Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: Supergirl

Supergirl was leaked months ahead of its debut. I tend to think this "leak" is actually a beta testing. If so, I hope they make use of it.

First, what I liked. I think Melissa Benoist is going to be an outstanding Supergirl.  I always love when an actor can communicate as much with a raised eyebrow or a curl of the lip as they can with a line. Benoist's face literally broadcasts her emotions. She is fun to watch and I enjoyed her character. She can carry this show.

It is clear that the producers are going for a lighter tone - more CW Flash than WB Man of Steel. It's working for The Flash, so I tend to think this is a wise move.

I loved their take on Jimmy Olsen. Rather than the innocent newbie, it was great to see him portrayed as a seasoned photo journalist. If this show goes long term,  I think they would do well to give him lots of story time.

Now... since there is time for re-shoots...

Ditch the opening scene. Change it, or skip it all together. The opening should be powerful, but this looked like something from an old Saturday morning kids show. Their planet is about to be shredded, parents and child are saying goodbye forever.... and the scene was delivered with all the emotion of ordering a #3 meal at the drive-thru.

There is a scene in the Simpsons where Lisa wants to be subversive and signs up for the community football team. She is deflated when she arrives at the first practice to find out there are already girls on it. At least a half dozen times in Supergirl they stop the story in order to announce, "the hero is a girl.... weren't expecting that, were ya!" Except we were... we are. We are totally cool with female superheroes and have been for awhile. Only certain strands of Hollywood seem to think there is something awkward about female hero leads. When you keep referencing it scene after scene, you sound like you are trying to talk us into this concept.  We are great with it... why can't you be?

Something needs to be reworked with the Superman references. His being on the planet, and yet never talking to her, never seeing her... it just felt rather unbelievable.  Not sure what would work, but I am sure this approach doesn't.

Get rid of Mr. Surly-in-charge-of-anti-alien-task-force. Bleech!

All in all, there is some great potential here. I enjoyed the pilot.

... hoping Supergirl soars!

(oh, and btw... it is clear that The Flash is now part of a multi-verse....  cross -o-ver!)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Ya Gotta Believe Something, Right?"

Last week, I was using public transit to get to work. Occasionally, one gets a chatty bus driver. During our conversation it came up that I am originally from Detroit, which brought the usual question:
"What brought you out here?"
I try to avoid that question, but often there is no getting around it. People want to know. The problem is, it is a lot to tell in a short duration, but I have worked it out:
"I came out here to help start an evangelical church. However, we parted ways when I started to lose my faith, and I am now an atheist."
I get varied responses to this declaration, but his was the most common:
"Oh...... I'm sorry....."
The bus driver then began to fill me in on his spiritual journey. He was raised in a Mormon household, went on a mission, but he doesn't really practice anymore.
"I'm still a member. I guess I still believe. So... I suppose I am what they call a Jack-Mormon".
As you know, or probably have guessed, a Jack-Mormon is the term for Mormons who are not active in their faith. They are still part of the culture, perhaps attend church for baptisms and other ceremonies occasionally. But for all intent and purposes, they are fairly disconnected.

For the few minutes remaining in our trip, he stayed on religion. He told me about various family members who had turned away from faith but came back. How, at some point, he wants to start attending church more.

He was still talking when we came to my stop and the bus pulled to the curb. I thanked him for the lift and stepped off the bus. He called out one parting comment:
"I mean hey.... ya gotta believe something, right?"
I turned back and smiled:
"No..... you really don't."
And the bus pulled away.

The "ya gotta believe something" line is a refrain I often hear from nominal believers. For all practical purposes my bus driver doesn't believe. If he believed his faith he would be doing what his faith wants him to do: attend church, study his scriptures, tithe, seek converts, etc.  He does none of that, yet he still "believes".  Why is that?

My suspicion is that the cost is too high socially. It is a battle with family, friends, co-workers, (and himself), that he is simply not interested in engaging. "Ya gotta believe something" is simply the path of least resistance.

Ten years or so from now, I believe folks like the bus driver will easily accept a position of atheism. Right now the social stress is simply not worth it... but that is changing. For all of the growth unbelief has seen in the past decade, it's biggest blossoming is still ahead. As social acceptability of unbelief grows, a lot of people like my bus driver are going to recognize their lack of engagement for what it really is - a lack of belief.

Rather than feeling they HAVE to believe something, they will recognize... no, you really don't.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Watch Your Language Cap!

The Deseret News is a Utah newspaper owned by the LDS church.  As such, the newspaper has a highly edited feel.  It's not just bluntly conservative it's... churchy...

This week the entertainment columnist, Chris Hicks, took Captain America to task for swearing in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  He writes:
The first scenes of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” drop the audience into the middle of a chaotic battle, and that is where most of the film’s witty quips are frontloaded — a highlight being a gag about goody two-shoes Captain America being offended when Iron Man curses.
Cap admonishes Iron Man over their communications system, saying, “Language!”
As a result, for the rest of the movie Cap is the butt of jokes about cuss words — until, at the end, he finally lets go with a profane phrase of his own.
Wow. Isn't that a great lesson for young people in the audience? If you are ridiculed for taking the moral high ground, by all means just let down your guard, violate your principles and join the crowd.
Mr. Hicks falls into a typical, self-serving, religious trap. Swear words, cuss words, whatever you want to call them are not moral markers. A person is no more moral for saying them than they are for not saying them. To indicate so is to cheapen morality.

Swear words fall into the realm of mores... social customs. In this or that society certain words or phrases may be considered impolite or rude... but those are only constructs which vary from time to time and location to location.

If I were to say, "Da*n! that is a f**king good pastry!" I may offend your sensibilities, but I have done you no HARM. It is wrong to equalize offense with harm. It is an injustice to people who have truly been wronged.

So why is it self serving? It allows the person who holds such a position to think themselves to be on a moral "high-ground", when in fact... they have DONE nothing. To claim a moral position due to a lack of cuss words in your vocabulary is cheap, and it is lazy.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Facebook Faith #50 Writing Is Sacred

I write quite a bit.  I enjoy the process of writing like I enjoy a good conversation.

I believe written conversations have an advantage of being able to take time to present an issue or idea, or to formulate a response.

When someone poses questions or presents an argument to me in written format, I like being able to go through their writing multiple times, maybe even quoting from it, to make sure I have honestly and adequately addressed their thoughts.  Sometimes I will rewrite things four or five times before hitting send.

So, when someone asks me to respond to something, and I take the time to do so... only to have them delete it.... that doesn't tend to sit well with me.

This came about due to an old friend who recently friended me on Facebook.  This person is a Christian... and... well ...  when you are an atheist, you can't help but categorize your believing friends under various headings.  There is the fundamentalist asshole you keep around purely for entertainment purposes.  There are the good souls you seem to relate to in EVERY way other than their theism, so you accept each other as-is.  There are the ones who have never been particularly active in their faith, yet find it a bit disturbing that you are an atheist.

I am sure I could come up with a number of others if I sat here and thought about it, but in this case, this is the Christian who believes you left the faith because you never had exposure to REAL Christianity.  Your atheism is actually somewhat understandable, maybe even justified... because, like Coke, you just need the real thing.  If you could only go to their church, or hear this or that pastor, or read a certain book.... you would see.

In that vein, this person posted an article by Shane Claiborne and tagged me in it, asking for my thoughts.  I had read the article back when it came out in 2009, but I read it again, and then a third time before writing.

Not long after my posting, my response was deleted.

I hate when people do that... particularly if that was the only copy available of what I wrote. Fortunately, I had written this response in Word.

So, since I took time to write that response, I want it to exist somewhere... so here it is.  If you have gotten this far, you may want to read the Claiborne article (it's short).  I do appreciate theologically liberal, good folks like Shane Claiborne.  However, I still find they carry a bagful of false assumptions about those not in their faith, some of which I address below. So without further ado:

I have always appreciated Shane’s generous and compassionate heart.  I think he is a humanist, and I admire that, because he is willing to put the needs of people above the dictates of his religion’s dogma (to a degree).

However, he steps into the usual misdirections most religious folks fall, in that he cannot not see outside his own perspective.  For example, from the article:

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.”

From the beginning he is clear that he sees the world with bi-polar lenses, those who see religion his way… and everybody else.  He defines everyone who does not accept his religion - by his religion.  If someone does not believe, it is because they have not heard the right message, or been to the right church.  Perhaps they have been wounded by someone in the faith.  Maybe their heart is hard or bitter toward God because of some pain in their life.  If they could just meet the Jesus he knows.

I assume Shane does not believe in Mormonism. He doesn’t believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God's restoration, and he doesn’t believe Mormons are God's one true church on the earth. He just doesn’t believe any of it to be true.  

However picture if a good chunk of his community and family were telling him that it isn't that he doesn’t believe it... rather, it is because he met some bad Mormons, or went to a bad ward, or just hadn’t experienced TRUE Mormonism. Shayne could try to explain that he really just didn’t believe – but they respond that his heart is hard and he should be open to what Joseph Smith might be saying to him.

He might appreciate the sincerity of these folks (the first couple dozen times) but he would still find the whole thing absurd.

I appreciate Shane’s sincerity, but I still find the whole thing absurd.

Also, it is very clear to me that, like all Christians, Shane is making up his own Jesus.  Shane says, “if you choose Jesus, may it not be simply because of a fear of hell or hope for mansions in heaven.”

He does this a few times – he has an idea of Jesus in his head that is really great… but then he runs into that scriptural Jesus who isn't always so great…  Jesus does woo with rewards and punishments… big rewards and punishments.  That doesn't work for Shane, so he deflects.

Another example, “I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, "I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you."  Again… that bothers him.  It would bother ANY good person… but he doesn’t know what to do with it, so he makes it a joke.

I talk with Christians all the time who speak like this.  They sidestep Hell, try to make it not sound as bad as the Bible does, throw up their hands and say its not for me to judge, etc.  They are trying to avoid the very real fact that their God presented in scripture has set up a system where you love him or pay dearly.  At least that’s how he is in some parts… other parts not so much.  I don’t believe the bible is consistent.

So what do I think?  I think Shane is a decent human being, trying to be decent, in a religion that is often not decent.  He works hard at finding the diamonds in the rough… focusing on the generous and compassionate parts of his Bible, while choosing – consciously or subconsciously- to avoid the more horrible bits.  I just think that generates a lot of un-needed work and stress.  Let the religion go, continue to be decent, then you won’t have to worry about always having to come up with clever ways to make those bad bits sound good for the sake of fidelity to a religion.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: Hellbound? - A Documentary About Hell

I finally got around to watching Hellbound.  Hellbound is a documentary, that looks at how the doctrine of Hell is viewed in Christianity.  In it, various clergy and theologians are interviewed for their take on God and Hell.  As an ex-evangelical, I enjoyed it.

There is a good sampling of people and I think all of the views were honestly represented without much spin.  There were folks who were pro-Hell and others who leaned to a more universalistic end.  Though it is obvious the director wants to point you to a universalistic end, he is fair to the other opinions.

Much of the theology is represented by various folks within evangelical circles.  Greg Boyd and Mark Driscoll are interviewed, rather than Catholic priests and Lutherans.

As an atheist, what was clear to me was that each person's "god" was a reflection of their own personalities.  It was no wonder that to the folks of Westboro Baptist, "God" pretty much hated everybody.  On the other end, the universalists who wanted to love everyone, had a god who would save everyone.

Look in the mirror, and God looks just like you.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Facebook Faith #49: You Are A Sinner

Recently on Facebook, a Christian was trying to explain to me that, without Christ, I was going to end up in Hell.  She told me that I am a sinner and deserved such treatment from God.

I explained that since I do not believe in Hell or God, I had no such worries.  I also told her that I do not think of myself as a sinner.  She replied with a common witnessing maneuver:
"So have you ever stole anything?? Have you told a lie ?? If yes, what does that make you?? "

I told her that makes me a person who has made a mistake, and a mistake does not a person make. I may have a student who has told a lie, but I would be wrong to therefore cast them forever in my mind as liar. That would simply be damaging. In any case, why would we choose to frame someone according to their mistakes rather than their goodness? Someone fed the poor today, what does that make them? They encouraged someone who was down, what does that make them?

Fortunately, I don't even think Christians who use this argument actually feel that way about their fellow humans. They meet nice kind people, and they recognize them as nice kind people - they don't tend to think '"Hmmmm... at some time in their past, they must have lied... so this kind, niceness must really be a facade!" No, even Christians have the ability to recognize great people regardless of their foibles.

But here is one of the problems with much of Christianity. Their belief system wants to cast every human being in a bad light. In order for the world to NEED Jesus, it has to be full of sin and darkness.  So Christians bend toward seeing humanity and the Earth that way. Christians frame a mistake as a life sentence to place others in need of what they have.

It reminds me of a missionary named Daniel Everett. He worked with an Amazon tribe that had had nearly no outside contact. He found them to be a happy contended people. He realized his job was to convince this happy contented culture that they were actually bad and corrupt.... so he could then offer them Jesus to save them.

Having left the faith, I now see it as creating a lot of co-dependency. Faith needs to keep people weak and needy, and I hear it in the rhetoric of believers every day. Their memes on Facebook declare their unworthiness, powerlessness, and corruption - but thankfully they have God to empower and forgive them. They have been taught to define themselves according to their weaknesses and failures, and they pass those teachings on to others.

I used to think of myself as a sinner, I thought of how often I let God down. I thought wrong behavior was my defining characteristic. However, I discovered it was all contrived. Once out of the faith, I realized... I never "sin". It is massively infrequent that I cause pain or harm to another human being.... in fact, most of my day is spent giving good turns and encouragement to everyone around me.... yet I spent decades believing there was something inherently wrong with me.

No more... my chains are broken and I have run free.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Facebook Faith #48: Politically Correct Bibles?

I used to be a conservative Christian.  Then I was a liberal Christian.  For a brief time, I held on to a vague theism.   Finally, a few years ago, I abandoned belief in any deities or supernatural entities altogether.
Yesterday, I read a post on my brother’s Facebook page.  He leans toward the liberal end of Christianity and had shared an article about what things Jesus might have said if he gave a speech at Liberty University.  The ideas presented tended to run 180 degrees from what Ted Cruz had offered during his time there this week.
One of my brother's fundamentalist friends commented that the article was na├»ve, and he went on to share his frustration with liberal Christians who choose to make the Bible politically correct.  He does not want a “warm, fuzzy” God or Bible!

Inserting tongue into cheek, I replied:

You tell em' ****! Don't let these liberals water down God's word! When God told people to stone a bride at her father's door, he wasn't kiddin around! What happened to the good ol days when God would send his soldiers in and have them wipe out every man, woman, and child - cept the young girls... hell, no... God let them keep the young girls... God's a good ol' boy, and he knows his soldiers have needs! I'm tellin ya! You haven't seen nuttin til you see God get ticked and the only way to calm him down is to put some innocents up on a pike! Woo-Hoo doggie! Damn! There is NOTHING like divine blood-lust! You keep preachin the hard WORD ****! Don't let these liberal believers mess with your ass-kicking Yaweh!

Though I was being a bit sardonic, the actions I listed are accurate according to the Bible.  God ordered massacres and executions, sanctioned rape, and required the blood of innocents to appease his anger.  
Christians work around the violence of God in the Bible in any number of ways.  Some ignore it, then fail to teach it to new converts, thus creating a myriad of believers who truly just don’t know.  Some take a non-literal view of the bible – it was written by a tribal people who ascribed their violence to their God.  Some, like my brother’s Facebook friend… seem a little too enthusiastic about all of that violence.

In my view, either the Bible is no more true than any other ancient myth, or the deity described there is a being worthy of nothing more than disdain, and only cultural inertia keeps people under his spell.

Yes, Jesus taught about love most of the time… but Thich Nhat Hanh talks about it all the time… and HIS book is so much better.  It seems to me that those desiring personal betterment have much better text choices available.
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