must make sense, if not to all the audience, then at least within the frame of reference of the movie itself.

So to the movie, starting with the first voice over giving us our exposition: Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden, have three sons, Cain kills Abel and is driven away. Some big rock monster fallen angels called the watchers watch over him and his kin and protect them. The Watchers teach the children of Cain about the ways of Creation and what is in it, and, armed with this knowledge the children of Cain deforest the land, start strip mining and start an industrial age. By the time the story starts, we are down to the last child of Seth, Noah, who is about to be blessed by his father, who is about to be murdered by Tubal Cain.

One of the things that has many viewers up in arms is that it appears that the great crime the Creator- more on that in a second- must punish mankind for is basically ecological: men have destroyed creation. The people who are most vociferous on this point are seemingly angry that there is no mention of sexual sin and depravity, which is what they believe should be the main sin that results in the destruction of Man. As I recall, the main sin from the Bible was Pride, the master sin. So a director who warped a story to shove in his pet cause upset some people because he did not bow to theirs. Remember when I said our reactions to movies tell us more about ourselves than about he movies? There you are.

About the Creator thing. Again, some viewers are upset about this. I actually thought this was a nice touch. The story is set before God called Abraham and before He revealed Himself and His laws and His Name to Moses. Calling him the Creator made sense to me. It was one of the few things in the movie that did.

Back to things that didn't make sense: The movie points out that, at this time, we are a mere ten generations from Adam and Eve, yet these children of Cain have managed to totally deforest the earth, something which we haven't managed to do in the four or five thousand years since the Flood, though we are hard at work at it and making good progress. But let's leave that for the moment.

All stories stem from choices made by the writer and director, and must follow through on the demands created through those choices.  This story had two choices: either God is an unjust tyrant who creates and destroys on a whim, or he is righteous God who acts out of justice. If he is a just God who is about to wipe out all of humanity except for one man who shall start humanity anew, then all of humanity must be irredeemably depraved, and that one man must be a man of outstanding goodness.  how does the movie choose to show this? Well, when we first met adult Noah, he is upbraiding one of his sons for picking a small flower, because Noah believes everything has a reason and a purpose and the purpose should not be interfered with, and we should only take what we need.  That is how the movie establishes Noah as a Good man.  That point is further driven home seconds later when. Noah beats the living snot out of some of Cain's people and kills them for hunting a dog like animal because there is nothing else to eat on this blasted wasteland,  then solemnly and respectfully cremates the dog.  Now wait until you see how the movie makes the rest of humanity look irredeemably evil.  That comes up later.

At this point, Noah has a dream wherein the Creator shows him some images of the horrors of the world.  Noah has a vision of himself standing on ground soaked with blood,  of a coming flood, but also Methuselah's mountain, thus indicating to Noah that he should go back to Methuselah, his Grandfather, and seek his advice. Remember when the beginning said that there was just one last descendant of Seth? Not so much.

On their way there, they save a young girl who grows into Hermione Granger. Am I alone in the world in thinking that Emma Watson is at best a mediocre actress?

Methuselah, it turns out, knows all the medicinal and psychotropic berries and herbs, and he also has magic powers, because... just because.

So the Watchers now start helping Noah like they once tried to help Adam even though the voice over said they came down to help Cain. They're the ones who really build he ark. Tubal Cain shows up with an army, doesn't kill everybody, and decides to wait until... actually that makes no sense.  It also gives us one of the real cheats of the movie.  You may have seen the commercial where Tubal tells Noah to surrender, for he is alone, and Noah responds that he is not alone.  You may have thought Noah meant the Creator was with him, but that is wrong, and the movie delivers its first real sucker punch.  As it turns out, Noah did not mean that God was with him, and this is not a statement in his faith in the Creator.  No.  Instead, he meant he had the rock monsters with him, and at that point they rise from the ground, and Tubal backs away.

Okay, so where are we? Emma Watson likes the eldest of Noah's sons but won't have sex with him because she was wounded as a child and can never have children. She asks Noah to go and find wives for his sons, including the one she loves, because she feels he deserves to have a wife who can give him children. In one of the best scenes of the movie, Noah tells her that when they first found here, he felt she would be a burden, but instead has realised that she is a true blessing on the family. He also believes that if the Creator so wishes it, He will provide his sons with wives.

Noah goes off to find wives, starts following two who might be suitable.  The trip for the wives was interesting, because he goes through the camp of the sons of Cain.  Here is the moment that we should see the utter depravity of man, the horror that man has become that has caused the Creator to decide to wipe all men save this one righteous and his family out.  So what is the wickedness?  Apart from some screaming in the background, someone takes two girls down to the local butcher shop and trades them for some meat.  The butcher ends up tossing some animal out to the crowd, I thought it looked like a bear cub but I have no idea, and the crowd rips it to shreds and eats it raw.  Noah looks at his feet and sees that he is standing on blood soaked ground.  The blood is not the blood of men, but of slaughtered animals.  That is what the movie chooses to show us as the unspeakable evil of men.  This is the crime for which the slate must be wiped clean and creation rebooted: they eat meat that comes from unsanitary butcher shops.  That is a reason to be shut down by the department of health, not wiped off the face of the earth.  But I digress.  And now Noah, the one righteous man, has a vision of himself as bad as the other men. He comes to believe that the Creator wants to wipe out all men, including he and his family. Creation is to continue without men at all. Rather than trust that the Creator will provide a miracle that will bring wives to the sons, he now believes there will be no miracle, and that mankind is to be annihilated.

Angry, Ham goes to find a wife of his own. He finds a girl in a grave pit, is with her for about five minutes, decides she's the one, and then the rain starts. Emma Watson goes looking for him, finds Methuselah, who heals her womb with his magic...just because. She then finds her beloved and jumps is bones. Ham runs with the love of his life back to the ark, except she gets caught in a trap left by the Cain people. Noah, who has decided to save Ham so that he can be eliminated later, goes to save him, forces him to leave his one true love, who is then trampled by Tubal's army who have just now realised they should have taken the ark before it rained. In keeping with his pacifism, Noah kills many of the Cain people as they try to storm the ark.

Believe it or not, that was the best part of the movie. It made more sense than what followed. Tubal Cain has snuck onto the ark. Ham helps him. They eat raw animals together. Noah tells his family the creation story that he knows.  A little later, Tubal tells Ham the Creation story that he knows, and he is the one who accurate quotes scripture and tells Ham that they are made in the likeness of God, and they have been given Dominion over all Creation and are to subdue, be fruitful and multiply.  Get that?  The bad guys quote scripture.  Noah finds out Hermione is with child. In keeping with his deepest and most profound belief that all of creation is somehow sacred and to be preserved, that all things have a reason, decides he will let the child live if it is a boy, he will kill the child in the moment of its birth if it is a girl.  He really doesn't believe in God providing some miracle wives for his sons now.

And so on. Emma gives birth to twin girls, obviously the Creator providing wives for the other two sons, Noah doesn't kill them, although he does kill Tubal Cain. Noah drinks heavily due to survivor's guilt. Ham decides to leave, even though he has been provided with a wife... in about sixteen years or so. Emma explains to Noah that perhaps God left the choice up to Noah whether or not Mankind should continue. Noah comes to agree with this, returns to his family, and gives his blessing to his two granddaughters. The sun gets a circular rainbow around it. That's the message: Take care of creation, don't eat meat, and God has left the decision of whether or not we are to kill our babies up to us. The End.

Incidentally, after the Flood God did not speak to Noah and tell him that the animals were now his food. Movie left that out. Veganism is still the greatest good.

As I said, I found much of it inconsistent. I found much of it unappealing. There were some not so bad elements to it. I particularly like Jennifer Connelly. They tried to make her look rather plain in this movie, and she is still stunning. Crowe's acting was acceptable, given the script. The rest of the cast... not very good. The visuals were decent, although I thought the Watchers looked laughable.

A bigger issue for me comes from the historical nature of the movie, if that is the right term. I have come to believe that historical period movies are currently impossible, at least in this neck of the woods. I find that no matter what period a piece is set, we fill the movie with Post modern men feeling post modern self loathing and angst. Post Modern men wrung their hands as the Titanic sank, or postured ironically in the mud of Passchendeale, and wooed women in Georgian England. Now one built an ark with the help of some fallen angels. We are not exploring the past in these movies, we are remaking it in our own self-hating image. No wonder beauty and truth have fled the earth.

Did I find the movie offensive, or dangerous? Not really. Where I live and work I am surrounded by people who espouse the values I saw in this movie a hundred times a day. They have not persuaded me they are right, nor did the movie. Was it entertaining? Parts. Sometimes inadvertently. Did I wish I spent my money elsewhere? Yep. What stuck with me the most?

That is a little more complicated. It wasn't that we were getting a ecological message, or why aren't the wicked doing sexual stuff, as I already said. Mostly, I think of a few scenes in conjunction with the final one. It was often stated throughout the movie that the Creator had stopped speaking to Man- and that is actually biblical. So we have an increasingly distant Creator. Both Noah and Tubal Cain tell the creation story, but it is Cain who speaks the lines about having dominion over Creation and subduing it. That part of the story is apparently bad and the Creator got it wrong. And then, at the end, the Creator again places Creation in the hands of man, and now it is Man who sees and declares that Man is Good. I think that in some ways this is both the most and least biblical aspect of the movie. The world starts anew, Man is in charge again, but at the same time, the Creator is removing himself, and Man is now taking over. We decide that we our good. We decide that we are worth preserving. We decide everything now. More than anything else, I thought this was the most troubling part of the movie, the most subversive. The movie is not saying that that God is dead. It's saying that he may as well be, and now we're running the show. The final message of the movie is nihilism. 

Or so it seemed to me. As I said, reviews say more about the reviewer than the movie. That is my take. If you want me to bottom line it for you, I have two things to say: 1. If you are looking for authentic biblical exegesis in a Hollywood movie, you are wrong from the start; and 2. I still preferred the BIll Cosby version.

hmmmm, you don't say

Painter Francis Bacon said hangovers helped his creativity.

This is my shocked face.

26 March 2014

I would actually pay good money to see this

Author Larry Correia on what Shakespeare would (and would not) be doing if he were alive today, and how dumb the NYT book reviewers are:

And the fact that he keeps bringing up Shakespeare (the original popular *genre* author) to mock authors who write popular stuff in order to get paid, is very ironic. If Shakespeare was alive today, is anyone stupid enough to think that the guy who specialized in writing entertaining plays for the masses would be writing stuffy, pretentious dreck for what works out to be $3 an hour in the hopes of winning a prestigious literary award? Hell no! We’d all be watching William Shakespeare presents Star Wars vs. The Avengers III: The Jedi Hulkening this summer, and it would be awesome, and the NYT would hate it.

Somebody out there has just got to get to work on that script.