The death of Christ, China’s church, awful Christian movies, Andrew Sullivan & the Bible’s questions

Crucifix

The Internet Monk’s Jeff Dunn offers a beautiful, thought-provoking meditation on the death of Christ... just in time for Good Friday:

After all, our faith is built around Easter Sunday sunrise services that celebrate the empty tomb. The resurrection is what sets us apart from all other religions whose gods stay in their graves. And come this Sunday you will find me celebrating the risen Christ with a heart filled with laughter and praise.

But let’s not rush past the cross of Good Friday. And let us not be too hasty to dismiss the crucifix. I now disagree with my Baptist pastor. Jesus is not off of the cross. In a very real sense, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world he has always been and always will be dead. And this—the dead Christ—is our hope and our salvation.

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Sunday I will celebrate the risen Christ. But for now, I will gaze upon the crucified Christ, and thank him that he will forevermore taste death so that I might live.


Why don’t we believe the findings of science, e.g., global warming, the link between vaccines and autism, evolution? Essentially, our reasoning is “suffused with emotion”:

Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it. That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.


The New York Times reports on the church in China, and the increasing crackdown on Chinese Christians by the government:

The move against Shouwang, as well as other house churches, coincides with the most expansive assault on dissent in China in years, one that has led to the arrests of high-profile critics like the artist Ai Weiwei, but also legions of little-known bloggers, rights lawyers and democracy advocates who have disappeared into the country’s opaque legal system. The crackdown, now in its second month, was prompted by government fears that the Arab revolts against autocracy could spread to China and undermine the Communist Party’s six-decade hold on power.

Although many congregations continue to hold services unhindered, in recent weeks the pastors of two large unofficial churches in the southern city of Guangzhou have been detained and their congregations rendered homeless. In Shanxi Province, a house church organizer said the police attacked him with electric batons, and religious leaders in places like Xinjiang in the far west and Inner Mongolia in the north have reported increased harassment, according to China Aid, a Texas-based Christian advocacy group. Last year, the organization reported 3,343 instances in which house church members or leaders were detained or beaten, a 15 percent increase over 2009. Bob Fu, the group’s president, said such incidents were part of the latest government campaign to try to force house church members into state-run congregations.

“I’m not optimistic a peaceful solution will be found to this crisis,” he said. “The government’s moves are forcing nonpolitical churches to commit acts of civil disobedience, which the government is not likely to tolerate.”


Andrew O’Hehir asks, “Why Are Christian Movies So Awful?”

Whatever you want to say about Christianity as a system of thought or a force in history, you’ll have to admit that it has a pretty impressive record as a source of inspiration for artists and writers. But when we use the buzzword “Christian” in contemporary American society, we’re talking about a distinctively modern cultural and demographic phenomenon that has almost no connection to the spiritual and intellectual tradition that fueled Dante and Milton and Leonardo and Bach. Furthermore, American evangelical Christians, concentrated in the heartland and the South, have felt a certain level of antipathy toward the film industry since its birth. They have long viewed Hollywood (not without justification) as a Jewish-dominated metropolitan enterprise that was fundamentally secular and indeed almost Nietzschean in its worship of bigness and money and power.

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But American cinema and the Hollywood system and the rest of our society were turned upside down in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the rise of the Christian-oriented film industry, like so many other things in our cultural life, is an aftershock from that earthquake. It’s only oversimplifying a little to say that pop culture went in one direction and the evangelical population went in another, and despite a long process of reconciliation, it’s still not clear that they speak the same language. If I really had any faith in American pluralism and in my fellow human beings, I guess I would predict that someday soon Christian filmmakers will ramp up their craft and make much better movies than “Soul Surfer.” Does the Lord really want to be glorified by way of something that looks like an especially tame episode of “Baywatch”?

And Christianity Today responds... sort of:

What I completely disagree with, however, when it comes to O’Hehir’s article, is his “hook”: He’s jumped on Soul Surfer as an excuse to write his opinions, and for that, I think he’s wrong. O’Hehir calls the film “a trite, sentimental puddle of sub-Hollywood mush, with mediocre photography, weak special effects and an utterly formulaic script. . . . [T]his one is pretty awful.”

I don’t think Soul Surfer is a great movie; I’m pretty sure it won’t be considered for our Critics’ Choice list at the end of the year (though it’ll be a strong candidate for our Most Redeeming list). It’s not great, but it is very good. And if, as O’Hehir suggests, it is to be labeled a “Christian movie”—and frankly, I could argue either way on that point—I would say it’s one of the best ones we’ve seen in years.


Confessing Evangelical asks, did Jesus really tell His disciples to arm themselves in Luke 22:35-38?

Personally, as I said on the Boar’s Head Tavern a few days ago, I’ve always assumed that Jesus was being rhetorical when he says his disciples should sell their cloaks to buy swords – that he was pointing out the danger and drama that was about to burst into their lives as the temple guard arrived to arrest Jesus. His “it is enough” is then either heavily ironic – after all, how could two swords be enough to resist arrest by a large, well-armed mob? – or else a rebuke: more “that’s enough!” than “I agree that that is a sufficient number of swords”. This interpretation seems more consistent with Jesus’ words and actions in vv49-51.

Here are a couple of further pointers I’ve found on this passage in the past few days, which tend to support such a reading of Jesus’ words.


Harvard Magazine asks “Is Andrew Sullivan the world’s best blogger?”:

Andrew Sullivan is an intellectual diva, prone to epic battles. He’s a showman; call what he does a show. But he performs in the open, without rehearsals, and he reveals everything to his readers, never sparing himself. And then, because he has an acute sense of pacing, he varies his posts with features that have nothing to do with politics, torture, or Palin.

So be warned: Sullivan sometimes posts dozens of times a day. If you’ve never read him, it might be better not to start. A curiosity can lead to a habit, and a habit to an addiction. And then, without quite knowing how it happened, you may find yourself beginning a sentence with, “As Andrew said….”


Timothy Beal: “The Bible is not a book of answers but a library of questions”:

Given how many hands have been involved in so many contexts over such a long time in the history of this literature, can we honestly imagine that no one noticed such glaring discrepancies? Can we believe, for example, that the seam between the first and second creation stories in Genesis, as well as the many other seams found throughout the Torah, were not obvious? That if agreement and univocality were the goal, such discrepancies would not have been fixed and such rough seams mended long ago? That creation stories would have been made to conform or be removed? That Job would’ve been allowed to stand against Moses? That Gospel mix-ups concerning who saw what after Jesus’s resurrection would have been left to stand? That Judas would have died twice, once by suicide and once by divine disgorge? And so on. Could all those many, many people involved in the development of biblical literature and the canon of Scriptures have been so blind, so stupid? It’s modern arrogance to imagine so.

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There is a widely held, simplistic definition of faith as firm belief. To many, especially nonreligious people, faith is seen as absolute certainty despite or without regard to observed facts or evidence. Yet, as anyone trying to live faithfully in this world knows full well, there is no faith without doubt. Doubt is faith’s other side, its dark night. Indeed, in an atheist­ing match, I’d put big odds on the faithful any day. People of faith know the reasons to doubt their faith more deeply and more personally than any outside critic ever can. Faith is inherently vulnerable. To live by faith is to live with that vulnerability, that soft belly, exposed.

Likewise the Bible. The Bible can atheist any book under the table on some pages. It presumes faith in God, yet it also often gives voice to the most profound and menacing doubts about the security of that faith. The Bible is not a book of answers but a library of questions. How rare such places have become in a society addicted to quick fixes, executive summaries, and idiot’s guides. The canon of the Bible is that kind of place.


Andy Whitman meditates on “It Is Well with My Soul”, which just so happens to be my favorite hymn:

Last night my television suddenly stopped working, and I wanted to rage, rend my garments, compose a psalm of lamentation. Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen, stranded without high definition right in the middle of March Madness. God help me.

And so it is something of a mystery to me to ponder the faith of this man, a wounded, bankrupt captain of industry and bereaved father and husband who could write those amazing words as he tried to comprehend the terrible realities of a way of life that was gone forever.

I love the fact that he doesn’t try to diminish the enormity of the sorrows. Those are sea billows, all right; enormous, hope-smashing, all-consuming waves. And I am astonished by the faith expressed in the midst of that reality: it is well with my soul.


You will never be able to read all of the books, listen to all of the music, etc. that exists, and NPR’s Linda Holmes contends that that’s a good thing:

Culling is easy; it implies a huge amount of control and mastery. Surrender, on the other hand, is a little sad. That’s the moment you realize you’re separated from so much. That’s your moment of understanding that you’ll miss most of the music and the dancing and the art and the books and the films that there have ever been and ever will be, and right now, there’s something being performed somewhere in the world that you’re not seeing that you would love.

It’s sad, but it’s also ... great, really. Imagine if you’d seen everything good, or if you knew about everything good. Imagine if you really got to all the recordings and books and movies you’re “supposed to see.” Imagine you got through everybody’s list, until everything you hadn’t read didn’t really need reading. That would imply that all the cultural value the world has managed to produce since a glob of primordial ooze first picked up a violin is so tiny and insignificant that a single human being can gobble all of it in one lifetime. That would make us failures, I think.


For all of the hullaballoo surrounding violent video games, it turns out the the video game industry is the best as preventing mature content from falling into the hands of minors:

The Federal Trade Commission recently conducted an annual undercover shopping survey and found that, of the various consumer entertainment industries, the video game industry was actually best at self-policing and keeping material intended for mature audiences away from children. Following a trend since 2000, the game industry scored very well with only 13 percent of underage shoppers able to buy M-rated games, down from 20 percent last year.


Elsewhere: A collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.