Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Holy Days

One might have thought that the secular-sophist culture's concerted effort to marginalize "Christmas" in favor of the vapid and politically-correct "Holidays" was insulting enough (it's being done in the name of "tolerance," of course). Are there several holidays in the season? Of course. And in a pluralistic society, let's respect them all. What I take issue with, though, is this unknown "Holiday" that merchants want me to buy for. "This Holiday, buy her a-" "Have a Happy Holiday." This started with good intentions, to be inclusive. And generally, I think we all know which particular "holiday" is usually meant, though it is rapidly becoming a merchants' "holiday" characterized by snowflakes, snow figures, elves, bells, reindeer, penguins and polar bears - anything winter, but never anything Christmas. The White Witch of Narnia has cast the land into a freeze where "it is always winter but never Christmas."

There is little comfort in knowing that "holidays" is a short form of "Holy Days," which these days of Advent truly are. In a small act of concession, the television channels are beginning to present programs on the Christian faith just in time for the season. The problem is this: some programs are determined to discredit Christianity. The History Channel ran a piece last year largely meant to dismiss the idea of Christ's physical resurrection (yes, that's Easter, but why miss a chance to bash Christians and disabuse them of their un-scientific superstitions?). Expert after expert on the program argued that Jesus did not physically arise from the Tomb but he "appeared to" devout (and disillusioned, distraught, disturbed) followers in "visions" and dreams so real that they thought he was physically returned. As they reported their dreams, people took it the wrong way, the stories were repeated until Presto! A myth of the resurrection resulted.

OK, let me tease this out: Were the first disciples, both men and women, disillusioned, distraught, and disturbed? Of course - they believed Jesus was who He claimed to be, the Anointed King promised in the Scriptures, except they were expecting the promised Davidic King who would restore a political kingdom, not the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 whose "kingdom is not of this world." Despite His telling them three times clearly about His coming rejection, death, and rising, His betrayal and crucifixion sent them into fearful hiding.

But what's this bit about wishful dreams and hopeful visions? The "experts" believe the followers were overwhelmed by what-might-have-been fantasies. This can sound plausible to the uninformed. The funny thing is, these experts appeal to I Corinthians 15 (this letter of Paul is one of the oldest and certainly one of the undisputably authentic historical records of the Early Church). They assert that the words "appeared to" or "was seen by" is a way of referring to visions and dreams, "a common middle Eastern phenomenon." Granted, it was common. But that can't be what happened here. Why not? Read the text yourself: were such visions experienced by a dozen (or probably more) people all at once (as in I Cor 15:5) or by a large crowd of 500 ALL AT ONCE (as reported in the next line, I Cor 15:6)? Hardly. And this also excludes the extraordinary passages where the risen Jesus tells His followers to touch His wounds and prepare Him a meal which he eats (Luke 24) or where He prepares a beach barbeque in the presence of people who did not expect Him (John 21).

Look - the reason these so-called experts cannot read the historical record plainly is that they don't want to. It is an issue of the will, not the intellect. The resurrection of Christ is an historically verifiable event. How about the Birth of Christ, which we celebrate this season? There are, admittedly, a few more gaps and difficulties in the details of the historical record about it. But there is no doubt about what was involved, as John says: "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Golden Compass points in wrong direction

I was in Target the other day and noticed the Christmas push is on. The cashier areas featured DVDs for sale and among them was "The Golden Compass," the so-called children's film released last Christmas in theaters. The irony is this: Christmas is the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel - God with us. Mr. Pullman's book, however, is virulently anti-Christian. To disguise this, the film's producers stopped three chapters shy of the book's end, where there is a tedious and twisted discourse about the Fall of Man in Genesis and the effects of the Fall that foreshadows the more openly anti-Christian material in the next two books, where Pullman plainly writes, "Christianity is a powerful and convincing mistake, that's all."

Since people might be drawn to the DVD or the books, here's a plot summary for all three books that, I believe, speaks for itself. Read these and decide if the books aren't visciously anti-Christian and especially anti-Catholic:

Book 1. We meet 12-year-old Lyra who lives in an alternative Oxford that is dominated by a group called "The Magisterium" (Catholics recognize this term as referring to the teaching authority of the Church). It has brutal monks, sadistic nuns, power-hungry priests, bishops, and cardinals but no pope since Pope John Calvin moved the Vatican to Geneva (can you sense the venom already?). The Magisterium's goal is to rule absolutely and crush all 'heresy' and opposition. There is no Christ in its teachings. Just as well, I guess. I'd like to believe that Mr. Pullman is trying to say "This is what any institutionalized church would be without Christ, so it is important to be focused on Christ and not power-driven bureaucracy," - but this really isn't his point. His 'alternative world' church is what he believes the real one to be like. Back to the plot: Like all humans, Lyra has a personal daemon, a personal spirit-self that lives outside her body in animal form that changes for children but is stable for adults. Humans separated from their 'daemons' lose their imagination and will. As you might guess, the religious figures in the film have snakes, lizards, and frogs for their 'daemons.' Lyra uses a magic compass to find her way to the Arctic to rescue her friend Roger and other kids who have been kidnapped by the evil Mrs Coulter and The Magisterium to perform experiments on in order to find out why 'dust' - original sin - doesn't affect kids as much as adults. She is helped by a witch-queen and a talking polar bear among others. The movie ends here but the book continues with Lyra's evil father sacrificing Roger in order to blast open a portal to parallel worlds as part of his own revolt against God, and Lyra follows him through the hole.

Book II: A young boy named Will (no accident) finds his way into the parallel world where Lyra is hiding. There are only children in this world because there are spirits that roam it eating the souls of adults. Will obtains a knife called 'the god-destroyer' that can rip through anything, even the universe itself. Back in Oxford, Lyra finds a friend in a physicist named Mary who is an ex-nun and has dumped her faith (the choice of "Mary" can't be an accident, either). In the meantime, the wicked Mrs Coulter learns that Lyra is, according to a prophecy, the New Eve (this term will be familiar to Catholics, who regard Mary as The New Eve). Mrs Coulter kidnaps Lyra. Cliffhanger end of Book II.

Book III: Assisted by two homosexual angels (I'm not kidding), Will escapes Mrs Coulter and rescues Lyra. The Magisterium tries to destroy Lyra while her father prepares to attack God-The-Authority, now seen as a senile fraud. Using Will's magic knife, Lyra enters the land of the dead, a dismal prison where the spirits of all intelligent beings are tortured. Lyra and Will release the spirits to a blissful oblivion. In the final Armageddon battle, Lyra and Will kill God (The Authority) while her parents kill the Regent of Heaven (hmm- wonder who he means by THAT) and themselves to boot. Lyra joins her physicist friend Mary in another world's paradise where she plays the serpent to their Adam and Eve. The children discover erotic love and the universe is saved. Survivors return to their own worlds to begin building a society that is god-free.

One can see plainly here the agenda of one who believes that religion, especially Christianity, is the problem and must be destroyed. The way Pullman does this is by turning the Christian faith inside-out by saying the rebel angels and Satan were right to oppose the "tyrannical" Deity, and after their defeat, did a noble thing by signing up the first humans to join their campaign of 'self-awareness' and freedom. But this is actually moving away from a true awareness of who we were meant to be - gloriously created in the image and likeness of God with a high destiny - not to be gods, nor to act as though we were, for that is idolatry and only dims what is wonderful in us. It is also moving away from real freedom - the freedom to do what is right in love, not merely to do what feels good to me now. That's being a slave to one's own passion and conceit.

Pullman will fool many people with his erudite Gnosticism by suggesting that God is an oppressor, the real Deity is not knowable, the serpent in Eden enlightened the first human pair with wisdom, and matter and spirit are really the same so we should enjoy sexual pleasure wherever we find it and at death be content to dissolve into oblivion. It sounds a lot like what the serpent said in the tree.

"The Golden Compass" is the first movie adapted from a trilogy by Phillip Pullman called "His Dark Materials."This title comes from John Milton's "Paradise Lost," the epic poem about Satan's expulsion from heaven and the fall of humanity in Eden. "I am of the Devil's party and I know it," Pullman once said in an interview, and elsewhere has said "My books are about killing God."

So he is joining the party begun by other celebrity atheist authors whose work has been popularized lately. But this time, the target is kids. I hear that New Line Cinema has cleaned up the worst of the anti-Catholic propaganda from the book but this is still a perverse attack on people of faith in the way it satirizes sin, mocks the sacraments, and turns the love of God into something oppresive and hateful. The director of the film, Chris Weitz, is a lapsed Catholic who is into pop-culture New Age 'spirituality.' Go fig.

So here we have militant atheism's answer the "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "The Lord of the Rings," fantasy stories that Pullman says he loathes precisely because they embody a Christian worldview and Christian virtues. Let no one be fooled into thinking this is harmless entertainment. Pullman has a virulent agenda to impose upon impressionable children and, perhaps, their poorly-catechized parents. At least the silly "Da Vinci Code" was open to investigation by grown-ups who, if alert, would sense something was smelly about the film's false premise. But children won't be able to recognize spiritual pornography when they see it. Let's hope the adults will.