2020/09/18

The Divine Perfections

Trinity


Wednesday's post occasioned a number of theological questions which this post from the Kairos archives answers.

Previously we defined what theologians mean by God: the necessary, self-existing uncaused Being that is the ultimate source of all contingent being.

Having established God as the uncaused, necessary Being, we can conclude to a number of His divine attributes.

Here are the perfections of the godhead with which readers are most likely to be familiar, in no particular order.

Infinity

In theological terms, infinity refers not to unrestricted extension in space or number, but means that God's perfection is unlimited, and that He possesses every possible perfection to the highest extent.

God's infinity necessarily follows from His self-existence. If any other being could place an external limitation on God, then God would in that regard be dependent on that being. He would thus be contingent, therefore not self-necessary, and therefore not God.

Nor can God limit himself, since His existence is His essence, and a change in His mode of being would require a change in His nature, which would render Him not God, which as a self-contradiction, is impossible.

Omnipotence

Probably the most well-known of God's attributes but also the most misunderstood. Omnipotence does not mean that God can "do anything", e.g. create a rock so big He can't lift it. It means that He is free from any limitation on the exercise of the powers proper to His nature.

That said, the range of God's power excludes only what is self-contradictory, such as the rock above, a four-sided triangle, etc. The intrinsic inability of the impossible to exist is not a limitation on God's power, much as being flightless does not limit a penguin's natural powers.

God's omnipotence logically follows from His infinity. There can be no limitation on the exercise of His powers because such a limitation would constitute contingency and result in a self-contradiction.

Eternity

Another often misunderstood divine attribute, eternity as attributed to God does not mean that He exists on a timeline extending perpetually into the future and the past. It means that God transcends time and dwells instead in an ever-present now.

Due to God's eternity, any mention of Him acting in the past or future tense is made only by analogy--there is no was in God. This divine attribute is attested in Sacred Scripture with the revelation of the Divine Name, "I Am."

Again, we inexorably conclude to God's eternity from His infinity, since the self-necessary Being cannot be limited in time any more than He can be limited in power.

Omnipresence

In light of the divine attributes we've already covered, God's omnipresence needs no elaborate explanation. Since God is not limited in time, He's not limited in space.

God's omnipresence does not contradict His eternity. Though not limited in time, He coexists with it, just as He, though infinite, coexists with finite beings.

To say otherwise would be to claim that necessary and contingent being--i.e. cause and effect--are mutually exclusive, which is absurd.

Omniscience

It should go without saying at this point that the infinite Being cannot be limited in knowledge. For the same reason that God's power cannot be contingent on any other being, He must derive His perfect knowledge solely from Himself.

Failure to understand God's omniscience poses a stumbling block to many philosophical and theological laymen. God is not like a man atop a high tower afforded a longer view by His superior vantage point. Nor is He like a man at the end of time looking back over the historical record.

God's knowledge is not dependent on any creature, nor is it mediated by senses. Instead, God knows all things causally and from all eternity by virtue of His status as First Cause.

Consider a cellist publicly performing a new composition. The audience only knows the song through the mediation of their sense of hearing. The composer, however, knows the piece more intimately since he wrote the sheet music. This analogy is imperfect, because regarding omniscience, God didn't simply write the sheet music, He is the sheet music.

These are just a few of the divine attributes. To be precise, they're really artificial delineations of God's singular, infinitely simple nature split into separate categories for easier human understanding. Theologians are, by necessity, blind men groping an elephant. But we do know that the subject of our inquiry is there, and our investigations can obtain some truth, however incomplete.

2020/09/16

The Problem of Evil

Aqedah

The defining claim of atheism is that God doesn't exist, but if you listen to them long enough, you come to realize that atheists never argue against God's existence.

In fact, there are really only two basic arguments atheists make. The first rests on the observation that the universe seems to work just fine without divine intervention.

Not only is this a straw man, since Christians do not in fact deny secondary causes, it reinforces the cosmological arguments for God. Rules imply a rule-giver. Once the atheist grants the existence of universal principles, he can't deny that they have an origin without violating the law of cause and effect he's arguing from in the first place.

The other argument in the atheist's bag of tricks, and by far the weaker of the two, relies on appeals to the problem of evil.

Philosophers and theologians have been engaging with the question of why a good God allows evil--theodicy, to use the fancy term--since before biblical times. But as they do with the question of God's existence, atheists pretend Christians didn't come up with numerous solutions to the problem centuries ago and forge ahead as if they've discovered a silver bullet "gotcha" question everybody missed for years.

I've heard a lot of smart people say that the problem of evil posed a serious challenge to their faith. That's because arguments for atheism based on theodicy are rhetorical devices masquerading as dialectic. They derive all of their punch from evoking an emotional response in the target.

The question, "How could a good, all-powerful God allow children to starve?" doesn't even address the issue of God's existence. It assumes God exists and instead casts doubt on His goodness and/or omnipotence. Again, it's not really an argument for atheism. The point is to give believers a case of cognitive dissonance.

Now, one might argue that a creator who lacks perfect goodness and power leaves us with an imperfect demiurge. The obvious objection to that line of reasoning is that it just kicks the can one step further down the road, because a contingent demiurge still requires an Absolute First Cause.

Even more damning to the atheist wielding theodicy as a bludgeon, arguing from the problem of evil also assumes Christian morality. Blind evolutionary forces don't care if children starve. Such cases are neither good nor bad. They just mean those kids didn't have what it took to survive.

But our atheist takes it for granted that children starving is wrong, even as he accuses God of hypocrisy in order to undermine the believer's rationale for judging child starvation to be evil.

If we grant the premise that evil's existence refutes God's goodness and/or omnipotence, then God is not God. Therefore, His precepts do not bind in conscience. Therefore Christian morality is wrong. Therefore the believer was wrong to be scandalized by starving kids in the first place.

It's self-negating.

How do Christians resolve the problem of evil? As I mentioned above, scholars have had a long time to work on theodicy, and myriad solutions exist.

The simplest is this: God exists, and evil exists.

That answer might sound facile, but remember, it's up to atheists to prove those statements contradictory. They never actually do. They just glibly assume it.

They also pretend like there's some Scripture passage where God says evil isn't real, and His people will never suffer. In fact He says the exact opposite time and again. The Bible is the story of God's tireless efforts to deliver His people from evil, culminating in the Passion of Jesus Christ, which solves the problem once and for all by giving men a way to make suffering redemptive.

"But God created everything, right?" I can hear some of you say. "Doesn't that mean He created evil?"

The first part of that objection is correct. God alone has the power to create something from nothing. But whereas I've affirmed throughout this post that evil exists, that statement is only true in a metaphorical way.

It's the inverse of how God is said to exist as a matter of convenience. More properly speaking, God is Being. Since God is good, and God is being, good is being.

The flip side of that syllogism is that evil has no independent existence. Instead, evil is an absence of the good; a lacking of something that should be.

Where does evil come from? Remember that only God can create things. Men can't create anything. Or, phrased another, equally correct way, men can create nothing.

Human beings--and unfallen and fallen angels--are agents of causality. While we can't create ex nihilo, we can mar and destroy already existing goods.

It's men and fallen angels who bring evil into the world, not God. It's all on us.

Happily, bringing something out of nothing; good out of evil, is God's specialty. He's already taken the worst evil ever committed--His own sorrowful Passion and death--and turned it into the salvation of mankind.

2020/09/15

It Was Under the Bed

Ouija Board

 A reader who wishes to remain anonymous writes in with a personal tale of high strangeness.

First, I don't usually believe when people tell me about their paranormal experiences.  I've known so many people who clearly bullshit and lie about things that never really happened (or at least I highly doubt they happened).  I'm not saying everyone's a liar, but in today's age with the popularity of horror movies and paranormal "reality" TV shows, it's only natural for so many people to make things up that never happened.  Since I have this mindset, I never expect belief from the few people I talk to about these things; a) I have no proof  b) I write horror stories and compose scary music, so it just looks like it's something I'm making up if I were to tell someone.

With that all being said, I'm going to share this story.  And it has a lot to do with Christianity and the demonic side of things.

To begin with, I was raised in a Catholic household since birth.  However, during my late teenage years I started to doubt the existence of God and wondered if I was just worshipping an unresponsive nothing.  Over time I became bitter and resentful.  As can unfortunately happen with so many young, confused, impressionable minds these days, I was introduced to the concept of the Ouija Board.  At the time, I thought that it sounded interesting and wondered if it could give me an answer since I thought God clearly didn't exist or was ignoring me.  So, I eventually acquired one.  Though my intentions were good, I had no idea what I was getting into.  As stupid as this may sound, my goal was to somehow ask "the spirits" to wreak havoc on all of the corrupt elite around the world and bring an end to their influence.  But you see, when I set everything up according to the directions, nothing ever happened.  I tried and I tried harder.  Still, nothing happened.  Eventually I gave up on the thing and believed it was just as fake as God.  I left the Ouija Board underneath my bed (where I kept a lot of useless junk).  The board sat there for nearly three years.

Over the next few years I gained a better understanding of the world and returned to Christianity.  In addition to that, I became aware of the Luciferian influence on society by the entertainment industry, politicians, etc.  One night, my younger brother and I were having a philosophical conversation.  It was late during the evening, but at one point we started talking about how Satanism does manifest in even far-right, obscure groups.  I told him about how they incorporate a philosophy known as "The Left-Hand Path", which is basically an extremely individualistic, hedonistic, selfish life.  During this conversation, I remembered the board was underneath my bed and I started staring at it (I was sitting on the floor during the conversation).  I almost became in this trance-like state and the board's box appeared to move on its own.  Before I was aware, this invisible force of unpleasantness and fear lunged out at me.  I don't really know how to describe it, other than I "felt" it and "heard" it.  It scared the shit out of me and I immediately jumped up.  My brother wanted to know what the hell happened, so I quickly told him.  That night, we ended up taking the board and throwing it in a trashcan outside.

This is what I've taken away from the experience: Although I thought my intentions were good initially when I bought the board, nothing ever happened with it.  Why?  Because evil doesn't need to attack evil.  I was essentially saying to a demon "Hey, could you please kill these really evil people that are ruining the world?"  Of course nothing happened!  My own soul was in a very dark and dangerous place during that time - the demon didn't need to do anything.  But why did I experience something many years later when I had forgotten about the board altogether and abandoned such silly and immoral beliefs?  Because I had clearly become a different person and was being guided by Christ.  I also think due to the subject of the conversation I was having with my brother, something demonic felt the need to try to attack me.

Anyway, believe it or not.  Take from it what you will.  This was the most realistic paranormal experience I've ever had.

In case you needed more evidence why playing with Ouija boards is a bad idea, Anon's story aptly illustrates the disordered desire for control that motivates attempts to invoke such forces.

God is in control of all. He grants us mastery of our individual destinies within limits, and efforts to impose our will beyond those limits are dangerously prideful.

There are powers that lie in wait to take advantage of that pride. Those powers mean us harm, and dabbling with a Ouija board is akin to laying out the welcome mat for them.

God's mercy is the white pill, which He graciously dispensed to Anon. We can and should be thankful for his conversion. 

Take warning, though, that willingly indulging in sin with the presumption of that mercy is no less prideful.


It's really hard to find these days someone who's willing to be brave enough to write about these subjects without measuring words, without trying to "not offend anyone". The author really manages to capture the dark intentions behind not only Hollywood but of big companies in general.

2020/09/14

Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest

My 80s and 90s movie reviews seem to be resonating with readers. This response makes sense, given that many have rightly despaired of Hollywood ever treating classic franchises with anything but contempt.

Multiple commenters brought up one film in particular that seems worthy of review, especially since it has the same director as the new Bill & Ted streaming release. 

By popular demand, it's time to revisit the late 90s cult classic Galaxy Quest. Not only is it one of my favorite comedies, it easily stands among my favorite SF films and is just plain one of my all-time favorite movies.

In addition to the accolades I already heaped on it, Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie. Sure, it's an homage that parodies Trek in much the same way that Spaceballs riffed on Star Wars, but Galaxy Quest succeeds where even Mel Brooks failed. It beat its source material at its own game.

Don't take my word for it. Fans at a major Star Trek convention ranked Galaxy Quest the seventh best film in the series, and that was only because of backroom politicking that bumped Quest down from its starting position in second place. Key members of the creative team who've worked on Star Trek movies since The Voyage Home declared that it deserved to be #1.

If you're unfamiliar with Galaxy Quest, stop reading this and go watch it right now.

For those who are at work or school or prison or somewhere that won't let you stream videos, Galaxy Quest follows a simple yet ingenious premise.

NOTE: this movie is  now old enough to drink, so my spoiler filter is off.

The washed-up stars of a 70s SF TV show, forced to subsist on convention signings and ribbon cuttings since the program's cancellation, get much more than they bargained for when what they think is another promo gig turns out to be the real thing.

Facing genocide, an alien race has turned to "Historical Documents" from Earth, i.e. television transmissions, for guidance--especially old episodes of Galaxy Quest. They lovingly reproduce the series' iconic ship down to the last bolt and dab of paint; then enlist the original crew to lead them in battle.

Galaxy Quest NSEA Protector

Unfortunately, the "crew" don't have their act together--figuratively or literally.

Galaxy Quest Crew

Besides the shock of finding themselves embroiled in a real interstellar war, the actors must confront the interpersonal grudges and rivalries that have alienated them from each other as they're thrust back into their old roles. It's the command performance of a lifetime, with stakes far higher than bad ratings.

In design and execution, Galaxy Quest not only meets the standard set by Star Trek, but sometimes surpasses it. Quest is like the rare cover version of a song that draws out the original's latent potential and takes it to the next level.

Now imagine that the cover song is by "Weird Al" Yankovic, and the metaphor is complete. Don't let the comedy distract you from the fact that the artist is a bona fide genius.

I'd go so far as to argue that the best comedy writers are the greatest writers of all, since comedy is the hardest genre to execute successfully. And Quest is hands down the best SF comedy.

Why does Galaxy Quest deserve such praise? The simplest reason is that it's a sci-fi, parody, ensemble cast, character-driven, comedy/adventure film that works on each and every one of those levels.

Galaxy Quest is indeed a sterling comedy. Rare among contemporary films in this genre, it doesn't stoop to lazy one-liners or crude slapstick for cheap laughs. Instead, it takes the high road of crafting situational humor based on solidly established characters and how they react to their strange circumstances.

NB: critics lament how modern comedies have largely replaced actual jokes with glib pop culture references. Ironically, Galaxy Quest is one of the few movies that could've gotten away with that gimmick. Yet its makers exercised admirable restraint in weaving SF tropes into the story subtly and organically through the actors' performances.


The near-subliminal references even extend to the movie's visual design.

Galaxy Quest Protector

After soaring over the highest hurdle, Galaxy Quest goes for the gold in the sci-fi, space opera, and characterization categories. Though the science is extra squishy (just how I like it), the movie more than compensates by adding new speculative elements that are just as satisfying as their Trek analogs.

The digital conveyor, FTL flight via black holes (later explored seriously by Interstellar), and the Omega 13 device are just some of the masterful conceits that establish Quests's own consistent mythos.

One added benefit of rewatching the film was realizing just how gorgeous it is. The conceptual and technical design; even the costumes, are on par with the finer Trek movies while having a pleasing aesthetic all their own.

I was also surprised by how the movie's visuals influenced the descriptions in my own writing. Though I didn't realize it at the time, the bridge of the Protector clearly inspired the wheelhouse of the Serapis from Nethereal.


The special effects only lose a few points because some of the CG looks a little outdated now, but it still beats any Syfy Channel original movie.

In the action department, Galaxy Quest largely departs from the submarine warfare style of most Trek installments and depicts pulpier, though honestly more exciting, space battles. The character-level gun play and fisticuffs retain comedic elements while portraying deadly consequences, sometimes in direct contrast to the TV show's camp.


At the movie's low point, Jason Nesmith (aptly portrayed by Tim Allen) must confess to the alien leader Mathesar that he and his "crew" are not what the aliens believed. They are simple actors pretending to be space explorers on sets made of plywood, tinfoil, and Christmas lights.

Galaxy Quest Jason and Mathesar

Mathesar's race--the Thermians--are perfect examples of the purely material beings described by master SF author John C. Wright. Mathesar states that his people lacked transcendent beliefs, and that they interpreted all earth television broadcasts as historical documentaries.

This is strong evidence that the Thermians are purely material--or at least materialistic--beings with no spiritual dimension to their existence, who as such have no longing for a reality above and beyond the mundane world.

Wright convincingly reasons that sapient beings who are fully "at home" in the material world would have no need for or concept of fiction. Their libraries would have only textbooks and newspapers; not pulp magazines and novels. The Thermians therefore see no difference between fiction and lies.

The interactions between guileless Thermians and duplicitous humans brings about one of the movie's core moral themes: What value, if any, does fiction have? When asked why humans would go to the considerable effort and expense of creating such elaborate charades, Nesmith admits to Mathesar that he doesn't know. He makes halfhearted mention of entertainment, but it's clear that he's never thought through the basis of his craft.

It is here, in the last act, that Galaxy Quest goes from being a workmanlike and thoroughly enjoyable parody to a work of genius.

The cast of the Galaxy Quest TV show start the movie as petty, frustrated characters, depressed by their inability to be who their talents and dispositions call them to be. They're suddenly given a final, all-or-nothing chance to redeem themselves.

Galaxy Quest Jason Nesmith

The crew of actors are given multiple chances throughout the film to escape the conflict and return home to their old lives. Each time, they decide to stay, even after learning that they're in mortal danger. Jason and his crew don't just suffer adversity with patience. They willingly accept terrible risks for the sake of strangers from a distant world.

Even more impressive, Galaxy Quest answers its thematic question about the value of art; not through dialog, but through the characters' actions. Traditionally, protagonists in mistaken identity plots prevail by either tapping into hidden strengths, or by leveraging their native abilities.

The cast of Galaxy Quest do both--employing their acting chops to overcome challenges while growing into their fictional roles for real. By the end of the movie, Tony Shalhoub's character really is the Protector's chief engineer. Reluctant pilot Tommy flies her with confidence and skill. Jason is established as the ship's master and a leader of men.

Yet it's the final touch that cements this film as a triumph. The human crew of the Protector have defeated their adversary and saved the Thermian race. At this point, a lesser story would have ended with the aliens gaining knowledge of fiction and losing some of their innocence, possibly with a trite speech about faking it until you make it or the inspirational value of noble lies.

Instead, the Thermians are convinced that Nesmith's confession was itself a ruse, and their faith in the "Historical Documents" is fully restored.

Now, I anticipate criticism on the grounds that our heroes leave the Thermians in ignorance. Isn't the bitterest truth preferable to the sweetest lie?

To which I reply that anyone making such an objection is equivocating. Equating fiction with deceit is the Thermians' mistake, made because they're fundamentally blind to the difference. Trying to distinguish between a lie told with malice and a story told in service of the truth is a Sisyphean task where Thermians are concerned, and no futile task is morally obligatory.

And because we, the audience, are not Thermians, we can see how Galaxy Quest upholds the wonder and beauty of space exploration, the good of heroic virtue, and the truth that the value of good fiction transcends the world of base matter.

2020/09/11

The Fix Is In

Mail Fraud

Follow American politics long enough, and you'll soon notice two phenomena so reliable you can set your watch by them:
  • The Left always explains exactly what they plan to do.
  • They explain it by projecting their schemes onto their opposition.
The Left's propensity for confessional projection--conjection--if you will, is really quite remarkable. They monologue like passive-aggressive pulp serial villains.

Here's a procession of warhorses from the Democrats' fading old guard sternly warning that Trump may not accept the results of the election.

Which attentive observers will correctly take to mean that the Democrats have no intention of accepting the election results.

How will the Left pull off what will essentially amount to a coup? They've helpfully explained that, as well.
In preparation for delayed results on Election Day due to millions of mail-in ballots, Twitter said Thursday that it will delete or label posts that claim victory too early, according to a report.
The social network, which already prohibits or flags tweets that sow confusion about voting, will institute new guidelines to take effect next Thursday about posts “claiming victory before election results have been certified” or aiming to “prevent a peaceful transfer of power,” Politico reported.
It will also take similar action against “disputed claims” about the voting process, including “unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results.”
“We will not permit our service to be abused around civic processes, most importantly elections,” Twitter said. “Any attempt to do so – both foreign and domestic – will be met with strict enforcement of our rules, which are applied equally and judiciously for everyone.”
Twitter spokesman Trenton Kennedy said the company is being transparent about the efforts it will take to prevent confusion as voters are expected to shun voting in person in favor of mail-in ballots amid coronavirus fears.
And Twitter isn't alone.
Facebook also announced that it will flag any candidates declaring victory early and will ban political ads in the week before the Nov. 3 election.
Those mail-in ballots are the key. Far more Democrats than Republicans--a majority, in fact--plan to vote by mail. Most of those ballots will not be counted until after election night, thus inviting two likely scenarios:
  1. Trump appears to win on election night, since he'll get most of his votes at the ballot box. But mail-in ballots counted over the following days flip the race to Biden.
  2. Trump does in fact win on election night, but Democrat apparatchiks conveniently keep finding mail-in ballots until Biden snatches away the victory. As AE points out in the article linked above, the fact that most Republicans will vote on election day will tell the Democrats exactly how many votes they need to fake to beat Trump.
In either event, the Party have their Big Tech hatchet men prepping the public for a contested election and the massive, nationwide unrest that's likely to result. Zuckerberg and Dorsey's job will be to silence Trump and his supporters, ensuring that the MSM's narrative dominates.

Welcome to BananAmerica.

Goes beyond analysis into action.

2020/09/10

You Can't Save Everyone

 A reader shares this conversation which proves how deep the Pop Cult conditioning goes.

Pop Cultist

The context of this particular discussion was the NFL. You're just as likely to hear the exact same script from Pop Cultists who are still addicted to Big Two comics, Hollywood Movies, and corporate top 40 music.

Note how pointing out that the Cultist is debasing himself by paying to be insulted doesn't suffice to sway him. The cult of pop culture replaced the healthy call to worship for many in Clown World, especially those lacking self-respect and a sense of meaning. Sadly, that describes tens of millions of Americans.

You can't save everyone. Once a Pop Cultist has shown that he's willing to sacrifice his dignity for a fleeting dopamine fix, it's best to shake the dust from your shoes rather than waste time trying to talk him out of a position he was never talked into.

You can, however, save yourself. The first step is to stop giving money to people who hate you.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/09/09

Major League 1989

Major League

In the spirit of what's turned into a series of 80s movie reviews, I decided to revisit the 1989 sports comedy Major League.

If you're unfamiliar with Major League, it's a light comedy firmly in the "ragtag team of misfits learn to put aside their differences to win the big game' mold. This movie managed to rise above the pack thanks largely to snappy dialogue and endearing performances by Tom Berenger, Bob Uecker, Wesley Snipes, and Charlie Sheen.

That's what makes this film notable from a creative standpoint. The screenwriters and actors took a rather shopworn concept and elevated the material to the status of a middling 80s classic. Major League essentially did for sports flicks what Ghostbusters did for horror movies--albeit with rather less cultural penetration and commercial dominance.

ML was still a hit though, earning back roughly five times its budget at the box office. And chances are most of you at least recognize Charlie Sheen's trademark character Ricky Vaughn--especially if you subscribe to dissident politics.

Brief plot synopsis: The gold-digging trophy wife of the Cleveland Indians' recently deceased owner plots to activate an escape clause that will let her move the team to Miami if attendance drops below 800,000 for the season. To that end, she fills up the roster with the worst players she can find. The result is a club full of dysfunctional circus freaks. Two complications threaten to foil the owner's plan: 1) the players catch on and resolve to win out of revenge, and 2) an amazingly talented nobody just happens to crash Indians training camp.

I'm old enough to remember the original marketing campaign for Major League. The trailers and TV spots portrayed the movie as cheeky and edgy. Irreverence definitely abounds, but that was the late 80s, when putting Charlie Sheen in your movie with a Christmas tree-inspired haircut and glasses from Hot Topic could still pass for edgy.

Upon review, what most stands out in Major League is what doesn't stand out. The movie was filmed in the summer of 1988--almost exactly thirty years ago. The time span between then and now brings more iconic 80s genre-blending comedy, Back to the Future, to mind. Marty McFly traveled back in time from a 1985 of video games, silk screen t shirts, and Burger King to a 1955 of The Honeymooners, poodle skirts, and diners.

Movies make good time capsules, and Major League shows us that not only had pop culture remained essentially unchanged between 1985 and 1988; it hasn't changed much between 1988 and 2020. The first sign that Major League wasn't filmed in the present day comes roughly half an hour into the movie when somebody is shown talking on a huge old-style cell phone. Otherwise, the first act could have taken place anytime from the mid-1980s till now.

But pop culture is not the entirety of culture, and the intervening changes to the latter are apparent in this film. Major League is yet another comedy you could never make today thanks to rampant political correctness. Pedro Cerrano and his Jobu shrine would never be allowed by Hollywood's cultural kommissars.

Even then, the production hedged their bets by taking pains to mock the film's sole openly Christian character. Still, the heathen is shown giving up his superstition in the end, so the movie's underlying ethos is closer to garden variety secularism than the current Death Cult hysteria. But you can glimpse it on the horizon in retrospect.

As I mentioned in my review of Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire, the mark of a superior comedy is that the story would still work if you took out the jokes. Major League fulfills that criterion. The characterization is especially competent considering the size of the ensemble cast they were working with. Yet all of the main characters are introduced and fleshed out just enough for the story to work in a relatively short amount of time.

My one gripe with the story has to do with the movie's conflict--specifically, the antagonist's motivation. The players stand to lose their jobs if her plan succeeds, which are sufficient stakes to believably motivate the team. The owner's motive is that she simply dislikes Cleveland and would rather move to Florida. Thus, she suffers from a case of Wile E. Coyote plot. Instead of orchestrating a lengthy and costly Rube Goldberg plan, why doesn't she just sell the team and move to Florida? For that matter, why doesn't she keep the team and move to Florida without them?

That's just a minor quibble. All of the current tent pole superhero movies have far less coherent villain plots. Overall, Major League is a slightly flawed and too often overlooked gem from a time when comedians didn't take themselves too seriously to tell jokes. If you've got some free time this week, I encourage you to dig it out and watch it again.


I also encourage you to check out Nethereal, the first volume of my award-winning action-adventure series.

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

2020/09/08

Rebirths

 

Rebirths - Frank B. Luke

Supporting Christian authors who make entertaining readers their first priority is just as vital as not giving money to people who hate us. In that context, I'm pleased to announce a Kindle Countdown Deal for Rebirths by author Frank B. Luke.

From the Amazon product description:

Enraged at the Almighty after losing everything, Derke turns to black magic in hopes of restoring his old life. But the evil one demands a terrible price. Derke, once blessed, stands at the edge of a cliff, ready to lose himself to darkness.

What readers said:

... it reads like CS Lewis played many hours of the Elder Scrolls online then decided to write a fantasy.

Buy it now while this deal lasts!

2020/09/07

The Running Man

The Running Man

In keeping with my recent penchant for reviewing lesser 80s and 90s classics, I took the occasion to rewatch 1987's camp dystopia actioner The Running Man.

Based on a Stephen King novels published under his Richard Bachman pen name and adapted for film by the screenwriter of Commando and Die Hard, The Running Man  is chiefly remembered as a piece of distilled 1980s kitsch. The movie is currently enjoying something of a reappraisal, since the view outside most urbanites' windows is now indistinguishable from a television screen that's playing the film.

And somewhere, Marshall McLuhan is sagely shaking his head.

If you're not familiar with The Running Man--and those who aren't can be forgiven--the movie takes place in a conjectural 2019 America where societal and economic collapse have ushered a tyrannical cadre into power. Government officials are merely actors hired to maintain the illusion of legitimacy while the cadre farms out censorship of dissenters to crony capitalist media conglomerates. All unapproved news, music, ideas, and people are ruthlessly suppressed.

To pacify the immiserated masses, the networks run bread-and-circuses TV shows fueled by ultraviolence. The government drops the ball when it comes to the bread, though, and that's when they call in militarized police forces to quell the unrest. When Bakersfield PD Captain Ben Richards refuses a direct order to fire on unarmed food rioters, he's branded an outlaw and embarks upon a series of misadventures that finally land him on his dystopia's most popular TV show--a gladiator combat program called The Running man.

As the name implies, the show's premise is simple: An unpersoned enemy of the state is sent into an earthquake-ravaged section of Los Angeles and given three hours to navigate the game's four zones. Meanwhile, he is pursued by professional assassins chosen by the live studio audience. If a runner successfully clears all four game zones within the time limit and without meeting a grisly end at the hands of the murderous Stalkers, he is promised fabulous prizes such as a Hawaiian vacation, a jury trial, or even a full pardon.

Roped into the show under duress by the fork-tongued host Killian, Richards is infuriated when Killian breaks their deal and throws two of his friends from prison into the game, as well as a female network employee who ratted on Richards, only to dig up doctored footage used to frame him for the massacre.

Richards swears revenge and kills the Stalkers sent after him one by one. His prowess, and his refusal to kill a helpless opponent, brings the audience around to his side. In the course of the show, Richards' friends discover information hidden within the game zone which could enable the resistance to jam the network's broadcast and transmit their own. The two other convicts pay the ultimate price for this information, but Richards and his female companion successfully deliver it to the rebels, who beam out proof of Richards' innocence.

In the confusion, a resistance team led by Richards storms the TV studio. The media's lies are exposed, and Richards gets his revenge and the girl.

It's practically a cliché to call science fiction movies prescient, but The Running Man is the focus of renewed attention precisely because it foresaw many aspects of Clown World with startling clarity. Reality TV, the fake news phenomenon, and elected officials as entertainers--this film stars two then-future governors--are just the lowest-hanging fruit. On a more chilling note, you will probably live to see the airwaves and the internet purged of all opinions that disagree with international corporations and the government.

We're already seeing nightly clashes between the police and rioters on the West Coast, among other places.

It's also more than a little ironic that The Running Man gave a devastating portrayal of the soporific effects of the Pop Cult during the era that's the chief object of Pop Cult nostalgia.

That's the most relevant theme The Running Man presents to audiences today. Its dire warning of the civilization-wrecking allure of the Pop Cult, which props up the Death Cult's rule, is more timely than at any point in American history.

Sadly for real-life dissidents, rousing the people from the Pop Cult's spell takes much more than simply informing them of their rulers' lies. It's a long, slow process, and the first step to reclaiming your dignity is not giving money to people who hate you.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/09/04

Confessors Not Martyrs

If anyone still doubts my advice to stay away from protests or who insist we "Need more heroes like Kyle Rittenhouse," I refer you to the latest search term popularity data from Google Trends.

Rittenhouse Trends

Those who are convinced we should send more young men into the lions' den in order to "Wake up the sleeping giant" must confront the fact that public interest in the last hero has collapsed after less than ten days.

When your opponents control the media, building your strategy on showcasing our side's heroics for the press is as ill-advised as talking to the press.

Coming to terms with that reality unearths another white pill.

BLM Support

The concurrent rise in opposition to BLM as interest in Kyle Rittenshouse wanes seems paradoxical at first. But if you consider that the group's brief spike in popularity this summer was as much a media psyop as Kyle's memory holing, the data start to make sense.

Take the BLM craze. It swept the world and compelled highly suggestible people to acts of cultic abasement due to a version of an old advertising tactic called roadblocking. Back when people still listened to broadcast radio, marketing firms would buy the same airtime on multiple channels at once. There was no avoiding their commercial, no matter which station you turned to.

The media upscaled the same concept for their BLM campaign. Instead of astroturfing the airwaves with tracts for the new religion, they plastered it all over the web, cable TV, and breakfast cereals.

Why, then, is support for BLM imploding? The Cultists peddling the new faith forgot a chief rule of marketing: Don't get high on your own supply.

It's not that BLM's resurgence was a meticulously planned and triangulated operation. The Death Cult high priests who run the media had their marketing game ready to go because they really believe this stuff. Human fallenness gave them the chance they were waiting for, and they were ready to take it.

The Death Cult's problem, as always, is that their beliefs are total nonsense, so their snake oil can't survive prolonged contact with reality. Their media monopoly can have everyone parroting that the sky is green at night, but they lose all but the true believers after sunrise.

Thanks in large part to dramatically atrophied attention spans, the media are much more adept at throwing inconvenient facts and events into the memory hole. You can see both dynamics at work in their plays against Kyle Rittenhouse. First they tried to libel him using buzzwords reserved for school shooters. It turned out he's actually a wholesome, well-adjusted kid volunteering to clean up graffiti, so the tar didn't stick.

Now they've switched from a smear job to a hush-up. The Cult hierarchy has declared Kyle Rittenhouse He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Facebook is going so far as to censor accounts that post favorably about him.

As the search trend data shows, the blackout is working. The press can't fool all the people all the time, but they can neuralize them.


Now is not the time for martyrs. It's time for confessors to live the truth humbly, but no less heroically.

It's also past time to stop giving money to people who hate you.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/09/02

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey

Readers immediately asked for a follow up to yesterday's post on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. I'd planned on watching the sequel, anyway, so happily our purposes aligned.

This was only my third viewing of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. My dad took me and a friend to see it in the theater back in 1991. Like most people, I forgot about the series for years.

Fast forward to 2003. I was enjoying an evening of video gaming at a buddy's house when cravings for a late-night snack struck our host. He called Pizza Hut, who told him they were running a promotion that included a large pizza and his choice of back list DVD.

He chose wisely.

Bill &Ted’s Bogus Journey Pizza Hut

All that's to say that the intervening seventeen years thoroughly cleansed my palette and prepared me to approach the movie with fresh eyes.

If you read my review of the first Bill & Ted movie, you know I regard it as an underappreciated if flawed gem. How does its controversial sequel hold up?

Short answer: even better.

My main problems with the first film mainly pertained to the craft level. Bogus Journey immediately fixes these issues by introducing a central antagonist who front-loads the conflict and lays out the initial stakes. Just as importantly, it improves upon its predecessor's "and then" plotting with a story structure whose every transition can be described with "but" or "therefore". That factor keeps the pacing tight.

There's even a try-fail cycle that sees our heroes--and they are heroes in the classical sense--attempt to raise the hue and cry over their own murders.

But that's getting ahead of the story.

Bogus Journey's central premise is either its crown jewel or its worst failing, depending on who you ask. Viewers who liked the first movie primarily for its time travel plot and expected more of the same were disappointed. Fans of the series' main characters who enjoyed watching them get mixed up in--and strive to extricate themselves from--zany capers well above their pay grade were in for a rare treat.

There are two ways to approach a sequel:

  1. Tell the first story over again.
  2. Take a risk.
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey embraces the second way and runs with it.

Not only does this sequel largely eschew the time travel hi-jinks of its predecessor, it kicks off its heroes' quest by promptly killing them. The writers deftly synthesize the consequences of these risks to present us with a vertical Divine Comedy journey instead of the previous film's horizontal trip through time. 

This plot direction choice highlights the real reason why Bogus Journey surpasses its predecessor, and it's an aspect of the film that everybody else seems to have missed.

The stakes.

Don't see it? Let's compare the first two movies' stakes.
  • Excellent Adventure: Bill and Ted must travel through time so they can ace their history final exam and thereby preserve the future hippie utopia their music will inspire.
  • Bogus Journey: Bill and Ted must defy Satan and challenge Death himself to save not just the future fruitopia, but the mothers of their future children and their own eternal souls.
That is how you write a sequel. Build on the first story's stakes while ratcheting them up and piling on trouble.

Matheson and Solomon took it a step further by making the new, higher stakes deeply personal to our heroes, thus correcting yet another of the first movie's flaws while avoiding the scope creep that too often plagues even risk-taking sequels.

And if you doubted the first movie's pulp influences, they are unmistakable here. Our heroes brave the fires of Hell to rescue the princesses who are their true loves and in so doing, claim a kingdom for themselves. The price of failure is not only worldly ruin, but the ruin of their very souls.

Almost unheard-of for a Modern film, Bill and Ted's spiritual peril is consistently depicted as the graver threat.

Which brings us to the point where Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey rises from the merely competent to the transcendent. The first film subtly signaled that it took place in a Christian moral universe. The sequel makes that moral setting spectacularly overt.

Ridiculous as it sounds at first, Bogus Journey celebrates authentic virtue. The princesses are outright said to be "most chaste", having practiced continence with their future husbands for five years. And their virtue is proven when they defend their honor against the lascivious advances of their fiances' explicitly evil doubles. 


But even this heroic virtue is a candle against the sun of our heroes' moral worth.

Not only do Bill and Ted mirror their future brides' chastity--their single lapse occurs when their ghosts playfully look down their former stepmother's blouse--their stated intent from the beginning is to earn enough from their craft to provide for a family.

This goal is voiced at a point in the first act customarily reserved for the protagonist's "I want" statement. This vital piece of dialogue establishes the hero's motivation and the victory conditions he must attain against the villain's opposition.

It's significant that Bill and Ted's "I want" statement includes earning enough to get married and raise children. The movie tells us in no uncertain terms that its heroes are motivated by masculine virtue.

That mustard seed of virtue, watered by our heroes' own blood, grows throughout the film to delve deep roots and spread strong branches. If you think that's hyperbole, consider:

Bill and Ted persevere in love of their fiancées despite vicious deceptions played by their wicked doppelgangers. Their first and only impulse is to pursue and reconcile with their beloveds.

This noble desire persists even in the face of severe obstacles, up to and including death. Our heroes never back down, not even when threatened with eternal damnation. Nor is their perseverance due to rashness. Bill and Ted may lack intellectual brilliance, but the stakes are clearly and repeatedly explained to them at every step, and they show that they understand.

Bill and Ted are not possessed of foolhardiness. Instead, they possess perfect mastery of the cardinal virtue of fortitude.

The laudable temperance and perfect courage the protagonists display suffice to qualify them as heroes. The movie could have stopped its two leads' moral advancement there, with their future rule completely justified.

But once again, Bogus Journey refuses to be satisfied with temporal excellence and reaches for the brass ring of the transcendent.

In the course of their journey, Bill and Ted meet the Lord God Almighty.

And their first, natural impulse is to praise Him for the wondrous works He has made, delivered in a spirit of childlike joviality.

And their praise of God's creation ascends to praise of the Creator for the sake of His own goodness and justice.

True, Bill and Ted sinned along the way, but for these offenses they make unreserved and honest confession.

Having reached their spiritual journey's apex, Bill and Ted receive directly from God the theological virtues which build on their solid foundation of natural virtue. Their courage, temperance, and justice are perfected with faith, hope, and charity.

As such, they receive God's blessing and assistance in fulfilling their calling.

Brief but related aside: Many commenters, even those who like the movie, point to main antagonist Chuck De Nomolos as a weak villain.

They view the movie through a Modernist lens, because in setting their villain against heroes confirmed in transcendent virtue, they magnify his evil.

De Nomolos wants order. He is dissatisfied with the future utopia sustained by Bill and Ted's music and is convinced he can do better. Yet he has no evidence that a society based on his ideas would be superior. He is gambling that his intelligence can make a better world than one with no poverty or war. His hubris would be enough to establish him as a villain.

The fact that he is defying the Mandate of Heaven which Bill and Ted have received makes De Nomolos ungodly over and above prideful. He schemes in violation of the Third Beatitude. God wills that the supremely meek Bill and Ted shall govern the earth. In attempting to thwart their kingship, De Nomolos sets himself against God's plan.

To traditionalists who object that the movie unfairly demonizes a law and order leader intent on reforming a culture of day-glo hippies, I counter that De Nomolos is in rebellion against divine right kings--a grave sin that he'd best amend unless he thinks he can beat Death at Battleship.

To rein in the gushing for a moment, I will admit that while Bogus Journey is in some ways a transcendent film, it's not a perfect film. The dialogue is rife with inside jokes that the writers took way too far, e.g. the obnoxious repetition of "station". Similar self-indulgence is on display in the chant Missy uses to exorcise Bill and Ted's ghosts: "Ed and Chris will rule the world" spoken backwards.

As mentioned above, the sophomoric sins committed by our otherwise pure heroes strike an unnecessarily dissonant note. They just plain feel out of character.

Nevertheless, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey remains a master class in how to make a sequel. Take a risk. Raise the stakes. Make it personal. Expand the conflict's moral dimension, not just its physical scope.

And as always, don't give money to people who hate you.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/09/01

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Red Letter Media's retrospective on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and its sequel, occasioned by the recent release of the series' long-awaited third film, put me in a mood to revisit the first movie.

If you want a case study in how much Hollywood has changed in the last thirty years, you couldn't ask for a better example than the original Bill & Ted flick. The phrase is so shopworn these days as to be a cliché, but this is exactly the kind of movie you could never get made today.

The first strike against Bill & Ted is that it's a strictly mid-list teen comedy romp of the kind made popular in the 70s and that peaked in the 80s. What's more, it has no pretensions of being anything else. Such middle market projects automatically run afoul of current Hollywood economics which dictate that movies either go for blockbuster status or go home.

Strike two is what most readers probably thought of immediately, viz. historical content now deemed heretical by the Death Cult. It's problematic enough that the film focuses exclusively on Western history. The American, French, Greek, and German historical figures' onscreen portrayal as American, French, Greek, and German would be a bridge too far for today's guardians of public morality.

That's leaving aside the multiple portrayals of Christian characters praying. It's startling to think that such scenes were included as a matter of course as recently as 1989, whereas today they're so rare as to stand out. The past truly is a different country.

That brings us to strike three. The first Bill & Ted movie takes traditional--dare I say even pulp moral themes--for granted, especially regarding love and romance. There is an unequivocal repudiation of homosexuality so blatant that I cannot believe it hasn't been censored. In the pulp tradition, Bill and Ted's love interests are a pair of princesses who must be rescued from odious arranged marriages.

The movie even bucks the trend of contemporary teen movies by not even giving so much as nudge and wink hints that our heroes commit fornication with their royal sweethearts.

In fact, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure flies in the face of so much conventional screenwriting wisdom that its status as a minor classic refutes every writers' workshop curriculum. There is not one main protagonist but two coequal deuteragonists. Both main characters have flat arcs. The plot follows no identifiable structure. That's not to mention the total lack of any main antagonist.

But the undeniable fact remains that the movie works. Because it's as packed with fun as 1950s phone booths were packed with college students.

Due credit for Bill & Ted's uncanny success goes to screenwriters Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, son of legendary author Richard Matheson. It's probably significant that both writers hail from Generation Jones. They wrote the movie while they were still in their twenties and could better relate to how Gen Xers like the title characters interacted with the High 80s world of their high school days.

Astute viewers will note the utter, blessed absence of Beatles references.

Anyway, RLM's review of the first two movies is worth a watch. Mike Stoklasa's burning of incense to the rainbow gang is illustrative of how quickly society has degenerated since 1989, if nothing else.


Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure was a labor of love made by artists who respected and wanted to entertain their audience. In the video above, Jay Bauman notes that comedies don't make money anymore. If comedians would return to material that people actually find funny instead of delivering dehumanizing scoldings on behalf of the Death Cult, the former king of all genres could enjoy a renaissance.

We can have that world back. The first step is not giving money to people who hate you.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier