I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.
Henry David Thoreau
December 1, 1999
“Chanticleer* Calls”, a twice-monthly newsletter for discriminating readers, thinkers, feelers, speakers, listeners, and cogitators.
In this Tuesday’s Dallas Morning News (DMN), a letter regarding the new Ben Affleck/Matt Damon movie “Dogma” caught my eye. Co-signed by the President and Secretary of the Dallas Chapter of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the letter labeled the movie “obscene” and “blasphemous.” Other descriptive phrases included: “ridicules Christianity in general and depicts Catholicism .. as cynical and hypocritical; uses expletives in nearly every sentence; is the evil antithesis of Pope John Paul II’s message of peace and charity;” and finally, “This sickening attack on Christianity, especially Catholicism, is the cinematic equivalent of painting a swastika on a synagogue.”
[ASIDE: Is it a sign that co-signed letters usually go off on tangents? … think about it … sign, co-sign, tangent]
Wow! That sounds pretty bad …. “the cinematic equivalent of painting a swastika on a synagogue!“
So after reading this, I had no choice. I put the paper down, finished lunch, and headed off to the theater to see it for myself.
My impressions of the movie will eventually follow. Note that all of my comments can be prefaced, or appended, with “to me”, or “in my opinion”, or “I believe”. In other words, whatever adjectives or descriptive phrases I use in reference to how I evaluated the movie are words and phrases that I choose to describe what I experienced, or how I found the movie … I do not ascribe or project or attribute these words and phrases as qualities inherent in the movie.
This disclaimer – this distinction – is not inconsequential, to me. I believe it makes a huge difference for the President of the Dallas Chapter of the CLFRCR to say, for example:
- this movie is blasphemous
- this movie is obscene
- this movie is the evil antithesis of the Pope’s message
- this movie is the cinematic equivalent of painting a swastika on a synagogue
instead of saying, for example:
- I found this movie to be blasphemous
- this movie is obscene, according to my threshold of obscenity
- this movie, to me, is the evil antithesis of the Pope’s message
- in my estimation, this movie can be likened to painting a swastika on a synagogue
Do you see a difference in tone between the two sets of comments, which probably represent two different mindsets?
The first mindset states firmly that the movie IS “blasphemous, evil …”. There is no room for discussion, no place for disagreeing, no acknowledging any possibility for any other judgment. This mindset suggests the attitude, “It IS! You know it, I know it, everybody should know it, everyone should agree on it. It’s the TRUTH! It’s the absolute TRUTH!”
The second mindset still expresses a severely critical judgment, but it at least acknowledges that the evaluation (or judgment) is the result of an individual evaluator (or judger). This more appropriate (in my opinion) mindset allows, if not begs, another individual to reply with, “Well to me, it was extremely hard-biting, dead on satire. What did you find ‘obscene’?”
dog·ma n., pl. -mas or -ma·ta … 2. A principle, belief, idea, or opinion, esp. one authoritatively considered to be absolute truth.
Perhaps – just perhaps, “Dogma”, the movie, attempts to say something about this type of mindset exhibited by the letter co-signers. The irony, of course, is that the mindset precludes getting the message about the mindset. IMO.
Alfred Korzybski, author of Science and Sanity, observed that when we act as “dogmatists” or when we put too much emphasis on rigid, static categories (“categorists”) we copy the behavior of animals, at the expense of our more human capabilities. Clever pun. Accurate diagnosis. IMO.
So back to the movie and my impressions: The movie begins with a disclaimer I found humorously and irreverently sincere, which attempts to pre-empt the type of, uh, dogmatic reaction exhibited by the co-signers. (Maybe they came in late from the concession stand. Too bad they weren’t Baptists, and I could use the old “immersion vs. sprinkling” schtick regarding the popcorn and butter.)
Any movie with the (what’s the ecumenical version of “chutzpah”?) to cast George Carlin as a Cardinal gets off on the right foot with me. To me, the movie reflected wit, imagination, intelligence, creativity, research, insight, humor, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness. It also contained depictions of graphic violence which I could’ve done without, and lots and lots of what some might consider as gratuitous profanity. I found it more than a little ironic that people such as the co-signers would label a film as “blasphemous” whose premise accepts the basic Christian/Catholic beliefs regarding God, Jesus Christ and salvation, angels, demons, etc. I can understand some people might not like the human representation of God depicted by a woman … but I find it extremely, and dangerously, arrogant for anyone to hold such a dogmatic belief regarding something which, in my estimation, is unknowable. Come on, people – “You Oughta Know”! (Inside joke to anyone who’s seen the movie.)
Generally, I found that “Dogma” (the movie) succeeded as a very intelligent, thought-provoking, educational, and entertaining comedic and religious tour de force. To the degree that it prompts viewers to question and examine their own (dogmatic) beliefs – oh, but there’s that idealistic dreamer cropping up again.
The Associated Press reported that two churches in Georgia were expelled from the Georgia Southern Baptist Convention for allowing gay members to serve as worship leaders and performing a gay marriage. The Convention adopted language last year to exclude congregations that “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.” The President of the Convention stated, “It’s a heartbreaking thing to be put in a situation where you have to make a decision like this. We just decided to draw the line.” The churches, whose congregation consists of 20-30% gay members, argued that “their interpretation of the Bible led them to conclude that gays and lesbians should not be excluded from leadership roles.”
Supporters of the expulsions maintain that “homosexuality is a sin”.
You may recall that last year, the national Southern Baptist Convention adopted an amendment to their 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. The amendment, as reported by the Dallas Morning News, urges husbands to “provide for, to protect and to lead the family”, and wives to “submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ”.
Earlier this month (November), the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) voted overwhelming to affirm the original language of the Faith and Message – rejecting the 1998 amendment. Charles Wade, executive director-elect of the state convention, explained, “Baptists are very wary of those who would try to impose creeds on each other, and even our 1963 statement of faith has a preamble that expressly says this is not to be misunderstood as some kind of creed that hierarchal religious authorities can use to impose religious conformity on each other.”
[Except, I suppose, in Georgia with respect (er, uh, more like ‘disrespect’) to drawing lines between straight Christians and gay Christians.]
Wade continued, “The Bible doesn’t teach that the husband is the general and the wife is the private, and yet that’s how it gets interpreted.”
Begging to differ, Paige Patterson, president of the national Baptist convention, stated, “I am grateful that the BGCT leadership has made crystal clear for the sake of Texas Baptist churches where they stand on family and church issues. Now it is up to the churches to decide with whom they agree – with a liberal, culturally-acceptable view of family and church, or with a Christ-honoring, Bible-believing perspective.”
An amendment opponent from Corsicana said that the national convention, in citing the fifth chapter of Ephesians, “ignored the verse before … that says to submit to one another. They deliberately voted to start with verse 22 that says, “Wives submit to your husbands.”
An amendment supporter from Austin said: “God doesn’t value women any less than he values men because he was giving a pragmatic (SS emphasis) instruction to how to operate within a family. That’s where I think people are missing the point. There needed to be something that came out that we, as Baptists, affirm the God-given role of the father and husband to take that leadership and responsibility.”
The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky, called the BGCT action an “intentional rejection of biblical teaching. This is another lamentable sign of the determination of some Texas Baptist leaders to alienate Texas Baptists from the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Meanwhile, the newly-elected president of the BGCT said that Texas Baptists “have never been married” to the Southern Baptist Convention, and “sees no hope for reconciliation.”
Wouldn’t be prudent … or pragmatic, I suppose.
On November 16th, the ruling Taliban government of Afghanistan held its first public execution of a woman. According to the AP report, “The woman, a mother of seven children, was convicted of beating her husband to death with a steel hammer as he slept” in what was described as a “family dispute”.
The three-shot execution was held in a stadium. “After the killing, shouts of “God is great!” were heard in the stadium, which was packed with men and women, many of whom had brought their children.”
EVOLUTION, CREATIONISM and PRAYER
The November 21st DMN reported: “the latest Texas Poll indicated that 82 percent of Texans believe students should be allowed to lead prayers over public address systems before football games and other sporting events.”
Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, is quoted: “When the Supreme Court struck down the right to pray in school, we saw an obvious result. Now they want to take prayer away in another arena. How far are they going to take this? Where is it going to stop? Is the school bus next and the kitchen table after that?”
The poll also revealed that 64 percent (or almost two-thirds, for you fractionally-challenged readers) said creationism should be taught in public schools along with evolution. Mr. Mel Gabler, “conservative textbook critic”, says, “We just want evolution to be taught honestly. While there is evidence for evolution, there is also strong evidence against it. Let’s show kids both sides and let them make up their own minds.”
Interesting notion …. let kids make up their own minds about what they ‘should’ be taught. I wonder if Mr. Gabler and other conversatives would extend this ‘enlightened’ view to, say, the novels they read in English? (“No, Billy, I’m sorry you can’t read Lady Chatterly’s Lover for your book report! … Rufus has already checked it out and we only have one copy. How about Slaughterhouse Five instead? And when you’re done, would you like to use the library’s Internet connection with no restrictions and make up your own mind about what you want to look at?”)
Meanwhile across the river in Oklahoma, Gov. Frank Keating joined that state’s textbook fray by advocating the following disclaimer now mandated to be printed in all biology textbooks: No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered as theory, not fact.
(Would anyone like to join me in a unison, Phoebe-esque, “Right … DUH!”)
Gov. Keating, ever the politician, declared, “This is a matter of sensitivity to a lot of people. There are ardent views on all sides. I think the better system is to encourage a variety of viewpoints.”
The article (DMN, November 28th) reports the same disclaimer has been ordered in Alabama. Several months ago, the state education board in Kansas voted to eliminate questions about evolution from all state-mandated standardized tests.
The article states that Pope John Paul II has “reaffirmed the Catholic church’s position that evolution is indeed supported by considerable scientific evidence, but does not disprove that God started the process.”
How would you like to be the researcher that gets stuck with that one? “Your mission, Morris, should you decide to accept it, is to incontrovertibly prove that God did NOT start the process.”
“No, you may not ask for a definition of what constitutes ‘the beginning of the process’.”
I don’t know … maybe instead of praying before football games, concerned citizens need to conduct organized prayers prior to high school biology classes in Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. (No need to in Kansas, since it won’t be on the test.)
AND FINALLY … Believe it or not
Until Copernicus (c.1500) and Galileo (c.1600), humans really believed that the earth was the center of the universe, and the sun rotated around the earth. The Catholic church decreed Galileo a “heretic”, because the church’s ‘infallible’ position was that the Bible clearly depicted the earth as the center of the heavens. Indeed, some clergy argued that, if true, Galileo’s theory “vitiates the whole Christian plan of salvation”, and “upsets the whole basis of theology”.
This was a big deal – Galileo could not be right without contradicting the Bible, and the Vatican. Galileo was brought to Inquisition in 1615, convicted, and ordered to be kept under house arrest for the rest of his life. The Church forbade further distribution of his books, and forbade “all writings which affirm the motion of the earth” throughout all of Kansas. I mean, throughout the Christian world. (source:”The Warfare of Science with Theology” by Andrew White, ftp://sailor.gutenberg.org/pub/gutenberg/etext96/hwswt10.txt ).
“An investigation into the astronomer’s condemnation, calling for its reversal, was opened in 1979 by Pope John Paul II. In October 1992 a papal commission acknowledged the Vatican’s error.” (source: “Galileo,” Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.)
I believe it’s appropriate to critically evaluate (or assess, analyze, think about, question, etc.) our beliefs as beliefs, as conscious choices and decisions we make individually concerning how we view what goes on around us, how we make sense of what goes on, how we derive meaning from what goes on, and how we predict what will go on in the future. I believe it’s appropriate to differentiate between two distinct types of evaluations:
- that which can be universally observed, demonstrated, agreed upon, etc.; and
- that which cannot In the second category, I include “beliefs”, “assumptions”, “theories”, “presumptions”, “ideas”, “thoughts”, “feelings”, “opinions”, “estimations”, etc.
I believe that whatever beliefs, or theories, or assumptions, or feelings you hold most sacred, most inviolate, most undeniable – there are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people on the earth who do not agree – who perhaps even ardently disagree.
Then again, I could be wrong. And your mileage may vary.