Thursday, 31 July 2014

RE.: The Problem of Pain


Life sometimes feels like a free-fall. There is no control over where we drift, what we collide into, or where we land. At least, that's what it feels like. But most of all, it feels like our death at the bottom is imminent. Hopeless. The question that arises from this sentiment is why are we in this free-fall and why would an omnipotent deity, of absolute love, toss us into this state of hopeless, boundless desolation? It takes a great deal of courage and sympathy to answer the question because, otherwise, the question probably hasn't been answered. In fact, it can be doubly difficult (and beneficial) to try figuring out a solution because that one question connects so many others to itself. The answer lies, however, to this Problem of Pain, in the deep study of life, pain, pleasure, and God Himself. If the realities of these things and persons can be unraveled, then one will probably find God to be a more compassionate, merciful entity than originally perceived.
     When the universe was in its initial state, its first moment, its first breath, it was in perfect entropic form. Perfect order. Similar to how the first couple chapters of Genesis describe the world in its initial condition. Good, safe, perfect. What Genesis details is that humanity was given the luxury of total freedom of the will. This was so that our will would cause us to love and purposefully enjoy God in all His glory and perfection. Yet, the natural path of the universe is from order to chaos and as a dead corpse goes from warm temperature to cold, a natural consequence of freedom is pain (perhaps it's more appropriate to say this is the natural consequence). This becomes the reality when Adam and Eve broke the seal of trust and loyalty and chose the path of independence. The result of this broken state of being is that pain and death are permitted to exist in its wake. It is this result which we reap to this day. It is so incredibly obvious, our corrupt nature, and its tie with suffering. Yet some of us would pin the responsibility of salvation on God and blame Him from not saving us from our own actions or from not creating a "better world", which calls into question God's rights and freedoms.
     God is the pinnacle of power, the supreme authority, and the paradigm of goodness. Before anything was, He was, and His essential love. All of what we see, started from God's hand. As creator, the original mastermind, nothing in all creation can excel Him or exceed His greatness (the ontological argument). He is completely autonomous and independent. He is omniscient and omnipotent. This is the nature of God's existence. He is. Considering this, and the fact that no governing legislation had been written and that all that God does spawns from His nature, it can be concluded that God hasn't a moral obligation to anything or anyone. He is indebted to no one. Whatever God does, it is done out of His sheer will. So when He creates mankind, He does so willfully and with a purpose. But He is not obligated to maintain His creation. It is God's right to do as He pleases; He is God. So if He allows my suffering, it is His right to do so. It is not immoral nor is it wrong of Him. If we blame God and accuse Him for wronging us, we do so according to another standard which is, perhaps, unknown to us but our emotions endorse it.
     Consider this, though, referring back to my first point (second paragraph), it is in humanity's nature to oppose God's. Our corruption tears our children apart. Our greed commences wars of bloody consequence. The core of all that is wrong and immoral about this world resides in our bloodstream and indwells our minds. Under the gaze of almighty God, the maximally great being, there is no moral standard you or I have reached. It takes a proud individual with a hyper-tolerant definition of sin to disagree. What, in Heaven or on Earth, does any human deserve? We toil for power and reject the hand of God. We reject our conscience continually. What does any human deserve? I am inclined to think naught, at least by God's perfect standard. Now referring to my second point, consider what we do have: life, possibly a consistent situation, maybe a decent pay, friends, family, freedom. Maybe you don't have very much at all, but when one thinks about what they do have and what they deserve, on the other hand, one can consider it an act of God's mercy that they have anything at all.
     God's priorities have been a problematic quarrel for many, inside and outside the church, and it's on this topic where many conversations, and lives, go astray. One can accept that, by definition, God's will is supreme and absolute but the pickle is what exactly He does with this sort of power. We're all very confused and mystified. Even infuriated. As it turns out, the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition as outlined by our source, Biblical scripture, isn't all that hard-pressed to grant us the American dream, a good pension or a decent living arrangement. Of course not. Why would an infinite, eternal being want for us, primarily, finite, temporary stuff? Convenient, easy-going lives. Comfort. Pleasure. It's all Earthly stuff that'll stay in the grave when we die. The apostle Paul, a missionary of sorts, lived much of his life in persecution and destitution. The man who gave the Church Romans 8 also lived a considerably painful life, often solitary. Yet he wrote, in response to his sorrow, that he can "do all things through Christ who gives him strength" (Philippians 4:13). The prophet Jeremiah, and many others devoted to God, watched as their home nation was ravaged, captured and exiled. Jesus, himself, was mocked, scorned, and crucified. So evidently, the battle for pleasure isn't on God's radar. No. God is interested in a deeper, more pertinent quest. The quest for internal, personal change from one undeserving of Heavenly life, deserving of Hell, to a redeemed, reconciled and renewed individual, justified in the eyes of God. God is interested in a heart-change from stuff-seeking to truth-seeking because that carries over into eternity.
     If pain could further the cause better than pleasure, then would it not be better to suffer? But what good could come out of any suffering? But think about the transformative power of hardship or the way pain amplifies triumph or the way evil highlights good. By some strange mysticism that beguiles me, less-than-ideal situations have a way of bringing out the best in people, even changing them for the better. A hard heart can be softened by a heavy hammer. A slanderous mind can be permitted progress towards compassion. It tends to be in the direst of moments that the hero arises. God, outside of time-dimension, has the script and knows it. The greatest good will be achieved in each individual at the end of it. Suffering God uses to advance towards this end goal, this final state, like a catalyst of a reaction. God uses pain to accomplish good. Not all of us will understand or realize this good during our lifetimes. The script remains a mystery to us. But we are promised that it shall be realized in the life to come, should we believe. This to me is what it truly means to be blessed. We are not blessed by our successful situation. Neither are we cursed by our failing situation. Neither circumstance has any eternal worth. But real currency is in our hope in Jesus Christ. God, swapping royalty for servitude, took upon himself the penalty that corrupt humanity utterly deserves and conquers death that we also might live in perfection. The suffering of this world is not the end. God has a plan to redeem and restore order to it.

This is why, in spite of my pains, I place my faith and trust in God.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

RE.: "I know it's easy for you to believe in a God. But I've suffered more than you."

You've suffered more (maybe)... so what?

Since when does the magnitude of a person's individual suffering alter the validity of their argument? The measuring scale game has no worth nor does it garner interest from the objective.  


When this kind of statement is made, huge emotionally-driven assumptions are being made. A) That belief in God is "easy" and B) that the person making the statement knows how much suffering the other person, on the receiving end, has endured. It also implies a rather gross pre-conception of the god in question.

Belief has its appeal.

If one conducted a survey, they will likely find that, historically, people have been drawn to faith both from a life of relative ease and of cruelty. For an example of the latter (just to dismantle some of the assumptions made in the entitled statement), the Black Church in the south. Or the crucified apostles of Jesus. Or Jesus.

Perhaps, for these people, belief is grounded less on emotion. The whole 'solid rock' v. 'sinking sand' thing.

The bottom line is, let's make sure we're talking about the same god. It doesn't matter what kind of God you would like to serve because that doesn't determine what kind of god you ultimately submit to. Ease and comfort don't register high on my god's priority list. So why should they on ours? Because what matters in light of eternity is not our revenue nor our pains, but what transformation, underneath, we experience in the process. Why go for gold when we could go for life and the abundance afterwards?


Monday, 28 July 2014

RE.: "Why can't you accept that the world is meaningless, without rules?"

Your persuasion is meaningless, then?

If the world is a meaningless, amoral world, then what does it matter what I choose to accept and believe? Do you consider it meaningful, important, and worth-while to convince me that I am wrong?

Do you accept, then, that the code you live by is undeniably groundless?

If the world is meaningless, then whatever moral code one embraces is utterly irrational and futile. If the world is godless, meaningless, and thus amoral, then can you accept that killing babies is, on no universal, absolute ground, wrong?

Friday, 25 July 2014

RE.: "I don't need a religion to tell me what's right and wrong."

You're right.

We are all born with a conscience. So people, regardless of their upbringing, can naturally discern what is good and evil. So, no, the entitled statement is not incorrect.

You misunderstand the point of religion.

What the entitled statement implies, though, is that religion is obsolete, as if its primary is to educate on matters of moral semantics. This is, by a gross degree, far from the truth. From my Christian perspective, the objective of the Christian religion is necessarily to make sure we tread on a straight, moral line. That's part of it. But it's so much more about the joy of relating and interacting with a living God, and the exchange of supplication with sanctification. The metamorphosis from a woefully dead sinner to a living child of God. It's not about making "bad people good", it's about making "dead people alive" as Ravi Zacharias put it.

You also lack the answer to the ontological question.

More important than the epistemological question, the one already answered in point one, is the ontological question. The question that begs answering is why the conscious tells us rape is wrong as opposed to right. Regardless of the corners you cut or the philosophical buzzwords you employ, your answer will always be religious.  

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

RE.: "The Bible was written by fallible human beings, so we cannot sensibly consider it the infallible Word of God."

Show me a significant contradiction.

We all have the right to question the infallibility and trustworthiness of the Bible and challenge the notion that it is the Holy Word of God. So how can we reasonably test to see whether Biblical scripture is "God-breathed"? A start would be to verify its consistency. Since God is perfect, therefore His word is perfect. You'll find in the Bible odd mathematical errors, chronological change-ups, and perhaps even exaggerations of historical events, but, with a right understanding of how divine inspiration works, we can dismiss these as minor contradictions. These are minor because they do not alter the message or the grand narrative in any considerable way. 

I think the data shows that the text is pretty reliable and pretty consistent.   

Deny prophecy?

If a church goer, a self-professing Christian, agrees with the logic that says "because the Bible was written by fallible Man, it can't be the infallible Word of God", are they not denying the long-held, traditional, Church-wide belief in prophecy?

Deny a personal God?

A scarier thought, though, is that if you deny that God can speak to people and through people, you're ultimately positing an impersonal, un-interactive, immobile God. 

Why do you worship this guy? 

Ultimately putting a restriction on God.

The more fundamental issue here, though, is that the person in agreement with the entitled statement puts a restriction on God's power, what He can and cannot do. 

He cannot speak to His people.
He cannot use language to deliver messages to His people.
He cannot employ His people.
He is finite.

Are we too much of a hassle for God?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

At Last, Retribution For The Vainglorious: A Review Of "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes" ★★★★★

 "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" 2014

"Home. Family. Future." These are the things apes and humans struggle for in the film which could challenge for the title as this summer's - this year's - cinematic champion. That film is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Matt Reeves. It has been a dreadfully long time - a winter of cold patience - since I've experienced a film that can boast the awesome ability, that this movie has, to toy and tangle with our emotions and sensations. Few films that I've seen can hoist us up and plunge us down the way Dawn does. As the moviegoer - casual or not - will nearly instantaneously discover, this is a pleasant, crazy, harrowing, and amazing leap from the high shoulders of it's blockbuster prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

When we first met Caesar (Andy Serkis), the main ape protagonist, in the first installment of the reboot series, he was a young, intelligent yet still-developing chimpanzee, learning to manage in a human-dominated world that is still, buy-n-large, indifferent to the mistreatment of animals. In his youth, Caesar realized some harsh realities through difficult circumstances, namely Man's hubris and power-craving. After being separated from his adopted caretaker (James Franco) - this caretaker being a scientist responsible for a gene therapy medication which caused the apes' heightened intelligence and the unfortunate, ensuing outbreak of a Simian flu - Caesar realized that not all humans are good, and that recognizing your friends from your foes is as much a grey area as it is certainly a necessary element of his struggle for personal influence and resolution to the overarching conflict between humans and an insurgent ape culture.
These themes, and their inevitable implications, spill over into the plot of the July, 2014 flick. In the opening sequence of Dawn, across the map we see the Simian flu decimate the human population, while the humans themselves turn on each other in the craze. Ten years after the events of the first film, we are reconnected to the ape group which has settled down in the redwood forest near San Francisco, California. We are also abruptly acquainted with the humans who have survived and settled in the ruinous San Francisco city, itself. The audience, just by observation, can deduce three things from the early encounters between the apes and humans.
One, the apes have sophisticated and become more civilized after ten years. In a scene following the opening credits, the ape tribe commences a hunting campaign, lead by Caesar and fellow ape, Koba (Toby Kebbell). They set up the attack with stealth, they communicate in silence, until Caesar gives the terrorizing call for onslaught against a fleeing herd of what looks like caribou or deer. The successful horde of ape hunters return to their tight-nit community - a vast multitude of families and elders, finding their refuge in closely connected, earnest, woody homes. They educate each other. They speak to each other. They embrace each other. They hold each other accountable. And it can be seen that Caesar has matured into a fully grown, eloquent, and powerful leader of the colony, to whom his companions willingly surrender their allegiance. There is almost a hierarchy dominating over the apes, but there is a moral code embedded into it, and them, which Caesar consistently adheres to.
Secondly, the apes have the survival edge on humans. Of course, to Caesar and company, it is initially uncertain whether humans even exist still, after they were ravaged by the Simian flu. This is clear in an early conversation between Orangutan Maurice and Caesar. But as a couple of Apes were strolling through the forest unsuspectingly, everything was changed as they were rudely but unintentionally run into by a small group of travelling humans. Of course, both the apes and the humans were startled by suddenness as well as the significance of the encounter, and the initial human present, in his fear and confusion, dared to fire his gun and shoot one ape (probably more of a warning shot than an action to kill). Alarmed by the blast, the rest of the apes in the tribe scurried to rescue the two distressed apes, and surrounded the small group of humans. Caesar, upright with bravado (and some contempt?), commands the humans to “go”. In this scene, we meet Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who leads the humans and does not view the apes as a necessary threat to existence (nor does he blame them for the Simian flu). Eventually, the audience discovers that the humans were looking for a hydroelectric dam to generate power. The humans find out, to their misfortune, that the dam is situated in the apes’ domain. So there is an interesting contrast one can draw between the two species. The humans, who survived the flu contagion, though existing across the globe, are few in the San Fran residence. The apes appear to have been unscathed by the epidemic and have indeed multiplied over ten years. The apes live in peace, in community. They have all that they need: resource, security, and each other. Humans, on the other hand, struggle for much more. They struggle for fuel and power for communication with the outside world. Humans fear returning to their primitive origins, "back to the way things were". They are desperate, apes are not.  
Thirdly, both the ape and human settlements are populated by saints and sinners. In the human camp, Malcolm understands the history between the apes and the humans and thus harbors no disdain for them. He is, in a sense, the personification of empathy and understanding and demonstrates a positive response to a grievous, tragic past (he lost his family) which almost all humans, at this point, share. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is also a human leader, but has a different point of view. To him, apes are still only animals, untrustworthy and expendable. Another human, named Carver (Kirk Acevedo), who aids Malcolm in repairing the dam, outright blames the apes for the Simian flu. In the ape camp, obviously we have Caesar who always seeks to do what is right. Caesar and Malcolm are almost mirror reflections of each other, in this respect. But there is an interesting character in Koba. Koba, similar to Carver, despises the opposite species because of the perceived harm (imprisonment, torture) they caused. So he is immediately skeptical of the humans’ motives, not unlike Caesar or any other ape, but the bias is heavily against them. (The character foils detailed in this paragraph do develop tremendously throughout the film as this is only an early portrait. The character development in this story truly astonishes me.)
After the initial conflict, the plot takes off at a pretty rapid pace. The characters quickly establish their role to play and the game-board is set with haste. Fearing the intrusion of the humans into their homeland, Caesar gives them the ultimatum: keep to yourselves, or we’ll defend ourselves if need be. "Apes do not want war." His voice blankets the air and swallows our harrowed attention, and though it’s terrifying to hear, it also has some warmth that makes you want hear more from Caesar, our primate hero. Just hearing Caesar’s speech – it would make sense for the humans to want to stay put. But for some, namely the humans’ primary leader, Dreyfus, the dam is too critical to simply give up. Pursuing the extraction of electrical energy from the dam, by Caesar’s terms, could mean war. Some humans believe the apes could instigate a war as a means of eliminating a threat. So the game becomes one of chicken – who strikes first? Malcolm, however, isn't ready to give up and believes he can peacefully regenerate the dam’s power flux and negotiate with Caesar. He’s given three days to do so, by Dreyfus, before the humans would attack the apes first and seize the dam. This is the tipsy pendulum upon which the balance rests. Malcolm, with the help of some trustworthy friends and engineers, goes into the woods and confronts the apes in their own territory. Though an uneasy meet at the start, Malcolm eventually convinces Caesar that his motives are sincere. Though Caesar is still somewhat skeptical, he allows Malcolm to stay and get the dam going again but on terms that they give up their firearms. Koba is, in his mind, certain that the humans are just setting up an assault. We see him on multiple occasions quarreling, especially with Caesar, on the matter, fearing for the survival of the apes. Over the three days, the small band of humans work away and gradually earn the trust of Caesar and the pressure to wage war lessens. But it’s just when the situation seems contained that the fuse ignites. Basically, it’s only a matter of one unfortunate occurrence after another until the game comes to its furious end, its tumultuous climax, where love and fear coil and swirl as an agitated solution reacts into violent spark. Camps divide against themselves. Modest characters become heroes. The once loyal good guys become rebellious villains, and the dark side of the apes crawls out from the shade as the intrigue reaches overwhelming levels. "War has already begun."

The Verdict

As a whole, Dawn has the delicacies and some of the finer elements of a post-apocalyptic film, though grim and contemplative, almost certainly without the grime of most movies of the genre. Though definitely with a swift flow of thought and a larger scope and vision, Dawn does make the occasional stop to focus in on the various micro-conflicts woven into the grander story, to our advantage. Perhaps it’s during the epic battles where the movie arrests us, but it’s during the quiet moments where it quietly convicts. In ways, these "quiet moments" bring us back to the relatively quaint beginnings in Rise. In fact, the soundtrack, combining modern dynamics with retro stylistic flavors, brings us back way beyond Rise and to the year 1968. The visual effects are immaculate and the acting is flawless. Unraveling like a Shakespearean play, the story is provocative, relatable and emotionally captivating. You'll experience the story in utter uncertainty, but leave the theater completely satisfied by the end. Giving credit where it is due, to the directors, creators and actors, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes earns its five stars. Couldn't more movies be like this?