Thursday, March 27, 2014

Be nice.

That’s what I have been telling myself continuously since deciding to write about the latest evangelistic Christian movie, “God’s Not Dead”. I snuck away and watched it yesterday afternoon.

There are plenty of scathing criticisms of this film to read. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 25% composite score. One reviewer summed it up best:  
"Even by the rather lax standards of the Christian film industry, ‘God’s Not Dead’ is a disaster. It’s an uninspired amble past a variety of Christian-email-forward boogeymen that feels far too long at just 113 minutes."

But I know many Christians who are thrilled with it. It was a box-office hit this past weekend when it opened here, the theater parking lot filled with church buses. 

And I know it is wrong to discourage another person’s faith… “quench the Spirit” and all that. But really, this is a terrible movie! It reminded me of those preachy “ABC After-School Specials” that were on television in the 70s.

What bothered me about it was not so much the plot. The idea of a college professor challenging a student’s belief in the existence of God is (hopefully) quite normal. Colleges and universities are not centers of Christian indoctrination; they are supposed to teach students to think.

In my own experience, my freshman philosophy professor presented an historical overview of the major philosophers – some “proved” the existence of God, while others “disproved” God’s existence. It was a balanced presentation – although the semester ended on a philosopher who proved God did not exist!

A brief existential crisis followed for the Captain, who was already at the time a pre-ministerial student!

 But even with this premise, it is ludicrous to think that a freshman “pre-law” student, Josh Wheaton, is going to prevail in an argument about the existence of God with a college philosophy professor who is proudly steeped in the writings of all the great atheist philosophers.

Equally unbelievable is that in a freshman philosophy class of 80 students, only one refuses to sign the professor’s “God is dead” pact.

The implication: only one is a “real” Christian, willing to stand up for his faith against the evil professor, no matter what the cost.

Funny thing is, the argument is to prove the existence of God - which very few will dispute - not to prove the lordship of Jesus Christ. The screen writers often confused the two concepts.

Another observation that bothered me was the obvious hypocrisy of many of the designated Christians in the movie. Josh’s (presumably Christian) girlfriend of six years is the most selfish character on screen – even when compared with Dean Cain’s character, Mark, who is supposed to represent the very apex of selfishness as a non-believer.

And then there’s Professor Raddison’s girlfriend, Mina – a former student of his who became his live-in lover – another one of the Christians lifted up as being superior to the non-believers portrayed in the film. Co-habitation is hardly an evangelical Christian value. Seriously, a professor doesn’t shack up with a hot young co-ed without there being sexual intercourse in the offer.


But what bothered me more than these others about the movie is the depiction of the Muslim family, whom we are supposed to dislike.

Because they are Muslim, of course.

Captain's Note: Muslims believe in God. Our God.

But I found Misrab the most appealing and faithful character in the movie.

Misrab has brought his family to America – the land of opportunity, the land of freedom. He is a devout Muslim and struggles to maintain his deeply-held religious beliefs in the midst of the fetid wasteland of American culture. He forces his beautiful daughter, Ayisha, to wear the traditional veil to hide her face while in public – which she immediately removes on the college campus once he is out of sight.

We see the struggles between cultures and beliefs acted out when an American student sees Ayisha putting her scarf back on in anticipation of her father’s return. Ayisha is embarrassed to be seen this way. The American expresses sympathy for Ayisha having to cover her beauty, not praise for being so faithful and obedient to her father.

Then we learn that Ayisha has secretly converted to Christianity after listening to Franklin Graham pod-casts.


Be nice. Be nice.

And only a short time later, her father discovers this too. In anger, Misrab slaps her around, then drags her out of his house by the hair, casting her into the streets with only the clothes she is wearing. She is no longer his daughter, no longer welcome under his roof.

Misrab is obviously distraught by his own actions, but he must do so. His faith demands it.

And we are supposed to “Boo”.

But isn’t this the primary message of the movie? Stand up for your faith, no matter what the cost? No matter what the consequences?

Didn’t we see this same thing acted out (perhaps to a lesser degree) when Josh and his girlfriend broke up because he refused to back down from his faith? Isn’t that what happened when Mina left Professor Raddison when she decided they were “unequally yoked”?

Okay, she really left because he was an ass and treated her badly. She should have left him long ago. But the faith angle is thrown in there too.

Frankly, I wanted to “Boo” when Ayisha turned to “Rev. Dave”, who is apparently in the midst of his own existential crisis. Rev. Dave’s secretary offers Ayisha a Kleenex and the empty words, “We’re here for you”, while Rev. Dave (with his trendy beard stubble and surfer-dude haircut) quotes a verse of scripture at her, which apparently makes everything okay. And Ayisha – still orphaned and homeless – runs off that night to the Newsboys concert and has a great time!

She even meets Josh there.

Do I smell a sequel coming?

Which brings us to the end of the movie. 

“God is good.”

“All the time.” 

Be nice. Be nice.

All the main characters converge at the Newsboys concert. Josh, after winning the argument with his professor, takes a fellow student – his new Chinese convert – with him to the concert instead of his (former) girlfriend. Ayisha is there – after having just been disowned by her father. Mina is there – after having just broken up with the professor she idolized. Rev. Dave is outside the stadium in the rain – cursing all the concert goers who are blocking traffic. And Professor Raddison, having had an epiphany, decides he wants Mina back, so he heads to the concert to find her.

Like he’s going to find her in a dark auditorium filled with thousands of screaming fans?

As Professor Raddison approaches the stadium, the lead singer for the Newsboys asks everyone to text “God’s Not Dead” - which also happens to be the name of one of their songs - to all their friends. We see Mina manipulating her cell phone just as we see Professor Raddison being hit by a taxi.

God isn’t dead… but your boyfriend is!

Fortunately, Rev. Dave is there to hear Professor Raddison’s confession of faith before he dies.

Rev. Dave’s words of comfort: “You’re dying. And in a few moments you’re going to know more about God than I ever will!” 

[The Captain is taking notes.]

And everybody lives happily ever after.

Well, except for Professor Raddison. He’s dead.

Okay, that was not nice.

But that’s the part of this film I most dislike – the “happily ever after” part. Save “happily ever after” for a Disney movie. Let Maria von Trapp and her family escape from the Nazis while singing to the mountains!

But real life – even for Christians – is not so simple. We can’t just tie all our problems up with a nice neat bow of scripture verses and hymns.

Think about it: after the concert is over, where will Ayisha go? She can’t go home. She will most likely have to drop out of college. Will Rev. Dave take her in (even though he is apparently single)? Or maybe the secretary who assured her everything will be alright?

And what about Mina, when she leaves the concert and learns that her boyfriend is dead?  The boyfriend who was coming to find her to tell her of his change of heart and of his desire to get back together with her?

And what about Josh, who even as a freshman is uncharacteristically worried about getting all his classes in order, paving the way for law school? The death of Professor Raddison will definitely disrupt his semester.

Friends, God is not dead.

God is good? Yes, all the time!

Life sucks? Yes, that is sometimes true too... even for Christians.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Don't Laugh - It's Science!

This past week I found an article in Huffington Post that makes an incredible claim: 

“According to Science, Thor’s Hammer Would Destroy Earth” 

Are you wondering what “Thor’s Hammer” is?

No, I'm not talking about the over-utilized tattoo...

"Awesome, dude. No, really. I think your mom will like it!"

And it’s not some new “weapon of mass destruction” or doomsday weather machine (a la “General Hospital” of the 1980s).

And it's not that banging in your head following a weekend bender!

No, this is the great battle hammer wielded by the fictional comic book character (and now big-screen star) “Thor”.

Finally getting the attention it deserves!

Lord I need a drink!

I grew up reading Marvel’s “Thor” comic books. Borrowed loosely from Norse mythology, Thor is the son of Odin and god of Thunder, who was sent from Asgard to earth by his father to learn humility. But whenever earth was threatened, Thor was able to revert to his godly form and save the day.

Yes, I am well-versed in the Thor mythology. I used to run around the backyard pretending a croquet mallet was my mighty hammer, vanquishing all the deadly foes in my neighborhood.

Actually, I only did this when I thought no one was looking. Even as a child the Captain tried to maintain his dignity.

Frankly, I think history has proved that a giant sledge hammer is a terrible battle weapon – the wind-up and momentum of a swing leaves its user dangerously exposed. But Thor’s hammer, a short-handled version, was special. Only he could lift the powerful weapon, and when he threw it – crushing his foes – it would magically return to him. 

So put on your winged helmet and follow along.

Here’s the lead to the HuffPo story, written by fantasy-killjoy April Sperry: “Many Marvel fans incorrectly believe that Thor's hammer, Mj√∂lnir, was forged from a dying star.” 

Forged from a dying star! How cool is that!

Wait. What’s a “dying star”?

According to a YouTube video by Vsauce3 – the only source of info for Sperry's article by the way – when a dying star collapses it “creates a celestial body with two times the mass of the sun in an object that is only 12 miles in diameter”.

A little geeky, I know. Sorry. Science can sometimes be that way.

So is this possible where we get the term “heavy metal”?

Or is it this?

Anyway, Sperry continues: “Now, this isn't true (it was forged within a dying star)…” 

Okay, if it was not really forged from a dying star, why are you still writing? 

“…but what if it were?” 

Okay, this argument is quickly slipping over into the inane. Do we really need “science” to prove or disprove a device found in a comic book… that really isn’t in the comic book?

Why not devote your time exposing more important mysteries like the fraudulent “Xray Specs”?

Arguing about whether Thor’s hammer could possibly be real is like arguing about whether Superman could actually fly up into the sky and catch Lois Lane as she plummeted through the air in freefall without crushing all of her bones with his “man of steel” arms.

No one seems to ask just how it is that Superman is able to fly, or better yet, what earthly purpose that stupid red cape serves.

But I digress. April Sperry is not finished yet. “Pause your suspension of disbelief for just a second, though…” 

Actually, the only thing I have trouble believing right now is that this story was published in an international newspaper. 

“According to science…” 

Um, yeah, right. Go on… 

“… if Thor's hammer were indeed made up of the stuff of dying stars, it would weigh 4.6 trillion metric tons…” 

But you’ve already told us that it’s not! And the creators of the comic book (the amazing Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) say it only weighs 42.3 pounds.

You know, the Captain's getting the feeling that WAAAAAAY too many people are spending WAAAAAY too much time on this question!

“…and a single blow to the ground would essentially have the same impact as the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.”

What? Thor killed the dinosaurs?

I thought it was cigarettes...

My head is beginning to hurt.

So what is the point to this “news” article?

Here’s the best part: there is no point to it!

Seriously! This writer saw a geeky video on YouTube and wrote a story about it.

And even more incredible, HuffPo actually published it!

And here is a hot chick.

Nope, no real reason. The Captain just thinks she's hot!

Anyway, as soon as I post this, I’m sending the manuscript over to the editors at HuffPo.

Maybe the Captain can be published too!

Fame and glory, my friend! Fame and glory!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Can't This Be the Law Everywhere?

Adopted in Key West, FL October 17, 2000

Monday, March 10, 2014

While We Were Sleeping...

These past few weeks have been exceptionally busy as we have had several high-profile deaths among the congregation. These events have taken me away from the more enjoyable aspects of my ministry and my writing, and have largely kept me away from current events like the Academy Awards, the fomenting tensions in Ukraine, and last week’s start-studded CPAC.

The first one I couldn’t care less about. I heard that Matthew McConaughey is the new darling of the evangelical Christian community simply because he thanked God during his acceptance speech. I just wonder if any of them have seen his recent films…

The second one, Ukraine, I will get to in a moment.

Which brings us to CPAC.

Last week was the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Essentially, it is a gathering of extremely closed- like-minded people who listen to speakers trying to be more extreme conservative than the last, ending with a “Straw Poll” about whom they would vote for if the Presidential Election was held today.

In recent history, they got it right only with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Yes, there are gay conservatives!
But the selection of Texas Representative Ron Paul in 2010 & 2011 brought concerns that the conference was drifting away from “conservative American values” toward Libertarianism. That, coupled with the rejection of the gay Republican group GOProud in 2011 (at the behest of the Heritage Foundation, the American Family Association, and the Family Research Council), has incurred some fragmentation at the conference and the creation of some upstarts that are trying to prove themselves the true conservative voice.

Not to mention that in 2010 the John Birch Society became a co-sponsor of the event!

Perhaps the world shifted on its axis in 2010, because that same year, CPAC gave the dubious “Ronald Reagan Award” to the Tea Party movement.

Nonetheless, Kentucky darling and junior Senator Rand Paul (son of Rep. Ron Paul, who borrowed the name from his favorite author Ayn Rand) won the “straw poll” in both 2013 and this year, edging out Ted Cruz, the crackpot Senator from Texas, by nearly three times the number!

Senator Paul, born just a month before your humble Captain, and an ophthalmologist by profession, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. According to Wikipedia (you’ll appreciate this footnote in a moment), the junior Senator’s first legislative proposal was to cut $500 billion from federal spending in one year. He wanted to cut the Department of Education by 83%, the Department of Homeland Security by 43%, and fold the Department of Energy into the Department of Defense. His proposal also included completely doing away with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, seven independent agencies, and all international aid, and reducing food stamps by 30%.

And yet, people are still listening to him!

He has consistently voted against raising the debt ceiling, stop-gap spending measures, and budget cuts that don’t go “deep enough”.

And recently he was caught plagiarizing from Wikipedia articles!

See, at least I cite my sources, questionable though they are!

Let me remind you again that Senator Ted Cruz took second place in the “straw poll”.

Be afraid! Be very afraid!

So what would happen if the CPAC people have actually predicted a winner this time? What would “President Rand Paul” do?

Yesterday, the Huffington Post (I know, “the liberal media”) reported on Paul’s appearance on Fox News Sunday. Paul was asked what he would do about the situation in Ukraine.

For those of you who have been sleeping, here’s the situation: the President of that former Soviet Bloc nation was a scoundrel, stealing millions from the people. The people wanted a trade agreement with the European Union, but at the last minute, the president decided to throw his support to Russia.

The Captain assumes rubles did, in fact, change hands.

No, this is not a scene from a movie or video game.
Bloody riots broke out, the president fled the country, and Russia moved in to restore order and ensure that Ukraine would behave and realign itself with Russia. The rest of the world protested Russia’s action as a blatant invasion of a sovereign nation – as if that’s never been done before – and sabers have been rattling.

A point not to be overlooked, Ukraine is of little consequence to the EU and to America, so there is little chance of military engagement. It's just that no one wants Russia to have it.

But of course, this gives critics of President Obama an opportunity to complain, and CPAC provided a convenient platform.

What average American citizens aren’t aware of – because we really don’t care! – is that Ukraine is almost completely dependent on Russian oil. So if Russia was to turn off the tap, that little country would be plunged into darkness and an oil shortage could possibly ripple throughout Europe.

But Senator Paul is a smart man. He is aware of all of this. So when asked by Fox News what he would do about Ukraine, the junior Senator responded, “I would immediately get every obstacle out of the way for our export of oil and gas… And I would begin drilling in every possible, conceivable place within our territories in order to have production that we can supply Europe with if it’s interrupted from Ukraine.”

Take a moment to let that thought sink in…

“President Rand Paul”, who just three years ago wanted to cut all foreign aid, would be willing to destroy the land and deplete the natural resources of America in order to prop up a small, politically insignificant nation halfway around the world, just to say “F___ You!” to Russia?

Way to go, CPAC! You’ve picked a real winner!