Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Gospel in Les Misérables

"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people."
--Jeremiah 31:33 (NIV) 

The historical relationship between the Christian and the state has always been a case of curiosity. This is all the more exemplified when we see around us those self-proclaimed followers of Christ trying to bring about the kingdom of God through mimetic games designed by the state priesthood. This effort of blending two religions (one centered around Christ mimesis and the other centered on the imitation of man) together is an exercise in futility. The truth is that the incarnation paves the way for the destruction of governments on a worldwide scale. Some two thousand years ago, a babe born into an obscure middle-eastern town heralded the coming of God's kingdom and the death of empires and government. The life that came out from the virgin would destroy governments once and for all, but this destruction would come only through the viral imitation of that very life itself.

In Victor Hugo's novel 'Les Misérables' we can see how imitation of Christ leads to a contagion of God's love through individuals that ultimately affects society at large. Jean Valjean is a former convict who is shown mercy by an old priest when he is caught stealing. This act of compassion from the priest amazes Valjean so much that the criminal decides to embrace the forgiving priest as his new model. By embracing the priest as his model for imitation, Valjean has effectively chosen to imitate Christ; he is now the Christ-man. As a result of his decision, Jean Valjean rises up to become the mayor of a small town through nothing but small yet significant acts of charity and kindness. He is always helping the needy and downtrodden, and he is always humble and discreet in his actions. Soon however, his very existence is thrown up for grabs with the entrance of the zealot police inspector Javert, who wishes to exert the full force of the law upon Valjean's town, even if it means throwing reformed men into cages like animals for past sins. In more simple terms, Javert is the spirit of the accuser, more aptly described in scripture as Satan.

One day, inspector Javert comes across a wretched prostitute who has just struck a man in self defense. Javert commands his men to have the prostitute thrown in jail. He ignores the prostitute's pleas of mercy and is ruthless with his decision, but in comes Valjean, who exercises his much superior authority and pardons the prostitute. Valjean even goes as far as to medically treat the prostitute when she is dying, and he promises to take care of the prostitute's daughter. This throws Javert and Valjean into a head-on collision course. The eventual unmasking of Valjean as an ex-convict causes Valjean to flee with the prostitute's daughter. But Javert will not stop in his pursuit of justice, and he chases Valjean across the country.

Javert is the personification of the state. He is the state's high priest. His unquenchable desire to uphold the law is revealed to be ancient in origin and, hence, sacrificial. Today, many intellectuals speak of the violence of religion, yet very few speak of the violence of the state. The state is very religious, not many dare to recognize this. It operates through the ancient but effective sacrificial mechanism. Scapegoats, violent and non violent offenders, are routinely thrown into cages by the priesthood; this keeps the state in existence, and the catharsis just balmy enough to contain a full fledged all-against-all war. Valjean, on the other hand, is the Christ imitator. He is a priest of the kingdom of God. He is chained to Christ mimesis, and thus cannot use violence and coercion. His only weapon is the crucified life of Christ.

Whereas Javert does not care about a man's potential to reform, Valjean forgives freely. Javert is the law through coercion while Valjean is the law through imitation. One mercilessly throws human beings into cages and the other turns the cheek. The two are, for obvious reasons, irreconcilable.

Javert is finally able to apprehend his man after years of pursuit, but he realizes the superiority of Valjean's law and concludes that he is made directionless because of Valjean's Christ-man. He realizes the immorality of the state's use of violence and the brutal nature of its prisons where countless men languish and are broken forever. The inspector lets go of his man, and commits suicide, marking the obsolete nature of the state in the presence of a viral Christian mimesis.

To this day, thousands suffer in prison. The state-engineered media will echo the violence committed by people, but it will always downplay the violence of the state. Little is spoken of the widespread rape of offenders in prisons across the world. A man guilty of not paying back loans is just as likely to be raped as the vicious murderer. And all this while under the supervision of the state's priesthood. This is the cold reality of governments everywhere.

The state has always been a continuation of religion; violence and coercion has always been it's ritual sacrifice. But this does not mean that we should rise up and rebel against it in a mimetic manner. Such stupidity is reserved for the Marxists and clueless leftists. God revealed to us what we must do while living under the state. His answer is Jesus. This answer is amplified in Victor's Hugo's Jean Valjean. The ex-convict Valjean shows mercy not only to the victims, but also to the oppressors. His form of justice is restorative and does not require scapegoats. He helps out the workers. He practices benevolence towards those who are unfortunate enough in society. He becomes father and protector to an orphaned girl. And he, on more than one occasion, spares Javert's life.

The life of the fictional Valjean is a mirror image of the divine Savior. His life is an excellent example of how Christians must behave under the tyranny of the state. Only a fool would take the state, which makes full use of the scapegoat mechanism, as a moral agent of society. The true moral agent for mankind is and has always been none other than Jesus Christ, and his imitation, and the viral nature of it, renders all government and religious institutions obsolete.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Persecutor Within Us

'You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye.'

Too many times, we take this particular saying of Jesus and apply it to anyone else but ourselves. This is the problem that confronts us when we read scripture with a self-centered, ideological lens. Judgment is always aimed at the reader's enemy, but benediction is always conveniently bestowed on the reader and reader alone. The outcome of this philosophy is that our own violence is always justified while the violence of the other is the origin itself. This dishonest reading of Jesus' words gives way to mimetic rivalry. Both the envious reader and his opponent mimic each other; one wants the other to 'remove the log for thine own eye,' and in the end, neither remove their respective logs at all!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked that the reader should always read scripture as if God is speaking directly to him/her. The beauty of the above quote by Jesus is that it never works in a third-person setting. If we read the above quote as a third person, we enter into mimeric rivalry. We either start playing the holier-than-thou oppressor or we become the oppressor masquerading as a victim. To fully comprehend what Jesus said, we have to realize that it is we who are the oppressor and accuser. We have to realize that we have been duped by Satan all along, and that we have become Cain, full of resentment and bitterness. In our accusatory spirit we echo killers like Panzram and the Columbine shooters. These people were no different than us. They were full of hatred for humanity. They were full of hatred for being itself. And why wouldn't they be full of hatred? Mass murder is, after all, the endgame of the accusing spirit.

What then can be done about it?

René Girard said, 'Christian conversion is our discovery that we are persecutors without knowing it.' The realization that we can be infinitely more evil than our perceived opponents is the first step. This knowledge should cut to our hearts as it did to the crowd gathered on the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem. It is our scapegoating tendency that nails Christ to the cross over and over again. Obviously, we, as Christians, would not want to do that.

The second step, knowing full well that we are an imitative species, should be the embracing of a perfect source for imitation. Christ is that perfect source. The gospel is designed in such a way that merely preaching it is far less effective than actually living it. The power of imitation cannot be underestimated. We are far more helpful to our oppressive or victimized brothers and sisters when we imitate Jesus. The Nazarene befriended both the tax collector and the Samaritan woman. He healed both the rich and the poor. He healed and fed whoever that approached him. The reason for Christ's scandalous impartiality is his serving attitude towards all. This serving Christ should be our model in a world of sloganeering and accusatory ideals.

This attitude of humility and servitude (not to be confused with self-flagellation), irrespective of persons, is the call of Christ for today's world of the ideologically possessed. The world has seen enough of people who talk the talk but can't walk the walk. We know that the world is full of suffering and misery. We know that there are tyrants, and we know that the pain will never go away. Hence, we need to live out the crucified life of Christ--a life that is true, beautiful, and good, despite the never ending pain and sorrow. We need to echo Jesus' cry of forgiveness from the cross. At the same time, we must never compromise on the truth; the truth being that scapegoating is no friend of God.

To be able to live the crucified Savior's life depends entirely on our deep realization that we are the Columbine shooters. We are Panzram, and we are the Nazi concentration camp guards in waiting. Carl Jung wrote, "No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell." Let us then remember the depths to which we have fallen, and let us, to the everlasting glory of God, become better angels to ourselves and everyone around us while imitating the man who saved us from drowning in the ocean of accusation.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Christ: The Hero for All Men

A post for International Men's Day.

Imitation is perhaps the single greatest driving force in all of humanity's history. Great men all over the world have been inspired to become either heroes or villains. Unfortunately, imitation have led, for the most part, to conflicts which then resulted in scapegoating. This is true when we decipher most of the world's greatest mythologies. But our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shows us how imitation can be a force for good.

Every man needs a hero. When a boy is growing up, the first person he idolizes is his father. The father is often the first source of a boy's imitative learning process. The boy picks up mannerisms, communication skills, and body languages from his father. Our entire culture is a resulting factor because of this kind of imitation. By observing this phenomenon we can conclude that imitation is innate in human beings. And it is because of this that, in order to fulfill our potential as true human beings, we need the greatest source of imitation. That source is none other than Jesus Christ.

Christ is a role model unlike any other. Being a true human being, he is certainly someone we can imitate. But, being a figure of divinity, he cannot be competed against. This is the brilliance of God's positive mimesis. Today, we can imitate and stumble so easily into rivalry because of the near-absence of divine hierarchies. Imagine how many rivalries have sparked into violent conflicts. The unique imitation of Christ does not allow us this worldly rivalry that almost always leads to violence. Christ himself said that he imitates the Father, and therefore, serves humanity. This is the subtle combination of power, authority, and servitude. Who can compete with that?

Christ is the highest order of humanity; therefore, he is the highest order of masculinity. He is both the beginning and the end of the true man. Nietzsche once spoke about embracing the 'beast within' in order to fulfill one's potential. For example, men have an inherent aspect of aggression. Christ, being the fulfillment of true man, beautifully channeled that aggression into an undying love for God's creation, which is why you see Jesus refusing to give up on his people. Even on the cross he cried for the forgiveness of his tormentors. This zeal for his creation would not have been possible if our Savior had been a harmless man.

In his earthly life, Jesus was a polarizing figure--a revolutionary in the truest sense of the word. He made bold claims on just about anything and everything. He did not provide anyone the luxury of calling him a 'good man.' He was either someone you loved or someone you hated. In other words, he was a force to be reckoned with. He dared to eat with the dirty outcastes. He dared to associate with the hypocrite priesthood. He dared to converse with women. He dared to converse with the Romans. He talked to anyone and everyone who were both the impure of society and enemies of the people. He dared to speak boldly, and he didn't mince his words either. He embraced suffering and took on the consequences of his actions. He exuded authority and even claimed divinity. Need there anything else be said about his bravery and will power?

To paraphrase Jordan Peterson, the archtypal male hero is one who 'slays the dragon and rescues the virgin.' Christ is the epitome of this hero-figure. Each of us has a story, and a chance to be a hero of that story. Christ's story is the same as that of us today. We live in a time not too different from his own. There are tyrants and there are manipulators. There are virgins and there's gold. And then there are dragons, both inside and beyond. How can we become heroes of our struggles? I believe the key lies in imitating Christ, for Christ courageously stepped out into the unknown and confronted the ultimate dragon, slaying him by boldly speaking the truth, and proclaiming the love of God on the cross.

As a boy, I've had many heroes or 'role models.' But it was and still is Christ who inspires me. When I think of bravery, I see Christ. When I think of determination, I see Christ. When I think of compassion, I see Christ. For every highest virtue, Christ is the peak of the mountain. Today, I see many men who are starved of inspiration as they drown in an ocean of shallowness and vanity. This is a result of the imitation of false gods. These men need a true hero--someone who can lift them up from the endless pit of defeat and shame, and guide them into becoming men of honor and principle--someone whom others can rely upon. What better inspiration than Jesus? What better guide than the rabbi who pulled Peter from out of the water? What better Savior than the defender of the adulterous woman? What better hero than Christ Jesus?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Christ: The Impetus for True Science

Recently, I was watching a discussion on the topic of 'truth' between Jordan Peterson, Jonathan Pageau, and Bret Weinstein. The three debated for a short time on which is the superior truth: scientific truth or religious truth? Whilst Weinstein argued that scientific truth is superior in the scenario where different beliefs contradict each other, Pageau made the bold claim that science itself was nested in religion. This got me thinking.

Science--the means to understand phenomenon--and the truth it establishes are unable to tell us how we ought to act in a life replete with tragedy and suffering. Though many people have tried to explain away social sustaining elements like ethics and morality, they are not able to explain why human beings have the capacity to develop things such as morality and, more strikingly, have transcendental religious experiences. Authentic Christian ethics and morality are brought forth by the rejection of violent contagion and ignition of the positive mimesis of Jesus Christ. Much of life-affirming scientific advances have come from people who have adhered to a hierarchy of ethics and values, and this heirarchy itself comes from Christian imitation.

Science can be a positive force for humanity only when it seeks to emulate Jesus Christ. For example, scientific advances in medicine can be achieved only when one has the best interest of the neighbor's health in mind. In other words, the heart of the healing Christ gives birth to medicine. On the other hand, medicine can also be used for selfish gains and, in such a case, science does not benefit mankind and medicine ceases to be medicine. Then there are instances when science turns downright sinister. Think of the experiments in the Nazi concentration camps or look up Unit 731, and you'll have those nightmarish images sticking in your mind for a long time. Aushwitz and Unit 731, in their very essence, constitute science without God.

What is truth, and how does this truth benefit us? In the Christian revelation, truth is embodied in a person, and that person is Christ, and in Christ we find the epitome of religious and cosmic truth. In Christ we have not only a role model but the impetus for society and the individual to do good and put a stop to evil. Scientific truth, in and of itself, is unable to stop the violent contagion that multiplies misery and resentment of being. It is no good to have facts presented to us just as they are; we must be able to do something with them. This is where God comes in. Only a positive mimesis of Christ can provide a foundation for scientific endeavors that seek to alleviate the ills of the world and the human soul.

In summary, any scientific achievement, in order to be 'good' for humanity, must be rooted in God for it to become true science and not sadism. Likewise, it must also be noted that belief without science is just as shallow as science without belief. An unbelieving scientist has the potential to become a sadistic Henry Cotton while an unscientific Christian has the potential to become a manipulative Rasputin.

Christ, who is the root of all life-affirming morals, is the role model for true science. He becomes the driving factor for all that is good. Humanity and all its accomplishments, including that of science, are clueless without him.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Scapegoat Mechanism in the Ancient and Modern World

Before the non-violent Christian revelation, society was largely steeped in child sacrifice and witch hunting. Conflict and disease were widespread as usual, but the solution to these problems was almost always a lynching at the hands of a mob. We see this in an episode in the life of Apollonius of Tyana. When the Ephesians were faced with a plague epidemic, Apollonius urged the Ephesian mob to pick up their stones. He directed the crowd towards a dirty beggar, designated that beggar as an 'enemy of the gods,' and ordered the crowd to execute the filthy man. The heavily mythologized version of this story narrates the beggar turning into a demon-hound as he is being killed, thus vindicating the crowd's outrage. The story of Oedipus is similar. Oedipus has to be the scapegoat to save his city, but he must also be guilty, therefore he is guilty of murder and incest.

The Minotaur of Greek mythology is another victim depicted as a villainous half man, half animal. This otherizing and animalizing of the victim in ancient mythologies is very common. They hide the fact that the victim is made in God's image and is precious before God's eye. In ancient societies, individuals who were physically deformed or mentally disabled were picked out, identified as demons, and sacrificed for the 'greater good' of many. Children were routinely dispensed with in order to quench the thirst of violent gods. The eating of human flesh--cannibalism--was another aspect to this scapegoat phenomenon where the victim is consumed for the 'health' of the society. This was the mechanism of pre-Christ humanity. The crucifixion of Jesus turns this machine inside out.

On the cross, Christ thoroughly deconstructs the scapegoat mechanism. He deconstructs witch hunting, child sacrifice, and cannibalism, and lays them bare for the evil that they are. He reasserts the Judaic concept of the innocence of the victim, and shatters the violent machinery of Satan by turning the accuser's very own machine upside down. No longer can humanity hide the scapegoat machine under the cloak of mythology, for Christ simply stripped it bare.

In the Christian age, scapegoating and witch hunting did not cease, but they were also recognized as evil acts repugnant to God. In other words, the blood of sacrifices haunted Christian societies, reminding them of Jesus being crucified all over again in the form of witches, heretics, and Jews. Eventually, the scapegoat phenomenon came to be universally decried as an act of evil.

Today, we are witnessing the return of scapegoating. With the abandoning of God, no more is an individual seen as precious and part of the transcendent. The only identities are worldly identities. The so-called secular humanist principle is that goodness can be achieved without the divine. But what secularism fails to understand is that humanity stripped of its transcendent value is even more susceptible to violence than it already is. This is why the twentieth century gave us the nuclear bomb--the single most potent weapon capable of wiping out the entire human species. Secular ideology also fails to recognize that diversity and equality are not synonymous with the scapegoate mechanism. This is why scapegoating has returned with a vengeance, but under the clever guise of social justice. Whereas once social justice movements involved the use of non-violence, today just about any street thug can pick up a weapon and declare that he/she is out to protect victims. It is as René Girard says in his book 'I See Satan Fall Like Lightning,'

'The Majestic Inauguration of the "Post Christian era" is a joke. We are living through a caricatural "Ultra Christianity" that tries to escape from the Judaeo-Christian orbit by "radicalizing" the concern for victims in an anti-Christian manner.'

The postmodern ideology of social justice is a subtle but obvious weapon of Satan. The ideologues of this outfit are in constant search for victims, and they are also always on the lookout for oppressors. Child sacrifice has also returned. 'Demon children' suffering from conditions such as Down Syndrome are often eliminated through abortion. It is disturbing that many of today's Christians no longer stand with the victim who is the single most persecuted being in society--the human child.

If we are to be known as Christians today then we must abandon the mimetic games designed for us by other humans. We must realize that many of our own has bought into the lie of the accuser. Those that have sold out to the lie can be found 'defending victims' from their pulpits and using guilt-inducing terminology most often related to a person's social identity and class. When a Christian uses words terms such as 'you're privileged' and 'you're mansplaining,' he/she is in effect saying that 'you are Oedipus--a murderer and a rapist. You must gauge out your own eyeballs to save the "victim" whom you are oppressing.' The Christian who uses such kinds of words and phrases that were designed by the secular state's priesthood has effectively chosen to worship the accusing Apollonius instead of the crucified Christ.

Christians must reject violence and coercion or else they will knowingly or unknowingly become violence unto others. The spirit of the accuser is alive and well. It roars like a lion eager for prey. A Christ follower must become aware of these hungry roars behind the prevailing hateful ideologies that masquerade as social activism and secular humanism. Our allegiance is to the King above, not to the ones below. Our Master and Savior is brother to all. He ate with both the rulers and the marginalized. He befriended both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. He healed both the Centurion's servant and the blind man. His mission is not of worldly justice but of world reconciliation. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Übermensch vs the Christ-man

Both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky lived around the same time in the late nineteenth century--a time of the fall of Christian values and the rise of rationalism and nihilism. While Nietzsche lamented the 'death of God,' Dostoevsky concluded that 'everything is permitted.' The two existentialists' thoughts ran almost parallel to each other until Nietzsche proclaimed that men must now rise above the herd and transcend beyond good and evil. Nietzsche was foreshadowing the emergence of the 'Übermensch'--the man who would forge his own values free of God. Meanwhile, Dostoevsky was formulating in advance his answer to Nietzsche's Übermensch, and this answer was modeled on none other than Jesus Christ.

In each of Dostoevsky's last novels we see the figure of Christ presented through the unlikeliest of characters. Alyosha--the troubled novice monk who must travel outside of his monastery to spread the gospel. Sonya--the self-sacrificing prostitute who brings salvation to a murderer. Both these characters are Nietschean in a certain sense. All three survive betrayal and tragedies. They survive that which 'does not kill them,' and emerge stronger. But the one who truly makes them stronger is Christ.

Dostoevsky's Übermensch is Christ. His Übermensch, in stark contrast to Nietszche, does not transcend beyond good and evil, but, rather, becomes a bridge between heaven and hell. Dostoevsky's heroes, Alyosha and Sonya, live inside the hellish realm that is the reality of the world in which we live in, yet they embody and spread all that is good and become Christ-figures to their societies. Though they cannot escape hell, they nevertheless bring light to all those who are trapped alongside them, often at the cost of themselves. Their hearts, despite enduring much pain, are entrenched in that which cannot be seen. They redeem the world through their supposed weakness--their weakness being the imitation of Christ.

Unlike Nietszche's Übermensch, Dostoevsky's Christ-man moves gracefully under the structures of authority. Whereas the Übermensch imposes his will on the structures themselves, the Christ-man transcends the structures and deals with the battle at the very root--the heart of man. The Christ-man seeks to transform the human soul, not subdue or coerce it through sheer dominance. Redemption lies in mimicking Christ, not in building up a brand new human from scratch, for the brand new human was already revealed in the form of a Jewish rabbi two thousand years ago. Jesus was and always will be the solution to the countless diseases that plague the human heart. He is the greatest example of positive mimesis--the ultimate role model.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Gospel in 'Crime and Punishment'

In Dostoevsky's 'Crime and Punishment,' the protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, believes he is special and can, quite literally, get away with murder. He brutally murders two women with an axe, just to prove his point. But soon, he is torn apart by the constant battle between his conscience and rationale. This causes him great physical and mental anguish. He howls and rages in agony. He is endlessly tormented, and, as a result, lashes out against those who try to help him. One day, he meets a woman by the name of Sonya. Rodion falls in love with this overwhelmingly humble and shunned lady. He is strangely attracted to Sonya and even confesses his sins to her, albeit in pride. Sonya, upon hearing Rodion's confession, urges him to turn himself over to the authorities. But, she also says that she will follow Rodion into captivity, promising to never leave him.

Dostoevsky presents to us how mere mortals must imitate Christ in this fallen world. Rodion is the person we are before and in the state of conversion. After all, his name literally means 'schism.' Sonya, on the other hand, is how a Christ-follower is supposed to act. Astonishingly, Dostoevsky portrays the only Christian in his novel as a harlot. How ironic! Aren't we all harlots in our own unique ways? Sonya is basically us, broken and ashamed, but always striving like a child to be like Christ. When Sonya hears Raskolnikov's confession, she does not cast judgement upon him, despite the fact that one of Raskolnikov's victims was her friend. Sonya instead weeps and embraces Raskolnikov, choosing to speak to the murderer's suffering soul. She could have quite easily exposed Raskolnikov to society and thus exacted 'justice.' But she refuses to do this. Why? There is no why! It's because she truly loves Raskolnikov. She urges Raskolnikov to turn himself in so that his conversion might be complete.

When Raskolnikov is in prison, Sonya, true to her promise, keeps visiting him. However, Raskolnikov is still proud and unrepentant. He tries to justify his crime, stating that he killed only worthless human beings. But nevertheless, Sonya continues to offer compassion. One day, she falls sick and is unable to visit, and Raskolnikov becomes restless because of her absence. When Sonya resumes her visit, Raskolnikov cannot control himself. He falls to her feet in repentance. They embrace each other through tears and recognize that many years of suffering still lie ahead, but they have each other.

True repentance and reconciliation can never occur unless we are ready to travel to the deepest depths of hell with the tormented. In order to do that, we must forego all ideas of retributive justice. It isn't easy; no one said it was.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

'A Clockwork Orange' and victim-based politics

In the movie 'A Clockwork Orange, ' the central character is a hooligan, murderer, and rapist. His name is Alex and he enjoys what he describes as 'a bit of the old ultraviolence.' He beats up homeless men, rivals, and even his own gangmembers. He rapes women on a regular basis. And when he goes back home at night, he listens to his favorite composer--Beethoven. Believe it or not, Alex is us; he is you and me. Given the right circumstances, we are liable to become ultraviolent just like Alex. We can become the murderer or the victim, depending on one's ideological perspective.

The movie is also an interesting commentary on the political spectrum of our society. When Alex is apprehended, he is put forward as the recipient of a mind-altering treatment. He is forced into endless sessions of watching violent films, and, as a result, he develops a physical sickness whenever he is confronted with a violent situation. Unfortunately, he also, rather inadvertently, develops a sickness towards Beethoven's music. The reigning government--a liberal one--hails Alex's cure to the press, proclaiming it as a fulfillment of their promises to rid the streets of crime, all but ensuring their reelection in the coming election.

When he is released, Alex's physical ailments start to get the best of him. Violence is unavoidable, and so are violent circumstances. Whenever he is attacked, whether by hooligans or homeless drunkards, Alex cannot fight back, and, as a result, he is beaten up by almost everyone. Worse, he becomes a pawn for political fanatics. The conservative opposition manages to get a hold of him, seeing in him an opportunity to strike at the liberal ruling party. They manage to get Alex to attempt suicide by forcing him to listen to Beethoven's music in a locked room. The story is put through the press. The ruling party are cornered because of the devastating affects of the supposed cure for violent behavior. True to the realistic narrative, the liberals treat Alex again, this time reversing the cure. Now, Alex is once again able to listen to Beethoven, once again he is a murderer and a rapist. It doesn't matter though, as the government has reclaimed its image in the public eye.

"The most powerful anti-Christian movement is the one that takes over and "radicalizes" the concern for victims in order to paganize it." - Rene Girard

The left and right sides of political power are really two sides of the same coin. Both thrive on victim-based politics. Both seek out victims, and both use victims to further their power and cement their authoritarian place in society. Alex is first a victim of society when he is selected for the mind-altering treatment. When he is cured, he has outlived his uses and dismissed by the ruling party. The party has already used the victim Alex as propaganda and succeeded in winning the praises of the media; why should they keep him now?

Alex, however, has now become a different kind of victim. He is now the victim of state-sponsored mind alteration. And what kind of uses does this victim have? He is used against the government, of course.

This is the sad state of modern western society. Political parties and governments are entirely victim-based. Victims are utilized for party agendas and then easily dismissed. For example, in America, the far-right says that the victims are people of the white race who are marginalized by the establishment. On the other hand, the far-left say (and this will seem somewhat strange) that the blacks, Hispanics, women, homosexuals, transgenders, etc. are all victims of the white patriarchy.

The problem with this kind of victim-based politics is that it always seeks out an external oppressor. The kind of concern for victims that require you to hate another man, that's playing straight into the satanic hands of deception. In the post-Christian society of the western world, where people seek a return to the paganism of old, the radicalization of the concern for victims is the quickest way to achieve that goal.

The non-violent message of the Gospels, the crucifixion of Christ, once and for all deconstructed the violent scapegoat system hidden under pagan religions. The stories of Oedipus, Romulus and Remus, Antigone, all reveal how mankind solve violent conflicts by sacrificing a single victim upon whom all blame is placed. This sacrificing of a single victim successfully brings the conflict to halt, albeit temporarily. This scapegoat phenomenon was deconstructed and laid bare before all thanks to the crucifixion of Christ. Much of western society, and the values that sprung forth from it, has been built on this revelation from the cross. The idea that each and every person is of immense value, deserving life and dignity, is a result of the deconstruction of violence by Jesus. However, Satan is a master of adaptation, and the devil knows just how mankind can come back to the pagan days of old, when human sacrifices occurred without outrage and guilt.

The best way Satan can eclipse the Christian revelation is through a radical method of social justice. The communist revolutions in Russia and China were testament to that. The self-proclaimed army of victims rose up and annihilated the oppressors and left not a single trace of their murder. They wiped out even the families of the oppressors. This is Alex's dark side. The new rule of the victim must continue to find oppressors, hence they find it within their own ranks. Men and women are turned in as 'traitors of the revolution.' Millions more perish in labor camps, never to be seen again.

When Alex is 'cured' for the final time in the movie, he is back to being a murderer and he is already planning another violent assault. This is where victim-based politics--the modern social justice movement--eventually leads us. It makes us no better than we were before, instead it makes us worse; it gives us an axe to wield and an oppressor to kill.

But there is a way through which humanity can continue the revelation of the cross. This way calls for us to renounce violence altogether. Rene Girard explains this boldly in his book 'Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World.'

To leave violence behind, it is necessary to give up the idea of retribution; it is therefore necessary to give up forms of conduct that have always seemed to be natural and legitimate. For example, we think it quite fair to respond to good dealings with good dealings, and to evil dealings with evil, but this is precisely what all communities on the planet have always done, with familiar results. People imagine that to escape from violence it is sufficient to give up any kind of violent ‘initiative’, but since no one in fact thinks of himself as taking this initiative—since all violence has a mimetic character, and derives or can be thought to derive from a first violence that is always perceived as originating with the opponent—this act of renunciation is no more than a sham, and cannot bring about any kind of change at all. Violence is always perceived as being a legitimate reprisal or even self-defence. So what must be given up is the right to reprisals and even the right to what passes, in a number of cases, for legitimate defence. Since the violence is mimetic, and no one ever feels responsible for triggering it initially, only by an unconditional renunciation can we arrive at the desired result.

A total and final renunciation of violence would not allow us to get sucked into the perpetual, bloodthirsty game of victim and oppressor. The refusal to participate in mimetic violence will save us from what Nietzsche called 'the slave morality.' An adherence to non-violence will spark an outbreak of love for one another--a contagion of positive mimesis. Jesus said that the world will know his disciples by their love for one another. This love for one another is designed by Christ to be first mimicked among his disciples and then work its way out into the world. Love is such a force that it cannot be enforced through legistation or any other means of coercion. Love must come forth by imitation, not from violent forces of evil, but from the crucified life of Christ.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book Review: 'Blessed Are the Weird' by Jacob Nordby

Blessed Are the Weird is one of the most unique books that I have ever read. This book, written by Jacob Nordby, is not a self-help guide of any kind, but, rather, is a celebration and reflection of the creative spirit of mankind. Blessed makes the bold declaration that the world’s future will be shaped by creatives or ‘Weirdians’ as Nordby likes to call them. Is this what Dostoevsky meant when he said ‘beauty will save the world’? Nordby writes,

The only success now is living and creating a work-of-art life: unique, rich with meaning, naked of anything we don’t care about, and ruthless about carving out something absolutely real from a world that has gorged itself on fakeness and become critically ill from it. The only failure now is pulling back from that quest because of fear.

It certainly is true that the world has mostly lost itself in the chaos of the routine. We, in our day-to-day lives, hardly have the time to appreciate the beauty in creation.
Nordby starts the book with the following viral poem:

Blessed are the weird people —poets, misfits, writers, mystics heretics, painters & troubadours— for they teach us to see the world through different eyes
Blessed are those who embrace the intensity of life’s pain and pleasure, for they shall be rewarded with uncommon ecstasy.
Blessed are ye who see beauty in ugliness, for you shall transform our vision of how the world might be.
Blessed are the bold and whimsical, for their imagination shatters ancient boundaries of fear for us all.
Blessed are ye who are mocked for unbridled expression of love in all its forms, because your kind of crazy is exactly that freedom for which the world is unconsciously begging.
Blessed are those who have endured breaking by life, for they are the resplendent cracks through which the light shines.

The author celebrates the types of people (and other equivalents) mentioned in this poem, and he urges us to join in this celebratory tribal dance. He reminds us that, for a vast period in history, creatives, or ‘Weirdians’, were given elevated statuses in society by the authorities and rulers. These Weirdians were so cherished in society that they were able to get away by subtly taunting rulers and making fun of their policies. Sadly, today, as Nordby observes, many people of talent have sold their souls to the big money-making machine and become the entity we call ‘celebrity.’ In the wake of this soul-selling, we need to be artists of raw sincerity more than ever.

I have long been interested in a book such as this one. I consider myself a fellow Weirdian—I'm a painter and a creative writer. The art of painting and writing are, for me, the best ways to express the love of God to a broader audience.  The question you may be asking right now is : ‘has this book benefitted me in any way?’ The answer is a resounding yes, though it was difficult, at times, navigating through the more reflective parts in the later pages and trying to make sense. Perhaps, I will be able to understand more clearly during a second reading.

The author feeds us with reflections from his own journey; reading these parts will make you feel a lot for the writer and understand where he is coming from. He also regales us with a few fantastical tales which illustrates his points with great clarity. Nordby gives us lessons from both real and imaginary life. He takes us on a journey unlike any other, as all creatives do, and forces us to marvel at the beauty of the human soul and the magnificence of the ‘Great Everything.’ He fills his pages with delight, triumph, and sadness—things that make no sense to the rationale, yet are dear to the human heart. How I wish these things of the soul are held closer by the modern day church as well; it is why we need to read from Dostoevsky and Tolstoy just as much as we read from theologians and pastors. Who knows? Maybe, we’ll regain the daring colors that we had long lost in our thinking of God and his creation.

CLICK HERE to buy 'Blessed Are the Weird' on Amazon.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

'Silence': A brief review of Scorcese’s film

The movie Silence is directed by Martin Scorcese and based on the Japanese novel written by Shūsaku Endō; it deals with the state persecution of the ‘Kakure Kirishitan’ (hidden Christians) in 17th century Japan after the Shimabara rebellion. The story is told from the perspective of Father Rodrigues–a Portuguese Jesuit priest who travels to Japan in search of Father Ferreira. Ferreira is said to have renounced his faith under extreme torture from the inquisitor; he steps on a fumi-e—a stone slab containing Christian images—and symbolically 'tramples' on Jesus. Unable to believe the news of Ferreira’s apostasy, the young priest Rodrigues decides to find out for himself if Ferreira has indeed turned his back on Christ.

I must say Silence is probably the best film of 2016 along with Hacksaw Ridge; it is also one of Scorcese’s masterpieces. It is a difficult film to watch, yet it is also beautiful and sublime. The moments of persecution and trial of Christians left me deeply moved. Christians are beheaded, burnt alive, left bleeding in pits, and crucified. There is a scene where a Japanese Christian is crucified and left to drown. He is singing in his last moment a serene hymn, which sounds bittersweet, while everyone else, including the persecutors, looks on in silence. By watching and absorbing these scenes, you can feel how everyone involved with the movie are giving their all. Andrew Garfield who plays Rodrigues is especially powerful in his performance and deserves an Oscar. Speaking of Oscars, it is a complete travesty that Silence did not get any nominations this year other than for best cinematography.

Those who have seen the movie may have noticed the film’s complex themes interwoven throughout the plot. In this blog entry, I will attempt to touch on some of these themes and take time to briefly reflect upon them. In doing so, I hope that the reader may appreciate the movie, and admire the author, Mr. Endō, even more for his incredible insights into human culture and various theological issues, many of which are still relevant today. For those who might not have seen the movie, please be informed as there are spoilers that follow.

Cultural Barriers
It is not long before Rodrigues discovers that the land of Japan is a uniquely different country. Here, the people are simplistic, without deceit, and extremely humble—even childlike. The Christians welcome Rodrigues with an affectionate sadness and treat him with overwhelming admiration and warmth. Even the Inquisitor, Inoue Masashige, invites Rodrigues to his home for meals and discussion. The Japanese rulers abhor the ‘arrogance’ of the European missionaries, yet they are strangely moved by the Christians’ willingness to suffer. At the same time, they are unable to understand why these European missionaries would allow their flock to suffer such extreme agonies for the simplest of faith-denial acts such as stepping on mere images.

I can say that this is true for many Asian cultures when faced with foreign, particularly western, interaction in any form. It is true that many western ideas have been beneficial with regards to fighting superstition and social discrimination, but at the same time western concepts such as individuality and hyper-capitalism are often seen as threats to the cultural solidarity of Asian peoples. So it is not surprising that the Japanese persecutors in this story think of western Christianity as a danger to their land.

When Rodrigues finally comes face to face with Ferreira, he is told that Japan is a vast ‘swamp’ and ‘our religion does not take root here.’ Ferreira tells Rodrigues that the Japanese simply cannot conceive of a God that exists beyond the realm of nature. Rodrigues shakes his head at Ferreira and says that he saw countless Christians dying for God. ‘But they’re dying for you, Rodrigues,’ Ferreira says to Rodrigues, much to the young priest’s shock.

The author, Mr. Endō, had long believed that for Christianity to thrive in Japan it must abandon certain western concepts such as the patriarchal father image of God. The Japanese do not take kindly to a father image, which exudes stubborn authority and allows no weakness. Endō said that the Japanese are more drawn to the maternal nature of God as revealed in the tender, nurturing nature of Jesus. The maternal aspect of Christ is indeed the most heartwarming and comforting place in the Gospels, and it is true that we Christians have not emphasized on this as much as we should have in our day-to-day lives. Julian of Norwich writes in her ‘Revelations of Divine Love,’

Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him, and this is where His Maternity starts, And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never cease to surround us.

Towards the end of the film, the Inquisitor says to Rodrigues that Christianity in Japan has become a ‘strange thing.’

God’s voice in suffering
In his trials and tribulations, Rodrigues often asks God for comfort and deliverance. He also questions God as to why must the Christians’ suffering be so terrible. ‘Where are you?’ he shouts at God repeatedly in a prison cell while awaiting execution.

The author had said that Japanese culture identifies with the 'one who suffers with us.' Is it true that God suffers with us in silence while we undergo painful and agonizing trials? I am reminded of an account of the Holocaust told by Elie Wiesel in his book ‘Night.’ Wiesel recounts an episode where he and others witness the hanging of a small boy in a concentration camp.

“Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing...
And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
"For God's sake, where is God?"
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
"Where He is? This is where--hanging here from this gallows..."

Rodrigues is disheartened by God’s silence amidst the screams of his children. There comes a time when Rodrigues must commit apostasy in order to save members of his flock from the agony of bleeding to their deaths. He gazes at the fumi-e upon which he must trample, and it is exactly in this moment when Christ breaks his silence. The Lord says to Rodrigues in a gentle voice,

"You may trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. You may trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men's pain that I carried my cross."

‘Father, I want to make confession.’
When Rodrigues travels to Japan, he meets a drunken Japanese named Kichijiro who later acts as his guide. Rodrigues suspects Kichijiro is a Christian, and it turns out that he is right. Kichijiro is revealed to be one of the Christians who has apostatized and stepped on the fumi-e to save himself, but his family is wiped out in brutal fashion because of their refusal to do the same. Does Kichijiro’s inability to save his own family haunt him? Kichijiro tells Rodrigues that he sees the fire of his family’s death burning less brightly due to the priest’s presence. On top of that, Kichijiro seems to follow Rodrigues everywhere so that he can make his confessions to the priest. Many times, Rodrigues gets annoyed of Kichijiro because of his stubborn insistent need to confess each and every time after stepping on the fumi-e or betraying fellow Christians. How can Christ love such a wretch? Rodrigues often contemplates.

After Rodrigues commits apostasy, Kichijiro still sticks with him as his servant. One day, Kichijiro again asks Rodrigues to hear his confession, but this time Rodrigues is not annoyed; this is because he is aware of the Japanese inability to see God beyond creation. Rodrigues may have realized that Kichijiro is asking for forgiveness much as the same way we Christians ask for forgiveness because of our multiple sins. Rodrigues’ journey comes full circle here. In the Gospel of John, Christ says,

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. (John 15:4, NASB)

The apostle Paul says,

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32, NIV)

Can it be that Kichijiro showed Rodrigues, in his utter weakness, what it means to have Christ living inside of you? Kichijiro begs Rodrigues for forgiveness because, for Kichijiro, Rodrigues is Jesus; the young Portuguese Jesuit priest is to this broken Japanese man the very embodiment of Christ living among his disciples. To Kichijiro, God has already spoken through Father Rodrigues and he has spoken with unconditional forgiveness. Therefore, Rodrigues somehow understands and he finally embraces Kichijiro and thanks him.