As of last week, I am no longer in my “early 20’s.” I am 25 now. I thank God for letting me live. Some days are hard, in fact, most days. Still, I know that Jesus, the son of God, died for me and I am part of His plan. I am also grateful for having a blessed childhood with a loving mother and father. Sometimes I think back, and remember.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
“Yet Abraham believed and did not doubt, he believed the preposterous. If Abraham had doubted -- then he would have done something else, something glorious; for how could Abraham do anything but what is great and glorious! He would have marched up to Mount Moriah, he would have cleft the fire-wood, lit the pyre, drawn the knife -- he would have cried out to God, "Despise not this sacrifice, it is not the best thing I possess, that I know well, for what is an old man in comparison with the child of promise; but it is the best I am able to give Thee. Let Isaac never come to know this, that he may console himself with his youth." He would have plunged the knife into his own breast. He would have been admired in the world, and his name would not have been forgotten; but it is one thing to be admired, and another to be the guiding star which saves the anguished.” -Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
Here’s an interesting fact: Kierkegaard coined the term “leap of faith.” Only, he didn’t. You see, while that is the phrase used by laypeople, Kierkegaard is actually quoted as saying the “leap to faith.” Is there really a difference? Well, to Kierkegaard there was. To him, there wasn’t just one leap you made and there, patiently waiting, laid belief. No, the whole enterprise of following Christ is faith. See the difference?
I have struggled. Doubt is a part of me. I’ve read books and articles on creationism. I’ve read books and articles on evolution. I’ve seen videos of atheists preaching. I’ve seen videos of Christians preaching. I’ve heard arguments for the historicity of Jesus. I’ve heard arguments for Jesus as a mythical legend. I’ve learned much, but know nothing. For every fact that lines up in the bookshelf of my mind, some forgotten corner starts to crumble into dust. What obscure science experiment or historical trinket could stop this vicious cycle?
Does the Christian need more knowledge? Does he need the manual or the vehicle of faith itself? I’d argue the latter. All the books in the world couldn’t bring someone to faith. As Kierkegaard himself noted, there were no professors or associate professors during the first century of Christianity. Everyone then accepted that faith could not be proven. There were no philosophers in the pews who wondered if God could make a rock so heavy He couldn’t lift. There were no baptized biologists that thought nature made itself. No, this was a time of simplicity.
Consider Abraham, as Kierkegaard once did. He could have offered himself to the Lord instead of Issac, his beloved son. Would this not have been considered morally praiseworthy in the pagan lands? A stoic father saving his son from a crooked and wicked deity. It is not true that he was to merely “sacrifice” Issac. That’s a deceptive euphemism. No, Abraham was to murder his own son. Isn’t that what the world would have believed? That an old man lost his mind and turned homicidal?
The truth, however, known only to Abraham, made him full of fear and trembling. He told no one his revelation, not even Sarah. Abraham did one thing and one thing only: He believed. He suspended every rule that society had put in place, and had faith in God instead. Tell me, of what possible use would Paley’s Watchmaker apologetic make? Abraham decided to forgo the universal and believe in his subjective (personal) relationship with the divine.
Contrary to Hawking, we can never know the mind of God. We can know what He did for us on the cross but we look through a glass darkly. We can debate God back and forth and still not have an answer. If we were merely weighing the evidence on some sort of cosmic scale, then we would cease to be truly religious in any sense at all. We would be no better than the Roman tax collectors.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
So, I finally saw Ender’s Game. While the book will always hold a special place for me (it was the first work of genuine science fiction I read as a kid), the film version is definitely no slouch. For those not in the know, the plot of Ender’s Game is simplistic at first blush, that humanity is at war with a bug-like alien race called the Formics. The true depth of what’s going on, however, isn’t fully revealed until the credits roll. For the purposes of this review, I need to spoil the ending… so, now you know.
Basically, the Formics were pushed back to their homeworld after a failed invasion of Earth. 50 years later, humanity wants to destroy the threat they pose once and for all. The military brass utilizes genius child tacticians to plan their attack. Ender Wiggin is one such boy. Ender is a strategist of unprecedented brilliance, and he trains for mankind’s final assault on the Formics.
Little does Ender know, however, that his “battle simulations” are actually happening in real-time. It’s no game; he’s unknowingly leading men to their potential graves. Under this deceit, Ender successfully defeats the Formics: by vaporizing the surface of their planet. When Ender learns of what he’s done, he breaks down and fights the urge to throw up. He’s committed wholesale xenocide.
Amidst his grief, Ender remembers that he’s been having visions of an egg. Understanding this to be telepathic communication, Ender searches an assumedly abandoned Formic outpost, only to find a healthy queen’s egg.
Now, this part wasn’t touched on that much in the film, but the novel has the queen linking with Ender’s mind to share her perspective. She explains that when the Formics first encountered humanity, they were baffled by their lack of a hive-mind, and assumed mankind was not a sentient species. The Formics realized their mistake too late, however, when they were driven back. The war was a giant misunderstanding.
What interests me so much about Ender’s Game is twofold: firstly, that we must always try to understand our enemy. If we do that, there is a chance that a dialogue can bear fruit, that peace may reign. I think of World War 2 and our conflict with the Japanese. If only we could have successfully viewed each other as equal human beings and tried to respect our differing cultures, maybe the atomic bomb would never have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sadly, it can only be viewed as speculation now.
Secondly, what intrigues me is the possibility of making contact with extraterrestrial life. A conversation with another sentient race would be absolutely amazing. Ender’s Game shows how complicated such an event might be, however. In a truly alien environment, there’s no telling how evolution might take place. An insectoid species like the Formics could easily exist in the billions of galaxies with billions of stars each. Imagine what we could learn from beings that have entirely different ways of thinking! How exciting!
It’s hard to believe that we’re the only ones out there. We’re not even in the center of our own galaxy, for heaven’s sake. This brings me to theology. Put simply, why would God create an empty universe? The argument that the universe was merely created for aesthetic purposes i.e. it’s pretty, seems really intellectually hollow. Is it possible that Christ died a similar death for other alien races? While there’s no way to know for certain yet, it’s a possibility.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
This world will come to an end. That’s a fact. Scientifically, all matter is decaying, and the universe itself will keep expanding until heat death occurs. Simply put, everything’s going to be like the penultimate scene in the NeverEnding Story, with the cold vacuum of empty space standing as our final legacy. But hey, that’s okay! Before that happens, our sun will expand into a red giant and turn our blue orb into a charred cinder. Or we could just get hit by an asteroid. Either way, we’re just as dead.
And then there’s the spiritual side of things. From a Christian perspective, God created the world to have a beginning (Genesis) and an end (Revelation). In Genesis, God fashioned the cosmos from nothing, and then lovingly crafted humanity in His image. You know the story; we disobeyed and were left with sin. Mankind suffered. A lot. Finally, after thousands of years, Jesus Christ, the son of God, was born in Bethlehem. According to the historic Gospel accounts, Jesus then died for all our sins and rose again. The Bible ends with the hope of Jesus returning: The Second Coming.
Well, what in the good Lord’s name has this to do with Dragon Ball Z? I know it sounds silly to most people, but at a time in my childhood when I knew almost nothing about Christianity, Goku presented himself as a kind of proto-Christ. As I’ve related before, there are many similarities between the two. Goku fights evil with a gentle heart, converts several “bad guys,” and even sacrifices himself to save the Earth.
So, that brings us to the History of Trunks. Basically, during a time of peace, Goku contracts a radical heart virus... and dies. Six months later, a new menace appears: two artificial humans with strength beyond conception. Coming to the defense of the people of Earth are the remainder of Goku’s team… they all perish, except for Goku’s young son, Gohan. Years pass, and much of the planet has been reduced to rubble. In this hell, Gohan is now a man. He takes Trunks, a powerful teenager, under his wing, and together they challenge the androids.
This is easily the darkest of all the sagas in Dragon Ball Z. People die, and they don’t come back. I always show this movie to people who are skeptical of the series, as it usually shatters their preconceptions. It also showcases lightening quick martial arts and a sick soundtrack featuring Dream Theater.
Well, despite Gohan’s noble attempt, he fails and passes from this life. Trunks, now alone, is forced to take drastic measures. He takes a time machine and travels back, to find Goku.
The segue I want to make is this: without a savior, our world is going to go to shit. History of Trunks shows that, despite Gohan and Trunks’ best efforts, they couldn’t set things right. They needed Goku.
My favorite scene has to be when Gohan, after just losing his arm in an explosion, gives his last healing herb to Trunks. He wonders aloud, “Now what would your father do?” Hmm… What Would Goku Do? Or maybe, What Would Jesus Do?
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
"In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill. You promised you'd take me there again someday. But you never did. Well, I'm alone there now... In our 'special place'... Waiting for you..."
I’ve already written a short review of Silent Hill 2, but after consideration, I believe that the game deserves more analysis. Many people seem to think that video games cannot fundamentally be art, that they’re just children’s playthings. Put simply, this is not true and is slander to the hardworking developers of this 40 year industry. Direct proof of this is Silent Hill 2 alone. As I’ve said, this is the only game to ever make me cry.
SH2 begins with James Sunderland getting a letter from his wife. There’s just one problem: his wife died of a sickness years ago. It must be a trick, right? But it was in her handwriting… It said to meet her in their special place, Silent Hill.
When James arrives, everything is filled with fog, but more sinister than that are the monsters that hide in it. Pyramid Head, a creature wrought out of hellfire itself stalks James with a giant cleaver. What’s going on in this town? It’s not a nightmare, though it should be.
After narrowly escaping death on numerous occasions, James finds himself in a hotel… the same hotel that he and Mary stayed in. It’s here that he finds a videotape with his name on it… so he plays it. James watches the screen in horror as he sees himself strangling his own wife in a hospital bed. Finally, he realizes what he’s repressed subconsciously: That he murdered Mary.
Soon after, he accepts what he’s done, and he also realizes what Pyramid Head’s true symbolism is: James’ punishment of himself. James then speaks to Pyramid Head, saying “I was weak… that's why I needed you… I needed someone to punish me for my sins… but that's all over now. I know the truth. Now it's time to end this.” Silent Hill was James’ personal Hell.
After conquering his demons, James is then briefly reunited with his beloved Mary. James, in tears, tells Mary that he killed her because he wanted his life back. Mary lovingly says to him, “James, if that were true, then why do you look so sad?” She forgives him, and tells James to go on with his life. This scene profoundly touched me.
Honestly, SH2 is not merely a fantastic story, it also touches on many spiritual questions. The central ones being salvation and Hell. Let me preface what I’m about to talk about with this: I am not a theologian, pastor, or an expert of any kind. That being said, I do wonder about Heaven and Hell quite a bit as a Christian.
What I’ve neglected to mention so far is that there were actually two other people that Silent Hill beckoned. One was a man who was badly bullied named Eddie. The other was a young woman named Angela, who was raped by both her father and brother as a child. The two of them later committed sins against their abusers. Eddie shot a football player who made fun of him, while Angela stabbed her father and brother to death. James encounters both of them, and they sadly choose damnation over salvation. James rescues Angela in one part of the game, but it proves to be in vain as she chooses to walk up a burning staircase. Her last words to James show her acceptance of being in Silent Hill, “Or maybe, you think you can save me. Will you love me? Take care of me? Heal all my pain? ...[Hmph]...That's what I thought."
I bring all this up to highlight our understanding of Hell. I just sincerely doubt that most people truly understand what it’s like to be in absolute agony. I can attest, as someone who struggles daily with severe, suicidal depression, that it is Hell. I do believe that a literal, physical Hell does exist. I also believe that some will not be saved. However, I just don’t accept that Christendom’s traditional understanding of the Inferno is accurate.
I believe the Bible reveals that God’s central attribute, above all else, is love. Above sovereignty, holiness, wrath, and whatever else you can think of. A predominantly wrathful God would not save a sinful humanity from what we deserve… only an overwhelming love would do that. As John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
So, I view with skepticism this centrally Calvinist soteriology that permeates the church. At bottom, I do think that we as Christians can make progress. Clearly, this is true from social justice standards by abolishing slavery. It is also true scientifically, by shedding light on how the Earth orbits the Sun and not vice-versa. It’s even shown to be true theologically, by Martin Luther splitting from the historic Catholic Church.
When I play Silent Hill 2, and weep at the sight of such grace offered by Mary, a video game character, I can only imagine how much more God delights in loving His children. Does God’s love really stop at the grave? Is it possible that some of those who die in sin can be redeemed even in Hell? I don’t know… but it’s worth thinking about.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
“Hey! You still don’t have a Sega CD? What are you waiting for, Nintendo to make one? You have seen the games, right?” Thus goes the “angry black guy” ad from Sega. Sadly, the games he proceeds to “show off” are all horrendous FMV (full motion video) games. Don’t know what an FMV game consists of? Well, imagine that instead of playing a game, I smash your controller with a brick and you’re forced to watch a movie made by Satan and Pauly Shore. That’s about the gist of it. Live-action video does not belong in video games… unless it's Wing Commander 3 (Hey, Mark Hamill’s in it!).
So, rewind to 1992. CDs were cutting edge, to the point that even a full year later, the girl in Jurassic Park had her mind blown when she saw them, “It’s an interactive CD-ROM!” During this time, the Sega Genesis had, with the help of brilliant, in your face marketing, usurped Nintendo in 16-bit sales. Sega must have been pretty sure of themselves, to the point that they decided to make a radical new expansion… by creating a CD add on for the Genesis.
The main problem for the lazily titled Sega CD was this: It really wasn’t needed. Not only did Sega not need to push it financially, but consumers didn’t want to spend an insanity inducing 300 dollars on something that wasn’t even a stand-alone console. To make things worse, the pack-in game, Sewer Shark, was literally as much fun as playing in a real sewer. The death-knell for the Sega CD came quickly. People realized that, above all, the Sega CD did not provide a next generation experience and couldn’t produce 3D visuals. Later, Sega shot themselves in the foot again by releasing yet another Genesis add on, the Sega 32X.
Well, things sound pretty bad here, huh? Yes, the Sega CD never should have been released at such an early stage, but since it was, there are quite a number of great things about it. See, Sega marketed the thing completely wrong. Quite simply, you were not going to get a computer experience with this product… However, you were going to get super improved versions of Genesis games, with Redbook quality music and, if done in moderation, cutscenes and voice acting that accentuate the story.
It’s really unfortunate that folks are unaware of so many hidden gems on the Sega CD. Sonic CD is one of the best Sonic games, with a jazz and funk inspired soundtrack (Sonic Boom is sick). Snatcher is a cyberpunk, Blade Runneresque adventure game that lets you pick different branching paths. Lunar: Silver Star is an RPG with anime influences and copious amounts of legitimately decent voice acting. Heart of the Alien combines the highly acclaimed cinematic platformer, Another World, with an entirely new chapter. Finally, Final Fight CD offers a sort of director’s cut to the arcade classic, optimized for the CD format.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
For 2000 years Christianity has almost exclusively molded western culture and values. I don’t think any serious historian would deny that fact. John Locke, George Washington, Isaac Newton, Mozart, Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Copernicus, John Milton, Franklin D. Roosevelt… the list honestly goes on and on. The history of western civilization is basically a history of Christianity. At least it was until recently. With the rise of the utopian ideals of communism came the growth of populist, government led atheism. Clearly not all atheist are communists, however, Karl Marx’s belief that religion is the “opiate of the masses” underlies much of today’s radical liberalism. I think it’s not going overboard to say that Christianity has lost its societal pull.
But why did things turn out this way? Why did Stalin’s gulags occur in the first place? Why are millions of babies being aborted? Why did Cambodia’s fields turn blood red? Why have we forsaken God? It’s too easy to just blame the secularists. The truth is that we need only to look in the mirror for the source of these dry and brittle roots. Our arrogance has brought ruin. The Torquemadas and Phelps have delivered us to this precipice. It’s centuries of saying we believe in God, but really worshipping mammon. It’s the Crusades and hatred of Jews. You almost don’t need Satan when you have so many bad Christians.
So, am I surprised when Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty is being unjustly and unconstitutionally silenced for his personal beliefs? No, I’m not… because we have done the same thing. You used to have Jerry Falwell touring with Anita Bryant in the 70’s trying to “save our children” by banning gays from teaching. When you fight an eye for an eye, don’t expect that the other person won’t fight tooth for tooth. When the leftists came and suspended Phil, they did so with a vengeance. It didn’t matter that he didn’t use any slurs or hate speech. It didn’t matter that he was just quoting first Corinthians. It didn’t even matter that he said he wanted to “love on” any sinner, be they a homosexual or an adulterer. The atheists saw their chance to get back at Christians, and they did.
So, is my whole premise that we deserve our downfall? Well, not exactly. Just because we’ve made horrible blunders in the past, doesn’t mean we are doomed to determinism. The solution is, quite bluntly, in the Bible. As it says in Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I suppose God’s word should be enough to end on.