Thursday, April 17, 2014

Compromise


Compromise is built into the heart of our American form of government. Going all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, we’ve had disagreements over what makes us a people. In fact, Thomas Jefferson originally castigated the king over the issue of the slave trade, but was forced to take out the language out of fear of the union dissolving. Yet despite such incidents of hard negotiating, America has emerged stronger.

The system of checks and balances necessitates the bargaining between the federal branches. Due to the partial independence of the legislative, executive, and judicial, it would be incredibly difficult for one group to control all three at the same time. Elections also play a factor; congressmen and senators’ terms rarely overlap as the term limits themselves are different. Even if a populist movement gained traction for a number of years, you’d still have to wait for the Supreme Court justices to literally die out before having complete control over all facets of government.

Of course, the largest aspect of compromise that is embedded into our great society is the constitution itself. The founding fathers wisely enacted a document that not only stood the test of time from a literary and poetic level, but from the basis of rule of law as well. Madison helped forge the “Great Compromise” over the competing Virginia and New Jersey plans, and amazingly balanced the issue of states’ rights and national governance.

The biggest test of America’s ability to compromise was one of colossal proportions: slavery. It would be fair to say that politics would be defined by this issue for generations. Even here, the federalists’ brilliance was absolute. North and South wrung their hands together and bit a nasty bullet on the issue of polling slaves as part of the population, also known as the three-fifths compromise. Abolitionists hated the deal because it counted slaves as in the general populace, while keeping them enslaved. Yet southerners hated it because they didn’t get the representation they wanted. However, it will be argued that if everyone’s angry, maybe you’re doing something right legally.

Looking for modern day examples of national compromise is an easy task. Just look at abortion, an explosive topic. Both sides, pro-life and pro-choice, are adamant in their beliefs and can be vitriolic in their dealings with each other. You might think that an issue involving aborting a fetus would be pretty black or white, but that isn’t the case practically. While the Supreme Court ruled abortion constitutional in the 70’s, it did not rule that limitations couldn’t be put in place. Case in point, conservative states have enforced very stringent regulations on the practice, like teenagers having to inform their parents before an abortion can be performed, and that the operation itself can only be done at a certain gestation period. The Hyde Amendment, as adopted by congress, also bans direct federal funding of abortion.

It could be asked if all this compromising makes our country resistant to change. This is true, but only to a degree. Madison in Federalist Ten successfully argued that mob rule, or a direct democracy, would result in chaos and perhaps even an untimely death. He saw the value of a republic, but one that had the consent of the people: thus a democratic republic. While it may take time for legislation to get approved in both chambers of congress, not get vetoed by the president, and be ultimately upheld by the courts, it is in the end worth it over French Revolution-like anarchy. You don’t want an unpopular minority, a label that changes over time, to be swallowed up by the passions of a majority.

The proof that compromise works is in the very survival of our peculiar American society. If all this didn’t work, we would have inevitably been some meager banana republic with no proud legacy to call our own. Look at Thomas Jefferson, look at Abraham Lincoln, look at Franklin D. Roosevelt, look at Ronald Reagan. Are all these men the result of a false ideal? It might sound like an appeal to emotion, but it gets to a legitimate point… Why has American exceptionalism been the envy of the world? Why has America stood as a bulwark against the two greatest evils of our time: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia? Maybe, as much as we disagree, there’s something to this American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kefka and objective evil


“Why do people cling to life when they know they can’t live forever?” –Kefka Palazzo

While I can’t stand modern gaming, there’s one sure-fire way to get me to buy an Xbox One or PS4: Remake Final Fantasy 6. Of course, with Square Enix now dumbing down their products like reducing the Final Fantasy series to an MMO, that will probably never happen. I mean, since when did the creators of Kingdom Hearts publish games like Hitman? Whatever. The point is that FF6 ignited my childhood imagination with its wonderful characters and sense of adventure. Of course, every good story needs a good villain, right? Enter Kefka.
   
In all my years of gaming, I’ve never seen a more detestable villain such as Kefka. At first, you just think he’s the Emperor’s bumbling henchman. You soon discover, however, that while this guy may dress like a clown, he’s no Monty Python gag reel. Kefka burns cities, betrays his comrades, poisons children, and yes, even blows up the world. The thing that’s so disconcerting about Kefka is that he doesn’t try to justify his actions. He delights in the evil.

When the aforementioned apocalypse begins, Kekfa obtains God-like powers from three mystical statues. Now, completely unhinged, Kefka literally destroys the planet. The remnant of what emerges is called the World of Ruin. It’s here that our heroes gather together and form a resistance against seemingly impossible odds.

Why I like the older Final Fantasies, particularly FF6, over newer entries is simple: they have an objective good versus evil morality. Kefka isn’t misunderstood; it’s not that his mom didn’t raise him right. This is a man who is just pure evil. I think the changing times have grotesquely morphed our views on biblical truth. That’s why every JRPG villain now is some whiny, metrosexual-looking sadface.

Segueing back to reality, the concept of evil in our culture has become a myth. Everyone’s just a product of their genes, apparently, and can do no better because everything’s deterministic. Can’t we all just agree to disagree? That is, of course, if we can. Maybe I’m biologically predisposed to argue. Guess I’m just a victim then, huh? This is what we call bullshit, folks.

Here’s the crux of it. You can’t look at Kefka, a character who maniacally laughs while setting the world ablaze, and call him misunderstood. He’s evil. Similarly, the shooter of Sandy Hook may have had some mental health issues, but he made his own choices. He’s at fault. There is a devil… but there is a God as well.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Attack on Titan and overcoming the odds


“It doesn’t matter how terrifying the world is. Fight. It doesn’t matter how cruel the world is. Fight. Fight!” -Eren Jeager in the Battle of Trost

Years from now, the cosmos will look back on Attack on Titan as the show that made anime cool again. After the golden age of the 90’s (Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop, Berserk, Evangelion) came the crushing and unrelenting mediocrity of the 2000’s. Barring a few successes early in the decade, the landscape had become a wasteland of high school girl nonsense. 2D animation itself was dying.

I really believe that, properly done, traditional animation can bring a viewer to his knees in the realm of the imagination. Akira, for example, with its wide brush strokes of post-apocalyptic power, could never be harnessed in the tight confines of reality’s camera. The colors, as bright as Neo Tokyo in 2019, spill onto the canvas of the human eye.

If anime is to fade away, then Attack on Titan is its roaring epitaph. Mankind has been driven to the very brink of extinction by nightmarish giants (Titans) of an unknown origin. The remaining humans have endured by sealing themselves behind three massive walls. This strategy works for a hundred years, until the Titans break in.

For the first two episodes, literally the only thing that happens is that people get eaten... like, a lot of people. Three surviving children (Eren, Mikasa, and Armin) decide to fight for humanity’s future by joining the military. This is where the story kicks into high gear, as you get to see fantastic character development among their squad. For example, one cadet, Jean, starts out as a selfish jackass only to become the very model of a hero later on.

To spoil things, Eren gets devoured by a Titan in episode 5, and this obviously sets a particularly somber tone. One may be forgiven to think they’re watching The Walking Dead, with main characters just dying off for arbitrary reasons, until you see episode 8. There, it is revealed that Eren has survived, and not only that, but now has the mysterious ability to turn himself into a Titan of enormous strength.

With this newfound knowledge, humanity now pushed back to the last wall, launches a desperate counteroffensive, with Eren as their savior. Here, in episode 13, I think I just completely lost my proverbial shit. In the battle plans, Eren is to pick up a giant boulder to block the hole in the wall that the Titans are pouring through. It sounds great on paper, but maintaining one’s mental state in a Titan’s body is taxing, and Eren lashes out at Mikasa, his family.

All seems lost, until Eren remembers why he wanted to venture outside the walls in the first place… because he was born to the world, and he wanted to know it. He also remembers the death of his mother to the hands of the Titans, and in his rage, lifts the stone, and heaves it into the breach. At this point, it’s realized that for the first time, mankind has defeated the Titans.

The correlation to reality is this: Life sucks. A lot. But don’t give up! Persevere and fight the good fight! We humans are weak, it’s true, but together we can fly with the “Wings of Freedom.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Looking forward

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

The leap to faith and the irrelevancy of apologetics


“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.

If you want to put off believing in God because you have doubts, then you’d do well to not believe anything. External reality itself is a leap to faith. If you don’t have faith in Jesus, I can guarantee you have faith in something. Consider having faith in a God who loves you. He’s helped me.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ender's Game and thoughts on alien life


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.

Finally, concerning the merits of the movie itself, I have to say it’s very well done. The special effects, while a bit too cgi oriented for my tastes, excel at producing truly exotic visuals. The storytelling, while sometimes lacking a bit in emotion (which could perhaps be critiquing the mindset of a gung-ho military), accurately underscores the weight Ender shoulders. Also, Harrison Ford’s in it… so that should be enough to see it, right? Damn well better be.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

History of Trunks and the End Times


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?