Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Elephants & Science

January 18, 2023

Two interesting articles this week that at least I see a connection with. Then again, I’m no scientist.

One is the first public study I’ve heard of linking (at least potentially) the growing trend of self-violence, self-medication and suicide with a decline in religious belief. I originally saw the reference on a Roman Catholic web site, but then saw it picked up by the Daily Mail. Although I’m sure it won’t result in any measurable change in public, academic or political policies, at least someone has pointed out that these two trends – falling levels of religious behavior and rising levels of deaths of despair – might be related.

Of particular interest is the correlation not between religious belief and despairing actions, but the correlation between religious behavior (weekly worship attendance) and deaths of despair. What you say isn’t nearly as important as what you do. And whether you think you have a deep spiritual life or not, spirituality and privatized beliefs are not the same as active participation in religious life.

How could such an obvious (at least to me) correlation have escaped study for so long? Perhaps it’s because there is an overall trend for scientific research and studies to be less challenging than they used to be. In other words, disruptive science has seen a marked decline since the mid-20th century. This could of course mean we’ve reached a plateau and we aren’t able at this time to make more disruptive discoveries.

But it could also mean science as a whole is less interested in looking for disruptions.

As such, elephants in the room such as a decline in religious life and a rise in self-harm (as well as harm to others, which the study didn’t cover but which I think is also directly related) are simply not seen. People don’t want to see them, perhaps. Or they’re simply so inculcated in a particular line of thought as to not even conceive of such possibilities.

I also think there are deeper spiritual powers at work here. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to think of Satan and his powers being particularly interested in prompting lines of thought and inquiry that appear to render religious understandings of creation invalid. And that having accomplished this (or convincing enough people that it was accomplished) there’s no further diabolical interest in sparking scientific inquiry in such directions. After all, a diabolical misdirect might be discovered if science was truly as objective as it claims to be. Since people are inherently non-objective, the idea that science is not either shouldn’t be a shocker to anyone, peer reviews and other mechanisms aside.

It could also be that science has reached a certain level of institutionalization, financially and otherwise, where bold ideas are suppressed as unhelpful to the larger edifice. Scientists nurtured from primary school through their doctoral work might be so inculcated in an acceptance of the status quo that outside thought seems, well, blasphemous. As well as directly threatening to their livelihood. We witness the vitriol and professional bans applied against those who dare disagree with an established line of scientific thought, and it’s obvious that even the best-intentioned of scientists or academics would be loathe to challenge such a juggernaut. Watching your funding disappear and facing the wrath of school administrators is terrible. Being blacklisted on social media for simply asking questions is the same sort of terrorism those now in control (apparently) of our culture levied against the cultural movers and shakers of just a few generations ago.

I’m all for science in it’s proper contexts. But it’s no shock to me that those contexts have been warped and exceeded wildly on the one hand, and curtailed perhaps unprofitably on the other hand. Science as a monolithic institution of sorts may find itself caught in the very same difficulties it so glibly derided the Church for (and not entirely unfairly, to be sure). Either reason or faith when misapplied or misdirected can be terribly damaging, and Satan has proven himself adept at using whichever extreme is most advantageous at the moment.

Nary A Peep

November 4, 2022

As I blogged about earlier this year, the continued media hypocrisy about older men and younger women (and not older women and younger men) continues. Cher is out with someone over half a century younger than her and the Internet thinks this is just juicy and peachy. No hint of accusations against some sort of matriarchal scheme. Granted, the article specifically states the nature of the relationship between Cher and AE is not clear, but it also goes to lengths to clear the way for the possibility of something romantic, ending on the subject of AE’s singleness.

I’m not trying to argue this sort of age difference is ideal (if it is romantic in nature), just highlighting the very different response from people at large when it’s the woman who is older and the man who is younger. Maybe people need to just chill out a bit.

Beauty into Ashes

October 23, 2022

It’s been quite a week or two for museums, climate warriors, and art. Once again eco-warriors have attempted to deface or destroy a work of art because they don’t feel people are doing enough to save the environment. The first thing that came to mind when viewing this and recent similar headlines is the short story The Smile by Ray Bradbury. In that story civilization is already destroyed and lost when art is being defaced. I guess the folks who have been busy in the past few weeks are just starting the artistic destruction early.

First off, I’d argue that a trip to a museum to see renderings of natural beauty is probably a good step towards climate awareness and a keener interest in whether or not there actually is anything we can do individually and collectively to prevent greater loss.

Secondly, what would these two young people rather the people in the museum be doing? What specifically are they demanding? How do they know what these people have or have not done towards climate change mitigation? The assumption seems to be people who have the ability to be in a museum instead of a workplace are likely to be more to blame for climate change? Is this a protest against climate indifference or wealth? Could these misguided protestors separate the two? Should they?

Fourth, their righteous indignation is incredibly arrogant. That’s not their fault, but the fault of their teachers and everyone else who has espoused or mouthed the mantra that the climate is changing, it’s entirely our fault, and it is therefore entirely preventable by us. Anyone who questions this mantra at all is harangued for denying the first part about the climate changing, and hardly ever is there any serious examination of the other two portions. Given even my rudimentary knowledge of geology and earth science, I’m aware the earth has gone through repeated cycles of comparative heating and cooling. Ice masses have advanced and retreated before, and we certainly either weren’t around (allegedly) or were not industrialized to the point we could possibly be blamed. Yet I never hear this discussed, either in semi-scientific articles for the masses, or in the destruction by young ideologues like these two.

Should we manage to alter the climate change, the world will still be significantly poorer for the loss of great art weaponized in an attempt to galvanize the general public to an unspecified goal via undetermined means. I don’t consider myself much of an art connoisseur, but it seems a great shame regardless of the outcome of the climate situation to sacrifice these valuable interpretations and reflections on the climate we are apparently losing.

Revisionist History In One Lifetime

October 4, 2022

I’m sure all of you have heard the news by now. How could you not have?!

Velma is gay.

At least, Velma of 2000-2022 is gay. The article gushes about how this has been a long time in coming, citing Scooby Doo “creatives” who wanted to make her sexual orientation obvious as far back as 20 years ago.

Wow. Twenty whole years ago. That’s a long time. But not hardly as long a time as Velma has existed. Scooby Doo, Where Are You? ran as an animated series from 1969-1970 (and in other iterations through 1973) and has lived on in syndication ever after. And there’s not a word in this article from any of Scooby Doo’s original creatives about Velma’s sexual orientation. Or any of the other characters for that matter. Strange, huh?

Not too strange. First of all, the original creators are all dead.

Secondly it’s not strange because truly, the Scooby Doo of the 21st century bears little resemblance to the original series. Some 30-years on, the characters are reimagined through modern sensibilities. Obviously there must be sexual tension between the characters, right? That’s what every teenager is most obsessed with, right? Daphne and Fred with their good looks surely must be an item, or an item in the making? And no teenage boy eats a lot naturally, Shaggy must really be a stoner. Velma all nerdy and awkward? Surely she’s lesbian. Frankly I’m surprised there isn’t speculation about Scooby’s orientation. Or that awful additional character, Scrappy Doo.

While the creators of the series are all dead, many of the voice actors are not. I’d be curious what Nicole Jaffe, the primary voice actress for Velma, would have to say about her character’s orientation, or if there was any thought given to that at all.

I grew up watching this show and loved it deeply. At 22-minutes a pop it’s certainly not Sherlock Holmes quality mystery, but it was great fun. And sexuality and sexual orientations never entered into the equation. Understandably, since it was a show aimed at kids and we still as a culture believed at that point in time that sexuality and sexual themes were inappropriate in children’s programming.

My, how much has changed.

Of course there’s no need to talk to these people for clarification of original intents and purposes. Such information is irrelevant today. What matters now is what we choose to make of something, how we opt to interpret it. And while history is always undergoing revisionism of one sort or another, it’s hard to believe it could occur so quickly and with so little regard or attention to the primary source materials.

It’s a shame that a teenager can no longer just be nerdy and awkward, or even not obsessed with the opposite sex. Or the same sex. And while I’ll admit that some interpretations may sound plausible given the timeframe the series was created, it’s a shame that those interpretation eclipse the actual original reality of a silly series about a talking dog and crime-fighting friends that transcend typical teen cliques.

It’s a shame that such an ‘inclusive’ idea isn’t radical enough any more.

A Needed Gospel

October 2, 2022

I was having a theological discussion the other day with a friend regarding the challenge of sharing the Gospel in some cultures, particularly affluent ones. I pointed out that in such situations there might be no perceived need for the Gospel to address, and therefore people would be less open to the Gospel. He countered that we have to be careful about tailoring the Gospel to fit the perceived needs of recipients. This is a flaw in a great deal of global Christianity through the heretical prosperity gospel, which preaches that faith in God will naturally lead to tangible, economic benefits that will improve the lives of the faithful because God the Father’s intent is to lavish his good gifts upon us.

As I contemplated the discussion later, I kept coming back to this issue of need and the Gospel. It’s a historical reality that the Gospel often finds the most faithful and eager adherents among the most marginalized of society. Whether it was the lepers and the prostitutes blessed by Jesus directly, or the lower classes of Greek and Roman society who heard the disciples preach, or the poorer citizens of cultures around the world – such as the untouchable class in India’s Hindu caste system – people with very real and imminent needs often hear the Gospel more clearly and place their faith in it more readily.

After all, their other options might be few to none.

Add to this the Church’s historic (and present) practice of providing help and relief to the suffering both locally and globally, and it makes sense that people suffering through dire need who hear the Gospel and are assisted by those already professing it would be more open to making it their own faith. They’ve seen it in action.

It sounds good, but the flip side is just as slippery. Should a perceived need not be met by the Gospel or the Church, it might be equally easy for someone new in the faith or only shallowly familiar with it to despair and give up the Gospel in search of another, better option. Or the option of giving up entirely. My friend is right, relying on the ability to assist with a particular need in terms of tangible aid is a potentially dangerous confusion of the Gospel.

But the reality remains that the Gospel does meet our needs. And it should be preached and taught as such. But this requires adequate teaching to counteract the default cultural teaching and assumptions about life and reality. It requires an active counterpoint to cultural mantras (at least in the West) of rugged individualism or the promises of science and technology to solve our problems. It requires a more fundamental awareness of the Big Picture. This can’t be stressed enough, particularly in cultures where there no longer is a Big Picture. Where there’s nothing but the abyss of meaninglessness that logically follows in a mechanistic universe formed by accident. When culture insists there is no meaning in anything or anyone, the Church must work harder to teach that there is meaning in everything and everyone.

The Gospel does meet our needs, but those needs are not always (or ultimately) a matter of food or clothing or money. The Gospel fulfills our deepest needs and longings, but in many places those needs or longings have been buried under nothingness. There is no explanation for the sense of guilt, or disappointment, or frustration. And there is no fundamental hope that things can, should, or will be radically different at some point in the future. There can only be the vague encouragements to pretend life has meaning and to soldier on through suffering.

Given the skyrocketing rates of violence in the West – both in suicide as well as in the wanton destruction of other lives – such encouragements are understandably less than convincing. Evolutionary theory and natural selection can’t address the fundamental issues we face as human beings – why am I here? why is there suffering? why should I endure suffering? why should I help others? why should I continue on day after day when I’m unhappy? will there ever be anything more or better than this?

But the Gospel can and does answer these questions. It provides the meta-answers that place the problems human face individually and corporately in perspective, providing ways and means of interpreting them, coping with them, and continuing on in the face of adversity. As such the Gospel not only meets our needs, it defines them for us. We might be happy enough to simply acknowledge unhappiness with our lives, dissatisfaction with our jobs, loneliness from a lack of meaningful connection to other people. But the Word of God lifts our eyes to the Big Picture. A Big Picture that accounts for why we deal with such things, how we can deal with them better, and provides the all-important basis for hope to endure – things will not always be this way. There is a better day coming – the Day of the Lord.

So I’d still argue that the Gospel does address our needs and it’s not wrong to talk about it in such terms, so long as we allow Scripture rather than our sinful and narrow-minded hearts to define what our needs are. My need is not more followers on my blog, or more money in the bank, or a better car or a prettier wife or better behaved children. My needs are at the core of my being and cannot be addressed by more zeros at the end of my bank balance.

Let the Gospel address the needs people have, because it has addressed – and defined – the needs of those who share it. Jesus is the answer not just to temporary happiness or satisfaction but to the deepest existential questions existence conjures. Including, sometimes, hunger and nakedness and oppression. And miracle of miracles, the Gospel draws us in to sometimes be direct or indirect contributors to meeting the needs of those around us, which we find usually results in our own needs being met at the same time.

Say What?

June 27, 2022

I’m sorry, can you explain this?

‘Experts’ are warning of a rise in infant mortality rate with the undoing of Roe v. Wade. Claiming an additional 75,000 births per year could be expected if abortion is not readily available on demand everywhere.

Compare that to over 60,000,000 abortions since 1973.

First off, if we are worried about infant mortality, shouldn’t we be more worried about the number of infants killed via abortion rather than the statistically much smaller number of infants potentially at risk through pregnancy complications? If we’re going to throw numbers around, which ones are bigger?

And doesn’t infant mortality imply that unborn children are actually, you know, children? Oh wait – I forget – they’re only human children if you want them to be. Otherwise they’re fingernails. My bad.

Moreover, they’re predicting a greater impact for people of color, which to my mind means that people of color were aborting babies at a higher percentage than people-of-no-color (?). So if more people of color were getting abortions, then how is it that more of their children are going to die without abortion?

I’m also curious about blanket statements such as this:

Pregnant people of color have long been marginalized and neglected in the medical system, frequently experiencing racism and discrimination at all points of care.

I’d be curious to see supporting documentation on this. But to just throw it out there as an accepted fact? Hmmm. Problematic to me.

And of course the logical conclusion is that the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is racist. If people aren’t allowed to abort their unborn children before childbirth stage, more of them are going to die.

What?

Legislating Reality

May 22, 2022

Getting a kick out of all the uproar now that people are finally doing the math (or having the math done for them) and finding out Laura Dern was 23 in the original Jurassic Park movie, cast opposite her leading man Sam Neil who was 20 years her senior.

A few interesting observations.

I’ll assume Dern and other appropriately anti-patriarchy folks talked with Amber Heard a scant seven years ago when she married Johnny Depp, who is 23 years her senior. In real life.

In case folks are worried this was just an example of Hollywood wanting a younger woman with an older male actor, the book apparently also indicates there is a roughly 20-year age difference in the couple.

Dern herself notes at that at the time it seemed “appropriate” to love her co-star despite the age-difference.

However with 30 years to look back on it, she no longer feels this ought to have been the case then, or should be the case now.

In which case, what would an appropriate age difference be between a man and a woman? Or is a 20-year gap acceptable so long as there are an equal number of similarly profiled pairings? So for every Heard-Depp with 20+ years on the guy, there needs to be another high-profile couple where the woman is 20 years older than the man?

Makes me wonder why it felt “appropriate” to her back then but not so now? It seems clear she has a good relationship with her co-star. I’m sure that made their pairing all those years ago much more natural and easy for her to believe. And which may lead one to the conclusion that it isn’t simply male-dominance forcing young women into relationships with older men, but rather there are situations where the age difference (in either direction) seems less important than the quality of the connection and chemistry.

I won’t argue Hollywood clearly has a bias favoring younger actresses paired with older actors. I won’t even argue this is problematic at some level. But what level? At a patriarchy level? What does that even mean in this context? Was it wrong of the author to conceive of such a relationship? Wrong for Hollywood to cast it? Wrong for Dern and/or Neil to accept it? What should they have insisted on instead?

As a father of a daughter, what should I tell my daughter? Certainly if she were to be courted by a significantly older guy I would have my concerns. But should I tell her he can’t be more than 10 years her senior? Five? Fifteen? Should I recognize that sometimes, love transcends age and it isn’t exploitation or the patriarchy or anything nefarious? I’d like to think that with my daughter – as well as my sons – the quality of the person they consider spending time with is going to factor more heavily than simply an age, while trying not to be naive about the risks posed in potential spouses who are considerably older. But to simply declare an arbitrary age as disgusting or inappropriate seems just as disempowering as whatever alleged patriarchy threats Dern imagines.

Some people age better than others, not just physically but as a person, making them attractive to a broader age-range of the opposite sex. Hollywood typically shows us younger women with older men, but I believe it probably happens the other direction just as frequently. The important thing in both the fictional and real world is that the relationship works. And that will necessitate additional efforts when there is a significant age disparity involved.

At least we’ve all got something new to be indignant about. Lord knows, that’s what we need.

Another Good Article

May 19, 2022

I think I’m going to continue to enjoy seeing posts from this blog site. The latest installment has to do with singing the psalms.

To be fair, I don’t think I ever sang the psalms congregationally for the first half or more of my life. Nor did a pastor or other person chant them in worship. They were often absent, or relegated to the printout of the readings on the back of the bulletin. I was vaguely aware that some congregations might actually incorporate them in some manner, but never thought much about it. That was ignorance on my part. That has to do I’m sure with number 2 on his list of why congregations don’t sing the psalms any more. We are culturally conditioned, and unfortunately our churches have allowed themselves to be culturally conditioned as well, so more ancient practices are less common or non-existent in many places. If the church doesn’t counter-condition members, then some beautiful things preserved for centuries get lost in a matter of a few months or years.

Nor do I think singing the psalms needs to be liturgically mandated. Again, I’m probably guilty of number 2. There are others who disagree with me strongly on this and I respect their position and think I understand why they hold it. While I’ve learned a lot about liturgical history I’m not positive we know exactly how Jesus sung them. What pointings? What tones? And Jesus as incarnate man was also culturally conditioned to a certain extent – a pious (to say the least!) Jew of the first century. We need to carefully think about whether his worship style and practice is descriptive or prescriptive.

But I do believe the psalms have an important and useful place in worship, and the more they are used – and used in their entirety – the better. I believe the appointed psalm for a Sunday should also be considered when preparing the sermon – just as I think all the assigned readings in a lectionary ought to be considered and not just the Gospel reading. A lectionary arranges these readings to complement one another to some degree (depending on the liturgical season), and to ignore this loses some of the depth possible in preaching.

When I was younger I didn’t like the psalms. Or more accurately, I didn’t think they offered much. I’ve changed my mind on that. Perhaps I’ll change my mind on the importance of chanting/singing them (and chanting/singing them a certain way). For now I’ll simply lend an amen to anything that provides the people of God with more regular and broad access to his Word and how it can be lived out in their public and private lives.

Why? Because it’s God’s Word, and this is supposed to make people uncomfortable and question their predispositions and assumptions about the world, their neighbors, and themselves. It should drive them to meditation and prayer and repentance regularly – ideally daily at least! And if Scripture is making us uncomfortable, it’s even more important to understand why that is.

Soft Peddling Drugs

May 17, 2022

I hate articles like this. I have no idea who this guy is and have never heard his music or witnessed his lifestyle. But he’s dead and probably didn’t need to die according to the tone of the article, citing past battles over the years with drugs and alcohol. But this is glossed over with the following statement he was clean and sober of late.

We’ve seen no shortage of luminous, talented celebrities dying before any of us were ready to handle their absence. And in no small measure, a stunning majority likely had their battles over the years with drugs and alcohol, even if they had eventually given up such habits or bowed to the necessities of age in growing more moderate. Without fail, the articles about their passing never condemn drug and alcohol abuse as true contributing factors in any substantive ways. Even if autopsy results credit drugs and alcohol, this is often chalked up to the celebrity lifestyle, as if talent is some sort of immunity against the very physical as well as mental and spiritual debilitations of substance abuse, prescribed or otherwise.

Until success is no longer viewed as justification for such abuse, deaths like this will continue to occur. None of us knows the number of our days, to be sure. But certainly certain practices up the odds that we will leave this earth sooner that we (or others) might prefer.

Granted, the Rolling Stones are a singular exception to this, but exceptions by no means invalidate well-defined rules and expectations!

So it’s too bad this guy died. Too bad he might have come to his senses too late, after apparently considerable damage had already been done, and I pray his hope and faith was ultimately not in his dealer but in his Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. I pray other rising stars take seriously these examples, and I pray the media-subset that thrives on celebrity lives and lifestyles would quit condoning and approving of such indulgences with a wink-wink-nod-nod sort of reporting style.

Abandoning the Field, and the Need to Redefine the Field

May 14, 2022

The last of my long-neglected articles is this essay by professor (former, now) speaker, thinker and writer Jordan Peterson.

This is a fantastic, no-punches-pulled essay. I believe Peterson has rightly diagnosed an extremely dangerous shift in our culture, one that I’ve been warning about for over a decade. It is not something that is going to go away any time soon. But there are hopeful signs that some leaders are fed up with it and willing to take a stand against it. The best example of this is Netflix, who seemed to be on the ropes last year with employees trying to hold the company hostage in order to force programming and production changes along the lines of what Peterson talks about. But rather than cave (and there was definitely wobbling last year), Netflix has decided that the honesty of artistic expression (and hopefully corresponding capital rewards) outweigh cancel culture. In a memo last week Netflix suggested employees who can’t handle any of the content Netflix produces or sells should consider working elsewhere rather than attempting hostage-techniques to wrest control of the company.

Not surprisingly, media coverage of this memo has been decidedly muted in comparison to the non-stop coverage of a handful of irate employees demanding sweeping changes and control of Netflix content last year. We can only hope more CEOs will follow suit.

It’s tempting to blame Peterson for abandoning the field. After all, if there aren’t holdouts against the rising order, can we ever hope for change? And wasn’t it exactly that tactic of gradual infiltration that ultimately turned American universities into bastions of radical liberal ideology? But I have to admit Peterson makes some good points. The very folks inclined to seek out his mentorship will be rewarded, no doubt, with bright scarlet letters atop their curriculum vitae in any academic HR department or before any hiring committee. He makes a good case that he’s actually doing limited good and by redirecting his efforts he might have a broader impact. Perhaps, within the echo-chamber of existing like-minded people.

But it seems Peterson should do more than lambast his peers who hide and curry favor in order to keep their jobs. Something different is called for, I’d suggest. A turning away from the increasing cycle of more and more years of public education and corresponding radical ideology. What is required is a re-thinking of whether universal university education is an expectation that provides any real degree of value. There will always be a need and place for people who do require advanced or specialized types of training, though I’d argue alternatives could and should be developed still to mandatory undergraduate and graduate degrees for doctors and other professionals. Peterson seems to accept the mandate that has grown unceasingly over the last 40 years – universal university education is a good goal and a benefit to both the individual and society.

But as pressure mounts to eliminate some or all student loan debt, this clearly is a flawed premise. Even when I was in high school in the early 80’s there was already a stigma against vocational education. Maybe more effort should be directed at countering this stigma and providing recognition of honorable work that doesn’t require a degree. While I’m not familiar with and therefore not endorsing everything Mike Rowe might be saying, I do respect his critique of the denigration in American society of vocational training and jobs as somehow menial and non-respectable.

Hopefully Peterson will find that broader platform he hints at. His voice is much needed. But one voice isn’t nearly enough.