Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Christians and Violent Media

Should Christians watch violent movies?

The question has been raised before, but it gets my attention now because it's directed toward a movie I really want to see: The Hunger Games.

The premise of the story is that each year twelve subjugated "districts" are required to send one boy and one girl (12-18 years old) to fight to the death for the amusement of their rulers. Twenty-four enter; one leaves. The battles in the arena, as well as many other things that befall these children, are quite brutal. Given the movie's PG-13 rating, I expect a lot of the violence to be off-screen or at least toned-down, but it's impossible to take all of the edge off of children killing children.

Should we let ourselves (much less our kids) see things like this?

I find myself wanting to ask a few follow up questions:

1. What in the Bible specifically forbids our watching violent movies? I think you can make an indirect case from passages such as Phil 4:8, but without someone more direct, I don't think we can make an absolute rule.

2. How much and what kind of violence is OK? Why is football acceptable (if it is)?

3. Why is the violence in the Bible OK? It is the most violent book you'll probably ever read. Judges alone is probably the most violent thing you'll ever read.

4. Does is matter how the violence is handled? In some works violence is fun or funny and made to look attractive. In others, such as The Hunger Games, the reader/viewer is supposed to be horrified. You're supposed to look at the people in the story who enjoy the games and wonder what is wrong with them. And you're supposed to ask if you make any questionable entertainment choices yourself (Saw anyone?). Does that matter? I think it does.

For myself, I'm going to choose to see this movie. I am not going to allow my kids to see it until they are much older. When they do read and/or see The Hunger Games, we will talk about man's inhumanity to man, the importance of protecting those you love, kindness to enemies, desensitization, and the corrupting nature of power. It will be a wonderful family time, and I don't think there will be anything wrong with that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Blind Men and the Elephant 2.0

You've heard some version of this before:

Some blind men came up to an elephant and tried to figure out what it was. One grabbed the tail and said, "It's like a rope." One felt the ear and said, "It's like a fan." Another found a leg and said, "It's like a tree."

Someone who can see corrects them all: "You're only touching part of it. What you say is true, but you must put it all together to understand the elephant."
This is the Far Eastern version of the story, which is much loved by religious pluralists today. It's a story about how we all know only a little about God. Everyone has different information, and everyone can be correct and incorrect because no one has the whole picture.

But this is the Christian version of the story:
Some blind men came up to an elephant and tried to figure out what it was. One grabbed the tail and said, "It's like a rope." One felt the ear and said, "It's like a fan." Another found a leg and said, "It's like a tree."

Then the elephant began to speak ...
Special revelation makes all the difference.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What is Easter?

It's been asked many ways: What is the reason for Easter? Why is Good Friday good? It's an important question, so here's my best answer.

The Problem
To understand Easter, you have to start at the beginning.

Humans were made for fellowship with God. They were originally morally pure, innocent. But they learned to sin. The first humans rebelled against God, and that rebellion changed them. They were no longer pure. From that point on, they violated God's standard in every way imaginable. Most of all, they lived as if they were center of the universe. They were in a constant state of rebellion.

When they reproduced, that rebellious nature passed on to every descendant — including you and me. It ruined the world. People invented murder almost immediately. They spent the next few generations sinking into worse and worse depravity.

God said he would fix things, but before He fixed it, He needed to show us how bad the problem really was. God chose a people and gave them a special purpose, a special mission. The people didn't change. So He gave them special rules, but they couldn't keep them. Then God gave them a special place; they defiled it. He gave them better leadership, but the leaders turned out to be worse than the regular people. So He punished them severely, but they didn't learn the lesson — they still wouldn't, or rather couldn't, keep the rules or live any kind of truly moral life.

Why is that such a big deal? Because when humans learned to sin, they joined a rebellion — a rebellion against God's moral order. Treason has to be punished. If history has shown nothing else, it's clear that corruption will spread. It has to be destroyed, or it will destroy everything.

God had created Hell for the angels who rebelled. When humans joined the rebellion, it became our punishment too. To remove the cancer of this moral corruption, God would have to remove the corrupt. And God had proven that humans could not stop being corrupt.

Good Friday
If God didn't want to destroy all of humanity, He was going to have to take drastic measures. And that's what He did.

God became flesh. This is Christmas: God became a human being, Jesus. Because He was human, He could stand in our place. Because He was God, He could succeed where we failed.

Jesus lived a morally perfect life. He conformed to God's moral standard in everything.

And we killed Him for it.

But that was what God intended. His death was not a random act of violence. Jesus' death was to pay the price for our rebellion. He took the punishment for our crimes; He paid our debt to God. That's what makes Good Friday good.

He remained dead for three days. On the third day, on Easter, Jesus returned to life. It may sound impossible at first, but it really is a story no one would make up.

His body wasn't just turned back on, though. It was made new. From that point on, He became a glimpse of what God intended us to be. Though He has a physical body, it will never die. It is completely removed from the corruption we brought into this world.

So what?
Using modern medicine as a metaphor, what Jesus did was make a medicine for us. We still have to choose to take the pill.

If we take the pill, our sin — our lifetime of rebellion against God — is forgiven. Past, present, and future. But we're also changed; not completely, not yet, but we're changed. Something is put inside us that is capable of what we never were before: wanting to live at peace with God and actually doing it.

It starts as a seed, but it's a seed that will grow until we become like Jesus. We start to love properly. We can forgive the way we should forgive. Truly selfless generosity becomes possible. The thoughts and feelings at the core of everything we do starts to change.

And because of that change, when the day comes to finally end the rebellion, to destroy all the corruption, the bad part of us will be removed and the good part will remain in the presence of joy incarnate — forever. At least, that's true for everyone who took the cure.

How do you take the pill?
The medicine is what Jesus did through His death and resurrection. You take the medicine by consciously deciding to trust in His death and resurrection to 1) pay the price for your sin and 2) do the task of pleasing God — of living up to His standard — and 3) by deciding to make Jesus, rather than yourself, king of your life.

It's easy to explain, but harder to do. But it is oh so important.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Free Ham

The left wants to make the HHS contraception rule about contraception, even sex. Some unfortunate choices on the right have helped them. But it's not about contraception; it's about big government and free exercise of religion.

Let's recast the argument in other terms so everyone remembers what's really going on.
Today the Obama administration announced new rules requiring all restaurants to provide a free ham sandwich to anyone who asks for one. The rule only requires bread and ham; cheese, vegetables, and condiments would still be paid for by the customer.

Restaurant groups quickly complained about the cost of complying with such a mandate, but supporters insisted that food is a fundamental right to which all citizens are entitled.

Religious groups cried foul, claiming many business owners — e.g., Jewish, Muslim, and vegetarian — cannot in good conscience serve a ham sandwich to customers, but government officials (who asked to remain anonymous because they had not been authorized to speak on the issue) responded that they were only asked to serve, not eat, the ham.
Hopefully this will raise a number of questions in your mind. By what authority does the government require someone to provide an item, any item, to a third party? Is there really such a right? Does the existence of this right mean that someone else is obliged to provide it to them?

And, most of all, what possessed the government to handle this in a way that would require millions of Americans to violate their religious beliefs?

The contraception flap is not about sex or birth control. It's about what limits we are going to place on our government.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

After-Birth Abortions

Yes, "after-birth" abortions. It's catchy with none of the emotional baggage of "infanticide." Wait, no, it still has the baggage.

Pro-lifers have argued for years that there is no substantial difference in a child the day before and the day after his birth. The idea is to argue that if infanticide is abhorrent to you, abortion should be also.

Then here comes another batch of "ethicists" arguing "what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

Why is our society — one that permits the killing of unborn humans — so scandalized when some young woman drops her newborn infant into a dumpster? Why are people upset when she could have killed the child the day before he was born with no consequence? It's because there is something inside us that recognizes that behavior as sick and wrong. It's a moral intuition that has managed to hang on despite years of preaching that the needs of the woman trump every other concern. And we should be equally scandalized by this.

What about adoption? Unfortunately "adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people." Yes, "actual people" is actually a quote.

Pro-choicers have to acknowledge that this is the natural evolution of their beliefs. If a human being is not a "person" at 8 months and 29 days gestation in the womb, 24 hours and 8 inches does not change anything substantive.

If they are horrified by this, then perhaps they need to reverse the equation: If a human being is a person the moment after birth, then it was a person 24 hours and 8 inches earlier and well before that.

Photo by Jon Ovington