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Why We Are Doomed
Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 4:03 PM

I've been waiting for other social conservatives to respond to the recent Gallup Poll which reports that Americans now favor “gay” marriage by a percentage of 53% to 45%.

This year's nine-percentage-point increase in support for same-sex marriage is the largest year-to-year shift yet measured over this time period. Two-thirds of Americans were opposed to legalized same-sex marriage in 1996, with 27% in favor. By 2004, support had risen to 42% and, despite some fluctuations from year to year, stayed at roughly that level through last year.

I haven't seen much yet along those lines, so I'll say something myself. I don't expect to convince anyone of anything (I rarely do), and it goes without saying I'll be compared to a Nazi, but I'll do it anyway, because it's been on my mind.

First of all, I'm not entirely convinced by the figures. My experience is that people with liberal views are generally oversampled in such polls.

But that doesn't alter the fact that, beyond question, acceptance of homosexuality has been growing rapidly among Americans. Among young people, it's barely an issue anymore.

Barring some major critical event, like a movement of the Holy Spirit or a re-make of Rocky Horror Picture Show, it would appear that gender-neutral marriage is in our future. How are we to think about that?

For me, the answer is clear. I shall despair of my country. I do not consider this a minor issue, a cosmetic matter, a sideshow. In my view, even if conservatives sweep all the elections and take all the seats of power for the next century, it will mean nothing if we lose the marriage battle.

It's a matter of fundamental issues.


“Thor”: Norse Mythology Mediated By Christian Ideas
Monday, May 16, 2011, 7:53 PM

I think it's generally agreed that I'm the conservative blogsphere's go-to guy for all matters Norse, so I felt a sort of civic duty to see the movie Thor this weekend, and to let you know what I thought of it.

Briefly put, it's pretty good. Considered on its own terms, as a fantasy/comic book/special effects actioner, it succeeds extremely well. It doesn't scale the heights of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, but I'd rank it somewhere near the top. Kenneth Branagh's direction elevates the script (not a bad one at all), and the cast is uniformly excellent. Chris Hemsworth, in the title role, will doubtless break many female hearts, and he ought to become a big star if there's any justice in Midgard.

Thor is the son and heir of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the high god of Asgard. Asgard, in this version (more or less based on the Marvel comic books) is explained in S.M.D. (Standard Movie Doubletalk) as one of nine dimensions, or alternate universes, or something. The “gods” are able to travel to the other “worlds” by means of the bridge of Bifrost, explained as a sort of organized wormhole (Bifrost, the rainbow in Norse mythology, is pronounced “Bye-frost” in the movie, although the proper pronunciation is “beef-roast”). Long ago the gods prevented their great enemies, the Jotuns or Frost Giants (who in the movie do not resemble in any way the big, bearded oafs of the myths), from conquering Midgard (Earth). Because of their memories of this war, humans came to regard them as divine beings.

As the story begins, Thor is about to be officially named Odin's heir in a great ceremony in Asgard. In the midst of this, Jotun spies make an incursion into Asgard. Thor, enraged, leads a punitive expedition into Jotunheim, killing a number of the frost giants. Odin, who loves peace, appears to rescue Thor and his friends when they're about to be overwhelmed by numbers. He berates Thor for his impetuousness and banishes him to earth (he lands in New Mexico), also sending his mighty weapon, the hammer Mjolnir, down with him.


The Wit of Stillman
Monday, April 4, 2011, 8:57 PM

On Sunday I watched my weekly Netflix rental, this one a movie I'd only seen once before—Whit Stillman's Metropolitan.

I'm going to have to buy the whole Whitman trilogy, delightful films that yield increasing rewards with each viewing. Stillman is apparently a Christian of some kind (for years he's been trying unsuccessfully to do a movie about believers in the Caribbean. Metropolitan opens with the chords of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”).

Stillman delights in turning cultural expectations on their heads. In Metropolitan, his first film, he portrays Manhattan “Yuppies” (one character insists they ought to be called “Urban Haute Bourgeouise”) as sympathetic and even mildly disadvantaged. In Barcelona, two American cousins, a businessman and a naval officer, deal with the European narrowmindedness and prejudice. And The Last Days Of Disco, set in Manhattan in a strangely ambivalent time period, celebrates the discotheque as a place of joy and a strange kind of innocence.

At one point in Metropolitan, Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) quotes a Lionel Trilling review of Mansfield Park to debutante Audrey (Carolyn Farina), in order to explain his dislike for Jane Austen. Audrey asks him what books of Austen's he's read. He says, “None. I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking. With fiction I can never forget that none of it really happened, that it's all just made up by the author.” The great joke is that the film itself is pure Jane Austen, though the comedy of manners has been transported to a small fortress of civility in a barbarian land.


“The Role Of a Compassionate Friend”
Thursday, February 24, 2011, 6:41 PM

Always nice to hear news from the old home town. This story from Fox News is entitled, “Minnesota Man Allegedly 'Hunted' Suicidal Victims.”

William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of aiding suicide in the deaths of an English man and a Canadian woman. Attorneys for both sides presented oral arguments Thursday to Rice County District Court Judge Thomas Neuville, who has up to 20 days to decide whether Melchert-Dinkel is guilty.

Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel, an ex-nurse from Faribault, was obsessed with suicide and hanging and that he sought out potential victims on the Internet. When he found them, prosecutors say, he posed in chat rooms and in e-mails as a woman, played the role of a compassionate friend and offered step-by-step instructions on how they could take their lives.

Melchert-Dinkel is identified as a resident of Faribault, which is my secondary home town. It's only fifteen miles from my actual home town, and my mother's parents lived there. Both my folks eventually took jobs there. Since Mom was a nurse, she might even have known this guy.

I note the hyphenated name, “Melchert-Dinkel.” Although it's not always true, such hyphenization often indicates (in America) a “progressive,” non-traditional attitude to the world. Which sets me thinking.

If you're a modernist, a moral relativist, what exactly would you say this guy did wrong? Would you say he did anything wrong at all?

A relativist would never concede that suicide is wrong in itself. Nothing is essentially wrong, for the relativist. If someone wants to commit suicide, certainly that's their own choice, isn't it? It might be unkind to their loved ones, but we often encourage people to do things their loved ones don't like, like marrying people their parents reject, or going into careers they don't approve of. Why should dying be any different?

You could say he did wrong in deceiving these people, but the relativist can't say that deception is necessarily bad either. Melchert-Dinkel could argue that these people felt they had the company of a caring friend at the end of their lives, and were never disabused of that belief. He could maintain that he'd actually done them a great favor. And if he got a sexual charge out of the experience, well, who does that hurt? Everybody wins.

I often harken back to the words of Wisdom (depicted as a woman) in Proverbs 8:36: “But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.”

Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is West Oversea.

Deconstructing Jared
Saturday, January 15, 2011, 7:15 PM

I apologize for adding to the sum total of posts about Jared Loughner. This will be the only one I do—I sincerely hope.

I found this post by Rich Horton at Blue Crab Boulevard extremely interesting. If you want a plausible scapegoat for the Arizona shootings, why not Jacques Derrida?

But if you absolutely need to blame someone else, why not look to the things that obviously did inspire Loughner? Like a lot of other people I too looked at Loughner’s YouTube ravings, and it became clear to me there was something Loughner drew upon as “inspiration” of a sort. Clearly Loughner had either been introduced to in college or read on his own something of the philosophical perspective known as “deconstructionism.” You can see this in his obsession with “grammar” and the supposed meaninglessness of language. Something like this was obviously the source of Loughner’s nonsense question to Giffords back in 2007. Loughner gets introduced to the idea that texts have no set meaning, and when confronted by a member of Congress whose very position and status is defined by a text (i.e. the Constitution) Loughner now believes is devoid of content, well, he begins to think of her as a charlatan or tyrant.


Christmas is for Simeon and Anna, Too
Wednesday, December 22, 2010, 6:57 PM

Lindsay Stallones over at Evangelical Outpost has posted a meditation pretty much guaranteed to bring us all down. In We Need a Darker Christmas, she notes that the true Christmas story is not a merry and bright Claymation special:

There are people all around us who haven’t learned to pretend as well as we have. They are the artists and poets. They can’t look away from what we refuse to look at, the overwhelming awfulness of this existence. Their words are hard to hear, and they threaten our carefully constructed worlds of nice and happy. We want to sing “I’ll be home for Christmas” with Bing Crosby and ignore the millions who will mourn when loved ones don’t come home this year. We want to watch Disney’s latest nature adventure with anthropomorphized penguins, but don’t want to think about the fact that the polar bear cubs will starve to death if they don’t eat the cute seal pups. We love to quote John the Baptist when he proclaims the coming of Christ, but we end the story long before his grisly, senseless death. We wrap ourselves in the happy part of the story and try to ignore the rest.


Film Review: “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”
Monday, December 20, 2010, 7:03 PM

The big question you’re bringing to this review, I’m pretty sure, is, “Is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader worthy of its source? Is it more like the first movie, which we loved, or the second movie, which we didn’t even bother to see?”

I’m happy to report that for one C. S. Lewis geek at least, the movie was very satisfying and provided an extremely good time at the movies. (I saw it in 3D. I don’t know if that matters or not; you’re on your own on whether to spend the money. Personally, I’m a sucker for flashy magic.)

It should always be borne in mind that books and movies are different species of story. What works for one may not work for the other (though it’s nice when they do). I ask just three things of a film adaptation of a beloved novel. First, it should make some effort to follow the general outline of the original (extra points for dialogue faithfully carried over). Second, it should hit most of the dramatic high points. And third, it should deliver something like the same emotional impact.

For this particular viewer, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader succeeded. Very well. I’m not sure yet, but I might even like it better than the first movie.


The Glastonbury Thorn Has Been Cut Down
Thursday, December 9, 2010, 7:14 PM

Big–and shocking–news in the world of legend and fantasy today. The Glastonbury Thorn, which according to legend was planted by Joseph of Arimathea himself, has been cut down by vandals. Various motives have been suggested. The second most shocking thing in the article, to me, is that apparently the tree enjoyed no legal protection whatever, and even if those responsible are identified, nothing is likely to happen to them.

Who knew the only legal act left in hyper-regulated England is to destroy a national treasure?

The legend of the thorn is that Joseph of Arimathea (identified as the uncle of Jesus) was a tin merchant who voyaged frequently to England (bringing Jesus with him once; hence the hymn “England's Mountains Green”). While there he thrust his thorn staff into the earth one day, and it budded like Aaron's rod and took root. For centuries it was revered by pilgrims to Glastonbury (a famous Arthurian site), until Oliver Cromwell's men chopped it down. But the roots were saved, and nurtured by the faithful. The tree which stood there till now was cultivated from one of those roots. One hopes the same sort of thing can be done again.

What's intriguing is that the Glastonbury thorn is indeed an exotic. It's not a native English tree. It's been identified as a Middle Eastern variety.

The Golden Rule, Somewhat Alloyed
Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 7:20 PM

 For most of my life, I've been aware of a particular conflict (there are many, of course) between liberal and conservative Christians. I'm going to try to shed some light on this particular difference of opinion.

Which means, of course, that I'll just make people mad. But I persist.

The disagreement, I think, springs from a misunderstanding of the Golden Rule.

Liberal Christians (as I understand them) tend to think the Golden Rule says something it doesn't actually say. They think it says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—and then they will treat you the same way.”

But the text doesn't actually say that. What it says (I'm quoting the NIV here) is, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)

You'll note that there's nothing there about outcome. If you pay attention to Christ's teaching as a whole (all the business about taking up crosses, dying, etc.), you'll note that there is very little talk of temporal (that means “having to do with this present world”) benefits. The assumption in Christ's teaching generally is that we're supposed to do what's right, and chances are good we'll see no benefit from it at all. In fact, we're likely to be killed for it. But we'll have our reward in Heaven.


Book Review: Evening in the Palace of Reason, by James R. Gaines
Friday, November 19, 2010, 7:43 PM

On the evening of May 7, 1747, Johan Sebastian Bach and his son Carl presented themselves, by royal command, at the palace of King Frederick the Great of Prussia in Potsdam. Frederick, with his customary lack of courtesy, had required their immediate attendance following the old composer's arrival by coach, after a three-day journey. He wasn't given time to wash or change his clothes.

As part of the evening's entertainment, Frederick gave Bach a theme—a line of notes on which he expected Bach to improvise a fugue. Bach was famous for this sort of thing.

But Frederick had ulterior motives. He did not like Bach's Baroque style of music, centered on the fugue and the canon. An amateur musician himself, he favored the new “galant” style of music, featuring a single melody supported by instrumental and vocal harmonies. With the purpose of humiliating Bach, he had presented him with a theme (possibly actually composed by Carl, who worked for Frederick) designed to be almost impossible to turn into a fugue.

He had underestimated his man. Bach sat down immediately and improvised a brilliant, almost unbelievably complex, three-part fugue, as required.

The king, not to be shown up in his own house, then demanded a six-part fugue on the same theme.

At that point, Bach had to confess that he couldn't improvise that. He improvised something else instead.

The king went to bed satisfied.

But Bach went home to Leipzig determined not to be beaten. He composed the six-part fugue, entitled The Musical Offering, and sent it to Frederick.

Who probably never even looked at it.

But it's the background and the sequel to this encounter that engage the reader in James R. Gaines' remarkable book, Evening in the Palace of Reason. He uses the converging trajectories of these two men's lives, vividly portrayed, to tell the story of European culture in a time of dynamic and catastrophic change.


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