Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Worldview’

Had one of those sweet “ah-ha” moments as I was watching the closing scenes of “Batman: The Dark knight”.

I went something like this: “Oh, I get it! He’s the good guy who’s willing to play the bad guy in order to be the good guy. Harvey Dent was the ‘white knight’ of Gotham. Batman is the ‘Dark Knight’ of Gotham!”

Having had a friend in my youth who was a huge fan of Batman comics, especially the “Dark Knight” renderings of Bob Kane’s original character by artist Frank Miller. I never caught the irony of the title, though now it seems totally obvious now. I don’t know if the comic series intended the irony in the same was as the film did, but it is delicious regardless of origin.

In addition to exploring (inadvertently) the moral implications of post-modernism through the character of the Joker, I’ve also been hungry to examine the film’s commentary on moral ambiguity as seen through the hero, Batman.

Batman is a bit of an anti-hero, meaning that he is flawed. I think that we are drawn to anti-heroes because we identify with them easily; they are more like us. Bruce Wayne finds himself caught in a nasty ethical dilemma in that the Joker is having his way with the people of the city that he loves and wants to protect. The only way he can help the people he loves, says the Joker, is to surrender himself. The dilemma is this: the people’s only protection is that they forfeit their only protection. It is an un-winnable scenario and the Joker moves to force a response by increasing the violence.

The Joker’s violence seeks only to morally corrupt his opponents in his criminal chess match, to show that evil is inherit in everyone. In the case of Harvey Dent, District Attorney of Gotham and proclaimed ‘white knight’ of the people, the Joker wins. Dent is corrupted. While ultimately defeated, the Joker scores a victory. Without blathering on about the plot, by the end of the film we see that the hero concedes that he must resort to immorality in order to stop his enemy. The immediate comparison is to the Patriot act and the invasion of privacy in the name of the ‘greater good’. The subtext runs far deeper.

The crime-fighting tactics of Batman reflect the title of the film. The films resolves Bruce Wayne’s ethical dilemma by excusing evil in the name of pursuing the greater good. Inadvertently, the film accepts defeat in its victory statement.

Here’s the gist of my argument: In the film, the Joker is the only one who has his morality in line with his beliefs about truth and human nature. He accepts the implications of relativism. Since he’s abandoned his moral compass (like everyone else in the film and in real life) he explores the depths of his depravity and seeks to force others to look in the same ugly mirror. He knows that relativism plus the depravity of man yields nothing more than anarchy.

Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, tries to uphold order without the aid of objective truth. His character implies relativism, and yet he fights to be free of it’s consequences. This is like trying to steer between Scylla and Charybdis. In order to keep order he is force to do wrong. As a force of human government, Batman is trying to hold human depravity in tension with the need for order. These are two forces that DO NOT go together. Governments in our world have to do this all day every day.

Biblically this fits the model of Romans 13:4, stating that government bears the sword against evil. Groups of people, motivated by mutual self-interest, hold the impulsive nature of sin in check in the name of protecting their long-term, mutual interests. The problem is for the film, though, that the need for government is itself an acknowledgment of the depravity of man. The real irony of the film is that while it seeks to salvage the nobility and goodness of man from post-modernism, it surrenders its key point in the process.

Pardon my pontificating. You can all go back to enjoying your popcorn soon. I just feel that this film reflects and deepens the way people think about themselves and the world. It may prove to be a watermark as we look at the shifting fronts of the war on truth. To have a hero who is considered the hero because he was willing to engage in evil is not an idea that is often explored in popular culture. No doubt the justifications for doing evil will spread like an ink stain.

There is more to be said on the role of government in this world. To think on all the different forms of government and their assumptions about the nature of truth and the nature of man is fascinating to me. I hope it is to you as well.

Read Full Post »

For anyone who actually checks up on me here regularly I have to apologize. Since Omaha Bible Church’s South Campus has gotten underway I’ve been teaching Adult Bible School and ! Corinthians 12-14 have been wiping the floor with me. Most evenings aren’t winding down till 9:30 or 10pm, and I just haven’t have the gumption to write after all that.

That said, I saw something that I found jarring, disturbing and deeply profound.

I went to go see “The Dark Night” last weekend, for my birthday by the way, and I’ve been stewing in the residue of the film since. if you’ve been by this blog much you probably know that I enjoy the subject of Christian worldview and particularly the work of Francis Schaeffer. I also have some ideas about how Christians should look at art that I think need to be considered. Approaching this movie from that vantage point, my mind was spinning so furiously during this movie that smoke was coming out of my ears. I think there are several posts in the offing but I have to start with the performance that stirred me the most since the bold statements about truth and meaning made in the “Matrix” trilogy: Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker.

Now I don’t want to be a philosophical bore who reviews movies on the side, but this character fascinated me. Not just because the character was played so well, but because he was right.

You read that right: In this film, the Joker is the only character who isn’t crazy.

The joker is a character who poses at first simply as a really crazy villain. Then we start to see that he seems to engage in evil just for it’s own sake. And then we see that the Joker has a very profound and deliberate point to make. About two thirds of the way into the movie, adding a nurse’s uniform and curly red wig to his already grotesque appearance, the Joker makes this assertion:

“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”

That statement chilled me because because he is right. Exactly right.

Toward the end of the film, the Joker’s elaborate scheme is all devised to make the point that the kind of evil that thrives in him is present in everyone. By devising a moral dilemma in which only one of two parties can live, and that by first killing the other, the Joker hopes to prove this point. In other words, the Joker assumes the total depravity of man.

Worse than that, the Joker combines human depravity with another dangerous ingredient: the lack of objective truth. What people in this world fail to realize is that when we abandon God as the objective source of truth, we also abandon our moral compass (more on that here). Nothing revolutionary here, humanism has been trying to replace God as a source of moral direction for centuries now.

What’s fascinating to me is that the Joker rejects the belief of secular humanism that man is basically good. He believes that all that is needed to reveal man’s depravity is a little push. As in, when a man’s life is at stake he will take another’s to preserve his own. As a Christian, I agree with the Joker on this one. When you mix man’s depravity with the “anything goes” mentality of moral relativism, what you get is anarchy. My point is that the Joker is the only character in this movie who doesn’t try to live in denial of this. The Joker is right.

The film tries to salvage the nobility of man from the joker’s plot. In the movie, the citizens of Gotham ultimately refuse to play the Joker’s game. I believe that in real life, two things curb the depravity of man:

  1. Government bears the sword against evil ( Romans 13:4). This point is reflected in the film, especially during the climactic game played by the Joker.
  2. Our creation in the image of God ensures that we have a conscience of evil, and sometimes do what is right even if for the wrong reasons (Romans 2:14-16). This point was also echoed in the final sequence, though director Christopher Nolan would have us see this as the latent nobility of man.

Heath Ledger’s Joker was frightening to me because he was bold enough to really live out the implications of his belief. He lives out what most people in this world are too cowardly to admit: that their rejecting of God as the moral center of the universe leaves them with no ability to declare wrong from right. The result is a world in which people must be freed to pursue their desires to their fullest extent.

Even uglier is the fact that the Joker’s depravity is inside all of us. His corruption of district attorney Harvey Dent , Gotham City’s “white knight”, remains a victory for the Joker, even though Batman takes the fall for it. It interests me that the film declined to dignify his fall. The truth is that this apparent lunatic knows us better than we know ourselves, and that is real food for thought. I am very interested to see what Hollywood does with the popularity of this character.

More to come: “The Dark knight” inadvertently tips it’s hat to the Biblical worldview on government, and also toys with justifying moral ambiguity. In exploring the radical beliefs of the Joker, “The Dark Knight” also develops Batman as an anti-hero who himself muddies the moral waters in order to stop the Joker. There is a lot to be said. Stick around to see it through.

Read Full Post »

For those of you who have not already read this when it was originally posted over at irishcalvinist.com, here’s my recent review of “(Re)Thinking Worldview” by J. Mark Bertrand. (It was a real kick to see the review noted at Bertrand’s website, definitely a blogo-history moment for me!)

rethinkingcovers.jpg(Re)Thinking Worldview is a fun read that will challenge your thinking at its deepest level while barely breaking a sweat. J. Mark Bertrand is a bit wordy at many point, my only complaint, but the investment turn out to be worthwhile every time.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. One, Bertrand finds it easy to be heady without being intimidating. On the surface, the subject of the book seems intimidating. The subject (Christian worldview and its implications) is one with which every Christian needs to be familiar, and Bertrand does well to make it accessible to most readers.

Two, only the first third of the book is actually spent defining worldview. The rest of the book is devoted to the ethical implications of our worldview as Christians. I really enjoyed Bertrand’s foray into the Christian’s view of art. He manages to embrace the post-modern emphasis on storytelling over dogmatics while maintaining the Christian’s responsibility to communicate truth.

Further, I greatly appreciate the way Bertrand shows the reader what it means to be an active consumer of information rather than passive. It makes all the difference in the world when the believer is deciding what it means to simply read a book or watch a movie. It helped me to cement some ideas I’d had about the Christian’s view and use of art, and took me a few steps further.

As the subtitle reflects, this is a book about thinking, living, and speaking. Worldview is an exciting subject to me, as a subject that covers all of these elements. I was encouraged to read an author who shares the same kind of passion for these important subject. “(Re)Thinking Worldview” is a great introduction to Christian worldview, sure to get newcomers excited as well. More than that, as the subtitle reflects, it is a book about thinking, living, and speaking as well. Believers would do well do allow Bertrand to instruct them.

Read Full Post »

Toward a Christian perspective on art

Everybody warm up your proverbial right-brain.

I read J. Mark Bertrand’s “(Re)Thinking Worldview” recently (review pending). Among other useful elements, the book had me thinking again about the meaning and use of art in all mediums. Bertrand has much to say about employing one’s worldview as a filter to both create and appraise art. He further explains what it means to be an active evaluator of art, rather than a passive receptacle. All this combined with my own thoughts about art and the use of Christian liberty has helped me formulate a few points.

First we need a definition of the term, “art.”.

For the purpose of this discussion, I define “art” as any form of communication apart from the traditional use of language. “art” can include poetry, song, literature of every kind, painting, drawing, sculpture, music, photography and anything else you can think of. Yes, some of my agenda is layered into that definition but I think you’ll find it helps make better sense out of a controversial topic.

Working with that basic definition of “art”, let’s explore more. All art is grounded in truth. The purpose of art is to communicate. There is always a “point” or something to be understood. It may be straightforward, hidden, or obscure. The “point” may even be that there is no point at all. The message may be designed to be undetectable, or even nonsense. But in every piece of art there is a truth claim; art says something.

Part of the beauty of art is that it says something in so many different ways. In as many means as man can imagine, “the point” can be put across. As man is made in the image of God, he has proven to be endlessly creative.

What is the point of “saying something”?

Here’s another idea: Art is meant to create empathy. We enjoy art when we experience empathy. Empathy is understanding what someone else’s experience. It is easier to feel empathy when we have shared that experience. We have empathy if we see someone angry when we ourselves have been angry. But shared experience is not necessary to achieve empathy. We achieve empathy simply when we reach understanding. While I have never committed murder, a film may help me get inside the mind of one who has done so. I may abhor it, but I still understand what the murderer was thinking, what motivated them. Really, art accomplishes a direct line of understanding (not approval, mind you) between two people that have never met.

Out of this I build an important idea: good art must not be equated with moral art. In my opinion, art is good when it effectively communicates. It may communicate something immoral, but morality is not the issue. Communication, empathy is the issue.

In this sense, it’s better not to use the words “good” or “bad” in reference to art. I think that the better word is “effective.” this word carries the sense of function apart from morality.

It is at this point that we can draw some application. I listened to a song on a local alternative rock radio station. I like the station because they tend to play lesser known artists that are more engaging. One particular song they play a lot lately is a bleak, even violent imagination of the future. The language is not explicit or graphic, and yet the message is clear: the future is full of hopelessness and death. On one hand, I consider the song effective as art. The artist paints a picture of the future that is not true, and he actively rejects Biblical truth. Though I feel I have empathy for the artists outlook, I do not like the art. The message is immoral. I reject the “point” of the lyrics. I would not buy this music.

One important caveat: Just because art portrays immorality does not make it immoral. The thing to consider is how the consumer of art is asked to respond. For example, Steven’s Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List” portrays all kinds of evil by the Nazis on the Jews. Oliver Stone’s film “Natural Born Killers” portrays two violent criminals in love and on the run from the law. “Schindler’s List” despises the evil and “Natural Born Killers” revels in it. Spielberg’s film is one that I can watch again and again. Isaw Stone’s film as an unbeliever and I wish I never had. Yes, I would say that “Killers” is effective as art, but I reject it and refuse to consume it.

When we are evaluating art, the quality of that art should be based not on its morality, but on how effectively it communicates. Your taste for consuming should be based on its morality. To sum up, lets restate my points:

  1. Art is a form of communication.
  2. All art has a point, rooted is the assumption of truth.
  3. Art is effective when it accomplishes empathy.
  4. Empathy is not agreement.
  5. The morality of art is a separate consideration from its effectiveness.
  6. The portrayal of immorality is not necessarily immoral, what is immoral is being asked to agree with immorality.

THEREFORE:

  1. The act of consuming art is not sinful. The theology of Colossians is key here (Col 2:20-23 for example). Physical elements of the world do not perpetrate sin on the consumer. As active consumers of information, Christians can view and evaluate art.
  2. Simply considering art can be enjoyable even if we reject it (Rom 12:9) as we seek to line our thoughts up with Scripture (Rom 12:2).
  3. Because all art has a “point” Christians CANNOT be passive receptacles. Un-Biblical ideas are accepted when Christians do not critically evaluate the truth-claims of artists (Rom 16:19).
  4. Christians can consume art as a function of Christian liberty (1 Cor 6:12).
  5. The orientation of the heart toward art is the key (Jer 17:9) and here is the caution:

HOWEVER

  1. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should (1 Cor 10:23).
  2. What we consider the exercise of liberty can actually be sin (Gal 5:13). You must examine your motives for consuming art.
  3. Remember that your sinful hearts seek to use art as an occasion for sin. Guard against this. Even pornography is art. It is absolutely immoral. There is no provision for viewing this kind of art because it invites the heart to spiritual and literal adultery (Matt 5:28).

Ultimately, the critical evaluation and consumption of art can be used to glorify God. Evaluating the faulty truth claims of artists is an occasion for reflecting on Biblical truth. The beauty of empathizing with fellow human minds through art is a testament to man’s being made in the image of God (gen 1:26). The sheer creativity of man, even when he is being immoral, is a reflection of the mind of God. Even the act of creating art reflects God’s original creation, ex-nihilo (“out of nothing”, Genesis 1:1). Art , in all it’s forms, perverted and good alike, is an endless well that reveals the complexity of God in His creation, ultimately shedding light of His character, bringing Him glory.

Read Full Post »

Here’s the funny thing about worldview: Everybody has one, but it’s not the one they say they have.

Mark Driscoll reminded me of this in “Radical Reformission”, saying that people usually act in contradiction to the worldview they profess.

This fact is at the heart of how we as Christians use worldview as a tool for evangelism. This fact is also at he heart of how we as Christian mis-use worldview as a tool for evangelism. Let me explain.

Coming to understand worldview was a very exciting time for me as a Christian. My first exposures to David Wells, Don Carson, and Frances Schaeffer were unforgettable. I absolutely cherish the increase in wisdom I gleaned from reading these men. They helped me see that Christianity is reasonable and coherent, and that the unbeliever’s unbelief and sin is exposed by the incoherence of their worldview. As I would evangelize from time to time, I found myself analyzing the worldview of the person I was trying to share the gospel with, with particular respect to post-modernism. As I would discuss evangelism with other believers, my emphasis typically gravitated toward unraveling worldview.

Most of this is good. It involves listening and interaction with the people we evangelize. And yet I can’t help but think that most of the time, I’ve made things too complicated. It’s not that I’ve been lecturing people about their worldview, wagging my finger at them about their epistemological dilemmas. It’s more that I was spending too much time trying to move them out of their worldview and into mine, when most of the time they were already there.

I mean to say that when the discussion is philosophical, post-modernism is the flavor of the day, but when we’re walking down the street, we’re all good, old-fashioned pre-moderns at heart. Pre-modernism held that truth could be known, that God (or gods, or at least the supernatural) existed, and they revealed truth to us for which we were accountable.

We are all pre-modern when we look for meaning in our life, when we demand justice, when we help little old ladies across the street, when we expect others to correctly understand what we say, and even when we grab a coat because it’s cold outside.

istock_000004313258xsmall.jpgTruth is like gravity. I literally holds the moral universe together. We can all deny that it exists, but that only makes us out to be fools. We assume truth just like we assume gravity, And in the end we’re all grateful that our feet are planted firmly on the ground.

The practical results of denying truth would be like removing gravity from the universe. Imagine our feet leaving the ground. Imagine the atmosphere dissolving into space. Imagine planets leaving their orbits around the sun and dying. Imagine the universe itself dissipating. Nobody wants to live in that universe.

Now imagine someone coming to your door to take what’s your because they want it and they’re stronger that you. Imagine having no grounds for objection. Nobody wants to live in that world. Nobody does…yet.

So we see that people are not willing to live with any worldview other than the pre-modern, Christian, Biblical worldview. They only depart from it as long as it serves them. While it eases their guilt and permits their sin they’ll say that anything goes. When their own pursuits are obstructed, their true colors are revealed. And even while they deny the Biblical worlview, they assume it.
In the course of evangelism, I think it’s important to remember that it is the gospel that saves people. I certainly know and believe that, and yet I find myself trying to grease the wheels for the gospel by deconstructing their worldview first. Make no mistake: it is important to listen and understand where people are coming from. Worldview helps you figure that out in a hurry, just avoid the pitfalls of over-thinking and misuse.

Read Full Post »