translation

Thus the soul’s primordial appetite for truth in itself, it’s orientation toward a horizon of perfect understanding and immediacy, has here only shadows–though often golden shadows–to feed upon. I suppose that is why perhaps the loveliest and most absorbing promise in Paul’s letters is that one day we will not only peer into a glass, darkly, but see face to face: The original author, having translated himself into a human idiom, will translate us into the idiom of the divine, without loss, confusion, or separation; and the restless human desire always to understand more (of which the imperfect art of translation is one small manifestation) will at last understand even as we are understood.
(David Bently Hart in the August/September 2012 First Things)

prometheus

My dad and I went to see the new Ridley Scott film, Prometheus, last night in Aggieland. The film purports to be a “prequel” to Scott’s 1990s Alien series–but the only sign of this is the last thirty seconds, wherein is spawned a recognizably Alien-like alien from another (more human or Titan-like) alien.

Apart from this brief reference, the film stands alone as an allegorical sci-fi drama.

The first thing to note is that Mr. Scott has disdained to evolve with the industry, preferring melodramatics and an orchestral soundtrack befitting 2001 or Jurassic Park to more interesting sci-fi filmmaking like that recently undertaken by younger writer and director Brit Marling. (See Marling’s Another Earth if you have not already. I am still waiting for her new flick, The Sound of My Voice, to be released in Portland.)

Leaving those superficial elements, note must certainly be made of the plot’s obvious allegorical implications. The main character, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), is a scientist determined to meet her makers (which, going off of various cave paintings, she believes to be the aliens) yet also persisting in the Christian faith of her father. The lion’s share of the allegorical import lies in the (rather ill-performed) anguish over the dual facts of humans’ having been made by the Titan-aliens and the Titan-aliens’ intent to destroy Earth.

(SPOILER ALERT: The film’s main twist comes when the Titan-aliens are revealed to be mortal, thereby raising the question of their having been made by another, more titanic, Maker. Thus, Shaw’s faith in a divine creator over and above the Titan-aliens is not so much vindicated as left untouched. Such a “back to square one”denouement imitates many other sci-fi films–perhaps most famously the Planet of the Apes movies.)

In addition to being shallowly allegorical, the plot leaves the viewer guessing as to why the Titan-aliens might wish to destroy humankind. To Mr. Scott’s discredit, the possibility of humanity’s corruption (what theological parlance might call “sinfulness” or “depravity”) as a sufficient cause for annihilation never emerges–despite the obvious references to interpersonal (and intrapersonal) brokenness such as infertility and filial strife.

(Another aside is required here: I have been using the term Titan-alien to refer to the large white human-like aliens the film features, but the film itself leaves them unnamed. They seem to represent the mythical Titans in the sense that they “stole the fire” of creating from the gods (or God). But the humans in the story also seem to stand-in for the Titans, insofar as they hope to plunder the divine treasury to discover the truth about human existence–a hope the name of their ship, “Prometheus,” serves to confirm. Perhaps these coincidences are hints of deeper complexity than I have heretofore recognized…)

All the above brings us to an important observation about the cultural significance of Prometheus. If the humans are to represent the mythical hero Prometheus unironically, and if Dr. Shaw’s faith is not stripped from her but in some small, indirect way affirmed, then Ridley Scott can be said to be Hollywood’s idealistic pundit. Not idealistic in the common sense, mind you, but in the philosophical sense. Specifically, Scott seems to wish to continue the projects of the great German idealists of the 19th century.

Here’s Jürgen Moltmann on the nature of this project:

For Goethe, Schiller, Ranke, Karl Marx and many others, Prometheus became the great saint of the modern age. Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, stood in contrast to the figure of the obedient servant of God. It was possible to transform even Christ into a Promethean figure. Along with that there frequently went a philosophical, revolutionary millenarianism which set itself to build at last that realm of freedom and human dignity which had been hoped for in vain from the God of the divine servant.
(Theology of Hope, p. 24)

In contrast to both this idealistic presumption and the postmodern despair (epitomized in Camus’ “thinking clearly and hoping no more”), Moltmann proposes a thoroughly Christian attitude of hope. Only hope, he maintains, is life-giving. Further, hope–and neither presumption nor despair–is really realistic.

As our generation enters an era disillusioned by scientific knowledge (even as scientific discourse marches onward as the only permissible discourse in public reasoning; Ridley Scott obviously got only one of these memos and not the other!), we would do well to remember that the Gospel alone provides the hope necessary for authentic existence.

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end times and the historical jesus

So. One of my most admired NT scholars is Dale Allison, Jr. I just finished one of his more recent books, wherein he is more candid than usual about the implications of historical Jesus scholarship for theology.

For instance, he has this to say about how historical Jesus scholarship engenders theological dilemmas on all sides of the spectrum:

Those who subscribe to Nicaea should be anxious, for the historical Jesus did not think of himself what they think of him. To be sure, his identity, like that of the rest of us, cannot be restricted to his self-conscious evaluation, whatever we judge that to have been. Jesus must have been more than the sum of us own thoughts. Still, traditional, orthodox christologies have assumed that Jesus was fully aware of his own godhead and spoke accordingly, whereas modern criticism has, in the judgment of many of us, exterminated this possibility. The orthodox tradition thus needs to acknowledge that revisionist christologies of the last two centuries have been partly occasioned by advances in knowledge. There has been good cause to rethink some changes.

As for those who reject of radically reinterpret Nicaea and Chalcedon, a historical Jesus who placed himself at the center of a mythological end-time scenario is not likely to be regarded with affection. For such an individual conceived himself to be extraordinary and indeed unique, in a category all his own. As with the orthodox, so too, then, with their opponents: their evaluation of Jesus does not line up with his evaluation of himself.

The upshot of the foregoing pages is that the historical Jesus remains, in Schweitzer’s familiar words, a stranger and an enigma. As a Christian, however, I do not find this so dreadful. What good is Jesus if he does not trouble our theological dreams? Certainly the character in the Gospels combats complacency and self-satisfaction, and what but complacency and self-satisfaction can come from a historical Jesus who confirms us in our theological ways, whether those ways be liberal or conservative? A domesticated Jesus who sounds like us, makes us comfortable, and commends our opinions is no Jesus at all. (pp. 89-90)

lost lander, “cold feet”

Check out my new favorite song here. Also, I’m interested to hear interpretations of the video footage–for instance, what is the director/band trying to say by grouping certain thematic shots together (TV ads, explosions, politicians, etc.)? Is there any artistic intention behind the montage or is it simply random?

Comment below.

laika, space-dog extraordinaire

Not as funny as it initially sounds, but the ending makes all the details worth it.

a thanksgiving lesson in forgiveness

From the Nov/Dec edition of Orion. I’ll buy a beer for the commenter who can pinpoint my favorite line from this article.

In related news, our gov’ner here in Orygun declared today an indefinite moratorium on the death penalty. After a few moments of applause–after all, I’m an obedient anti-capital punishment pacifist like the rest of ’em–I began thinking that this might be a more laudable move if it represented an attempt to institute a holistic approach to peace and the respect of human life.

As it turns out, however, it does not. Kitzhaber is pro-choice (see this article from the 2010 election here) and Oregon is one of the most lax states on euthanasia. (Ironically, it also has one of the highest suicide ratings.)

Allow me a few more paragraphs to drive this point home.

Kitzhaber’s decision to forestall the death penalty arrives two weeks shy of Gary Haugen’s scheduled execution. Currently, the only way to get executed in Oregon is by asking for it. Literally. You have to “volunteer,” relinquishing intentions to any future appeals and requesting–formally, before a judge–to be executed.

So what’s the State of Oregon telling its residents?

Well, it’s OK to request to be killed if you’re not in prison (euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are legal), but it’s not OK to request to be killed if you’re in prison (death penalty is on moratorium). Oh, and it’s really bad to kill yourself (suicide is frowned upon), but you can kill your unborn babies (abortion is legal).

All this comes to a head in Kitzhaber’s rhetoric when he claims that it was his physician’s oath to “do no harm” that led him to the decision about the death penalty. Hmm.. Where is that oath when you whitewash abortion as “women’s health”? Where is it when you enable physicians to help their patients kill themselves?

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing for a social ethic that ignores the complexity that each and every one of these issues harbors. There’s no “one answer” to everything. But I am arguing for coherence among the legislation that shapes us as a culture and as a community. I’d like to see a compelling vision of human flourishing govern the way we conduct ourselves in Oregon–not a patch-quilt of politically-motivated legislation to appease these constituents at one point in the cycle and these others and a different point.

Is that such a naive hope?

rick perry versus God

Is God really telling Rick Perry to run for president?

It’s interesting to note that his remarks at the Response are theologically sound and responsible. But we’ve been warned that the Antichrist will likely appear in the same fashion..