Friday, August 7, 2015

The Audacity "To" Hope: The 7 Signs of Hope in 7 Classic Movie Clips

One of the things that has always annoyed me about the otherwise excellent title of President Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope", is its grammatical structure. Yes, I know this sounds a little petty, but it really does make a huge difference. The "Audacity of Hope" makes it sound as if the virtue of hope simply floats around out there like an abstract idea appearing here or there regardless of whether or not someone is there to exercise it.

For this reason, I have always preferred the title of George Weigel's biography of pope John Paul II, "A Witness to Hope." In this case, you really do have an agent who is doing the "hoping" (viz. JP II), and thus the virtue of hope is not mistaken for some kind of feeling or atmosphere, but rather an action of the will.

Consequently, when one is speaking of hope, it is important to understand just that. In order for there to be any real sense of hope, there needs to be someone to will it, choose it, and subsequently act in accord with it. And why is this important? Because when it comes to the difficult questions of life we oftentimes find ourselves at odds. Yet there is one thing that we do share in common. No matter what our creed or philosophy, we all suffer, and in this respect, we all huddle together in the shared dream of a future wherein "every tear is wiped away."

The following movie clips epitomize (in my opinion) the spirit of hope, demonstrating, in a very practical way, how we ourselves can be agents and signs of this life saving virtue, heartening and encouraging one another- especially during those seasons of life that might best be described as winter.

1. Life is Beautiful - Rebellion and Resistance (especially in the face of despair) 

In this exquisite scene from the classic film Life is Beautiful, the father, Guido, sets aside his own fear (which is quite understandable) out of love for his son- so that his baby boy will have the strength and endurance to survive the camp. In this sense then, hope is also a kind of rebellion, for instead of giving into despair, it declares implicitly that there is some good that lies beyond the present state of darkness, and thus one will not give in or be conquered by the ministers of despair. Such a rebellion is a fearful and confounding thing to those whose program it is to promote hopelessness.

2. Shawshank Redemption - Beauty 

Shawshank is not a concentration camp, but it is a high security penitentiary, where prisoners oftentimes lose any sense of hope. Thus, Andy Dufresne definitely serves as an agent of hope, especially as he labors to promote dignity among his fellow inmates, reminding them that they are men and not animals. In this particular scene, Dufresene exchanges two weeks in solitary confinement for the opportunity to give the prison inmates a little taste of heaven, not to mention the experience of knowing that their true destiny lies beyond those prison walls. Music and beauty are powerful reminders that there is something beyond the walls of this life, and those who make this gift available to others serve as great witness to that reality.

3. Lord of the Rings - Friendship

Everyone has wanted to give up at one time or another. And there are plenty of agents of despair out there willing to take us up on the offer, reciting their favorite mantra; "you might as well give up, what's the point of even trying?" However, thankfully there are also those who attempt to keep us in the game, and snap us out of our self-indulgent funk. Yet sometimes we are so given to despair, that we are even tempted to view those who are trying to help us as the enemy (as is the suggestion of this clip). But whatever the case, we all lose our way, and we all forget ourselves, and so sometimes we need someone to take us aside and get in our face a little bit to remind us of who we are and what we should be about. So yes, hope can on occasion come in the form of a friend's slap across the face, especially if it gives us strength to get back on the path of righteousness.    

4. The Mission - Perseverance and Fortitude

As is the case with any long pilgrimage, there are points at which both the end and the beginning seem far too remote to offer any real consolation. In other words, you have come too far to go back, but you're are also not far enough along the way to even imagine the glory and satisfaction of what it means to reach the finish line. Thus, there are certain moments in the pilgrimage, where the best you can do is put one foot in front of the other without thinking too much about anything else. These folks may not realize that they are tremendous "witnesses to hope", but they are indeed. Even while they are grimacing and struggling in the pain and severity of this purgative experience, others watch in awe realizing, and perhaps even saying to themselves, if he/she can do it, why can't I? They are, if nothing else, a sign that "it" (whatever that may be) can be accomplished. I can make it through this difficult time too! There is a light at the end of the tunnel. "I think I can, I think can!" But whatever the case, this spectacular scene from the movie "The Mission," demonstrates not only the beauty and grit of perseverance, but its redemptive quality as well. For the main character in this clip, Rodrigo, will not allow himself to enjoy the spoils of beatitude (and in truth cannot) until he has "carried his cross" in a way that satisfies his own sense of justice.

5. Cool Hand Luke - Resilience

Those with a profound sense of hope generally demonstrate a spirit of resilience, and while they may wish to remain laid out on the canvas of life, they feel, for whatever reason, compelled to peel themselves off the canvas and fight on. Much like "Cool Hand Luke" in this scene, the man with genuine hope sees victory not merely in the externals (for everyone is limited in this regard), but in the act of conquering through the unconquerable will. We are all ultimately sent to the canvas in this life in one way or another, but only the man of true hope is courageous enough to continue get up and fight on for what is good and just, even when the reward is not immediately apparent.

6. Children of Men - New Life

The two primary enemies of hope are both presumption and despair, two opposites that are so far apart that they actually resemble one another (if the devil is two-faced, then these are his faces). If despair is the act of giving up the fight, then I guess presumption is the act of losing the fight because you take winning for granted. In this sense then, we too demonstrate such a presumption about the gift of life when, for lack reverence and gratitude, we throw it in the trash. The movie of Children of Men, however, reminds us of what the world might look like if that gift were for some reason taken away. In this apocalyptic tale of despair (i.e. a future where no one can conceive) even the sound of a baby crying is the like noise of salvation, reminding the viewer in a very practical way, that without children there is no tomorrow, and thus no real reason to hope. Consequently, in this sense, a baby is quite literally the sacrament of tomorrow/hope. Yet a baby is not merely a sign of hope in what they are objectively in themselves, but also in what they give to us. Indeed, just by being in their presence, they actually take us back to our own innocence, providing us memories and inspiration for our own renewal. If this were not the case, then why else would some of stiffest individuals (like me) be inspired to talk in such a ridiculous fashion, as if they were learning to speak for the first time again?

7. Joyeux Noel - Peace and Reconciliation

A near miraculous event occurred during World War 1, an event whereby a ceasefire occurred on Christmas day. Hence, in spite of the relentless war that was going on in the trenches at the time, there was something that allowed opposing sides, at least for the moment, to transcend their enmity: the birth of Jesus Christ. This extraordinary event is captured, at least in part, by the movie Joyeux Noel. The mind reels at the paradox of enemies seeking to kill each other one minute, and singing carols and playing games with one another the next. Any man who who seeks to build a bridge between two opposing groups can be regarded as a sign of hope, but only Christ in his Incarnation, can be regarded as Hope itself. For he is only One who has ever declared that in order to enter heaven you must not only forgive your enemies, but you must (of all things), love them. Is there any more practical sign of hope than this? Is there any other way out of the endless cycle of violence than a religion and philosophy that commands its adherents to be willing to lay down their lives, not only for the sake of their friends, but perhaps even for the sake of their enemies?

Bonus Clip from Shawshank Redemption:

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's a Cookbook! How We Became the Aliens from the Twilight Zone

Of all the Twilight Zone episodes, perhaps the creepiest and most jaw dropping is the episode called "To Serve Man". The premise runs something like this (spoiler alert): Aliens land in Washington D.C. At first, everyone is utterly terrified of them, in part because they are nine feet tall and can speak telepathically, and also did I mention that they are aliens? Soon however, just about everyone's fears are allayed by the fact that they seem genuinely benign. With apparent sincerity, they insist they have only come to earth to bring an end to human suffering. Indeed, they promise to end world hunger, create the conditions for world peace, and ultimately bring healing to the infirm. What's more, the goal of their mission (at least according to the title of the book that they carry around with them) is merely "to serve man".

Of course everyone buys into this enticing program, mainly because, well, materially speaking, it is a dream come true. Who wouldn't want someone to come along and promise to end all needless suffering in the world? Subsequently, even the skeptics eventually cede to the apparent generosity and benevolence of these intergalactic missionaries.

The truth is these aliens really aren't lying about their designs, and they really do wish to provide human beings with all of their basic necessities. However, their reasons for doing so are not exactly what they initially appear to be. As mentioned before, they genuinely do wish to "serve man", but not in the spirit of Mother Theresa, rather they connive to do so in the spirit of Buffalo Bill from the Silence of the Lambs. Tragically, by the time the main protagonist in the story wakes up to this fact, it's too late (see photo below), and before he knows it he is being whisked away to the aliens' home planet, never to be heard from again.

I remember being haunted by this episode for some time afterwards, not simply because aliens kind of freak me out in general, but because of the imaginative experience of being kidnapped and trapped inside a space ship beyond the reach of earth. For my part, few things could be more psychologically terrifying than this form of helplessness.

With the exception of E.T. (and a few other notable exceptions), there really aren't many alien stories (including Alien itself) which depict other-worldly beings in a positive light. Whatever the reasons for this, and I have my theories, there are certain attributes common to these aliens. The most typical of these are as follows: they tend to have an air of hostility about them, they like to toy with the procreative processes of humanity (ex. creating alien-human hybrids), abduction and kidnappings are a popular part of their regimen, they have an affinity for dissecting humans (and implanting devices), they appear to be without much of a conscience, their brains are generally quite large (while we get no account of their hearts), they are curious about us like a scientist is curious about his specimen, and lastly, as depicted in this particular episode of the Twilight Zone, they do, on occasion, see us as a culinary treat and/or a potential candidate for harvesting.

From whence all of this imagination comes, I will not dwell here, but safe to say these aforementioned aliens have a lot in common with demons, and as it turns out, with us. The idea of aliens/demons experimenting on human beings is terrifying enough, but add to that the fact that this episode, along with similar extra-terrestrial tales, can no longer even be regarded as mere science "fiction". The truth is we have become those dreadful aliens in these stories. We are the ones that exhibit their inhumane behavior. The "law and the prophets" of science fiction have been fulfilled, but we haven't the eyes or the conscience to recognize it.

One of the strangest details surrounding those recent under cover videos at Planned Parenthood (i.e. those videos that reveal top executives at the company glibly discussing the sale of vital organs of aborted fetuses) is the fact that there really isn't anything surprising in them at all. Abortion has been legal for over forty years, and so it's no surprise that some people profit from it, nor is it terribly surprising that the ugliness of this industry gets exposed on occasion (see a few recent examples: Kermit Gosnell and Planned Parenthood lawyer). Interestingly enough, much like those terrible aliens from the Twilight Zone, those who are behind these clinics claim that they are only here out of pure altruism, and that their only wish is "to serve man". But in a profoundly sinister twist of the phrase, they also mean something quite different than what was initially suspected by this phrase.

Do I blame Planned Parenthood for all of this? Of course I do! But what is even creepier than an organization that claims to do something brutal (and then carries it out), is a general populace that feigns surprise at the fact that Planned Parenthood has done exactly what it said it would do. "You mean a company that regards unborn children as little more than a "lump of tissue", would actually have the gall to treat unborn children as little more than tissue? The nerve of it all! In truth, if fetuses have no real intrinsic value or dignity, then why can't we treat them like they are worthless? How could Planned Parenthood treat aborted babies as a lab experiment?! Well, because they have little or no problem throwing babies in the dumpster in the first place... along with all the other medical garbage. Yet if that "trash" does indeed have monetary value, then why not recycle it, right?

"Guess which one of these isn't protected?" We shed tears over lions being needlessly killed (as we have seen in recent
days), but babies in the womb… not so much.

Protestors do not mince words when it comes to expressing their disdain for the dentist who killed "Cecil the Lion"

What should really outrage us in all this is our own complicity in Planned Parenthood's behavior. They have done exact what they have been legally permitted to do, and so if they are just a little bit fuzzy about their ethics, and tend to be a little bit lax about keeping the letter of the law when it comes to defending it, you can forgive them. Indeed, it is hard to make fine distinctions about the value of innocent life, especially when you have been given charge by the legislators and the courts to butcher it.

They are consistent (at least in what they do, not necessarily in what they say), and we are not. As a society we have declared in essence; "I'm OK if you kill this or that baby, just make sure there is a sufficient cause for doing so (whatever that means), and whatever you do with the body, take care to dispose of it quickly, so that no of us has to feel too bad about a baby being needlessly slaughtered." Consequently, Planned Parenthood's biggest crime in this situation is leaving a bloody mess.

Look, Planned Parenthood is merely carrying out its own wretched, despicable Nazi philosophy to its natural end. We are the ones who have the nerve to whistle and look the other way as the train heads towards Dachau and Auschwitz. Is it more evil to do the dirty deed, or to enable it? Seems like two sides of the same coin to me. Evil generally requires both a passive and an active element; one who commits the act in cold blood, and the one who excuses it (or at minimum stands by and does nothing to prevent it).

Another prime example of these "alien indecencies", can be seen in the treachery committed against human embryos. Whatever you think of In Vitro Fertilization, at least consider this: as we speak there are upwards of 600, 000 thousand human embryos frozen in "storage banks" in this country alone.

Yes, I do not deny, that some of these embryos will be permitted to enter a womb and live their lives. Nevertheless, a large number of these "leftovers" (as they are frequently called), will eventually die or be thrown out. Other embryonic children will suffer the indignity of being used for experimentation, while still others will ultimately end up as casualties of the implantation process itself (when In Vitro is performed, doctors generally implant three- so as to achieve pregnancy for one). To those embryos presently frozen and kept in laboratory holding cells, how can we as a society be deemed as anything different than a bunch of cold and cruel aliens interlopers?

To demonstrate just how weird and inhumane this whole process can get (if you haven't figured it out already), consider the recent case involving Sofia Vergara (the lead actress from Modern Family), and her now estranged ex-husband. Apparently before they got married they created a prenup that stipulated that- in the event of a divorce- the embryos that they had already created would be destroyed. When a legal ethicist was asked recently on Fox News about these embryos (and their subsequent legal status), she admitted, in essence, that these embryos are little more than "property" of the couple (welcome to a new form of child slavery).

As a consequence of a tragic equestrian accident some twenty years ago, Christopher Reeve spent the remaining nine years of his life in a wheelchair. During that time, he worked diligently to find a medical cure for this type of spinal injury (and presumably others). For this reason, he petitioned Congress (and anyone else who would listen), for greater access to those previously mentioned "leftover embryos" in the hope of pioneering a medical cure (Michael J. Fox also was initially involved in this campaign, but his initial enthusiasm wore off when the initial hype elicited little medical success).  
Personally, I am not a huge fan of the show South Park, but I suppose comedians who indiscriminately take a swing at everything eventually knock down something that ought to be knocked down. In one particular episode, Christopher Reeve is attending a rally in support of embryonic stem cell research. During this particular rally, he makes a speech during which he pulls out a dead fetus and begins to gnaw on it ravenously. After essentially absorbing its "nutrients", he then begins to get up and walk around the stage, evidently cured of his prior affliction.  

I find this satire disgusting– in part because it mocks someone who suffered tremendously. But I do not find it any more disgusting than the fact that it is actually true. Regardless of how offensive this parody may be, it is based on a medical fact, and should serve as a powerful reminder of why emotions alone should not be the final arbiter of our ethics. Reeve (and others) may not have perceived their actions in this light, but are they not in the end essentially doing what this South Park episode suggests (i.e. supping on the lives of the unborn in order to save their own)?  

Amidst all of these disturbing and gruesome examples of how we abuse human life, I have not even included in this discussion some of the more decadent examples. One such example involves the use of aborted fetal cells in cosmetic products in order to regenerate the skin of the aging consumer. Next, we have the story of how Pepsi used tissue derived from aborted fetal lines in order to test the savoriness of their products. And lastly, we have the recent scandal of several large hospitals using aborted fetuses as an alternative energy source in order to heat the facility. It's great being green, isn't it?! Note, in all of these instances, I have not simply focused on some lone crazy going rogue, but rather on the decisions of entire cooperations. Obviously this does not mean that everyone in these organizations is aware of these practices, but presumably in order for such controversial methods to go forward, consent must be given at the highest levels.    

Looking in the mirror as a society, we are no doubt horrified by the set of alien eyes that we find staring back at us, but strangely enough, we do not associate them with our own. I suppose this all makes sense in a way, especially considering the nature and psychology of evil, a kind of dissociative disorder whereby humans and angels alike become particularly adept at the practice of denying any personal culpability for anything. 

Evil is always over there, it's never here. The truly wicked man is immaculate in his own eyes... or at least never responsible for the subsequent effects of his action. Proverbs puts it another way; "Every man is right in his own eyes, but God judges the heart" (Proverbs 21:2). So it is likewise with the general response to the behavior of Planned Parenthood. We are naturally horrified (at least most of us are) to discover that “Soylent Green is people!", but we nevertheless remain fundamentally detached and disassociated from our own culpability in the wide distribution of this mystery meat. 

Yes, To Serve Man, is a story about a fictional alien cookbook, but it may as well be the Cliff's Notes to the Satanic Bible. The goal here is simple: reduce the human race to a bunch of mindless tablet-watching zombies with giant unblinking eyes, who both consume and are consumed by one another. How do you accomplish this? Not by withholding things from humanity, but rather by gorging him on every imaginable material good (just as the aliens did in the Twilight Zone). This will subsequently result in a humanity that is utterly anesthetized and stupefied, a slave to his own appetites, so much so that he will serve as the perfect host body and specimen for harvesting, even as we- in this most tragic days- have done the same to one another. 


Rod Serling: (closing narration from To Serve Man) The recollections of one Michael Chambers with appropriate flashbacks and soliloquy. Or more simply stated, the evolution of man. The cycle of going from dust to dessert. The metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone's soup. It's tonight's bill of fare in the Twilight Zone.