Saturday, March 08, 2008

Dying Without An Answer to Life's Most Essential Question

Here is a devastating portrayal of the emptiness and cruelty of the post-modern world view. This is a scene in an episode titled "Atonement" from the 14th season of the NBC television hospital drama E.R. -- a man looking for answers does not find what he needs in a post-modern view of religion where there is no absolute truth or objective solutions to our ultimate perplexities. This desperate man intuitively knows that there is an objective truth from a real God who both judges the wicked and offers the hope of release through forgiveness. All he needs is someone to tell him how and where to find that God (Acts of the Apostles 8:31-35). Relativism and the delusions of self-discovery and inner light cannot satisfy.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. (Psalm 130, NIV)

Here's another take on this episode with additional Gospel and Hollywood insights:

Monday, March 03, 2008

Nowhere Man: The Audacity of Barack Obama's World View

By Garry J. Moes

One of the frightening signs of the great and terrible condition of our time is the enduring popularity of John Lennon's song "Imagine." One of the most diabolical artistic expressions of all time, it is yet regarded far and wide as among the greatest of all time. Rolling Stone, in 2004, named it the third greatest song ever. A year earlier, former President Bill Clinton joined 80 children to sing it to Shimon Peres on his 80th birthday. Former President Jimmy Carter once said, "In many countries around the world — my wife and I have visited about 125 countries — you hear John Lennon's song 'Imagine' used almost equally with national anthems."

The song, originally produced by recently accused murderer Phil Spector, was one of the most performed songs of the 20th century. It has been used in countless films and television programs. It was played as a wake-up song on the Space Shuttle Columbia during its ill-fated mission. It has been played just before midnight on New Year's Eve in Times Square in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Hardly a year has gone by without it being featured by one or more contestants in the fabulously popular TV singing contest American Idol — the most recent being this year's spectacularly talented 17-year-old contestant David Archuleta. At least, the young man had the good sense to skip the first and second verses, which call on the world to "imagine" no heaven, hell or religion and everyone "living for today," a world with "no countries," where no one has anything "to kill or die for" and everyone is "living life in peace."

Explaining to suspicious Idol judge Randy Jackson that he skipped those verses because he lacked time for a full-on performance and that the last verse had such a wonderful message, the smiling, breathless young Archuleta had, however, just reminded us musically to . . .

Imagine no possessions;

I wonder if you can;
No need for greed or hunger,
A brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world.

You may say that I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.

There can be no dispute that the entire song, even that last verse, is pure utopianism. In fact, the absence of possessions, greed and hunger was one of the hallmarks of Utopia, Sir Thomas More's fictional 16th-century island nation and prototype of communism. It was a land in which, among other things, all production was readily given over to a common store, and everyone could take freely from it — in a "from each according to his ability to each according to his need" sort of way. Utopians disliked wars and fought them, not by themselves but through mercenaries, only when forced to do so in self-defense. Money, even gold, was evil and useless to Utopians, who believed that as long as money and private property were standards of living, there could be no justice or happiness.

Lennon plainly stated, as noted in a book by Geoffrey Guliano (Lennon in America), that his song was "anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic."

Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, on April Fools Day 1973, created their own conceptual country and called it Nutopia, a nation (?) with "no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people. Nutopia has no laws other than cosmic." Its national flag is all white — never mind that the white flag is the flag of surrender. Lennon and Ono defended that association, saying that only through surrender and compromise can peace be achieved.

Yes, John Lennon, you were a dopey dreamer. The greater tragedy, though — the tragedy that now threatens our body politic and very existence — is that you were not the only one. Indeed, our nation is being increasingly populated by succeeding generations of dreamers like yourself who continue to sing and love your dangerously stupid song and really believe it to be reasonable. I fear that this growing naïveté may be reaching critical mass in much of the West and in these United States.

All this is written, not primarily to critique a song or review an American Idol performance, but to note with alarm that the "philosophy" of Lennon's song is deeply ingrained in a new political wave sweeping the country this election year. It is the undercurrent of Barack Obama's "audacity of hope" and the surging tide of swooning support he is receiving across the land, particularly among the young but swelling well beyond that demographic. It is particularly audacious because it demagogues a "hope" without a foundation that can truly deliver on its vague but powerfully emotive promises.

Hope without a reasonable basis for its realization is, of course, not true hope. It is wishful thinking. It is sentimentality and romantic longing, nothing more. It is fancy at best and delusion at worst. It is utopianism, pure and simple.

The New Testament of the Christian Bible tells us what true hope is and how hopes may become reality. A hope that is worth holding is one that has a foundation in faith — faith placed objectively in a Source that can deliver with certainty the thing that is hoped for. Faith gives substance to that which is hoped for and evident certainty to things unseen, says the writer of an epistle addressed to first-century Hebrews. The faith spoken of here is a sure reliance on the infinite abilities of a Creator God with a proven record of providence — providence of all things needed for ultimate happiness and prosperity.

But what does Obama's religion of hope promise us, and on what basis does it pledge to deliver on our hopes? Well, this prophet and priest of the new (no, make that, the old recycled) religion of political hope has not yet spelled it out. Instead of a biblical kind of objective hope, he offers us the circular reasoning of faith in hope itself. At least, that's what his fawning audiences seem to be hearing.

If you carefully dissect his more substantive speeches and position papers, though, you will discover that he does offer something that is objective, if not very hopeful, because underlying his soaring rhetoric is an old suggestion, repeatedly proven false in the real historical world, that our unformed hopes can be realized by faith in an all-provident civil government and/or global community. Obama's entire (though brief) political life and civic record reveal that this is where his hope and promises lie; yet he dares not speak it plainly just now, since there is so much suspicion still rife in the land that government will continue to fail us. So rather than saying outright, "Hope in government," he calls us to put our faith in change — change that only he and his movement can bring about. As his campaign motto has it: "Change you can believe in."

"The 'hope' being sold by Mr. Obama and his true believers is misplaced," says columnist Cal Thomas. "Mr. Obama cannot deliver; he cannot save; he cannot improve individual circumstances by redistributing wealth and talking to America's dictatorial enemies. He is selling snake oil."

The name Utopia was coined by Thomas More from a combination of Greek words which together mean "no-place land." In his campaign's call to utopian hope, Obama is thus perhaps better found in another John Lennon song:

He's a real nowhere man,

Sitting in his nowhere land,
Making all his nowhere plans
For nobody.

Doesn't have a point of view,
Knows not where he's going to,
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man, please listen,
You don't know what you're missing,
Nowhere man, the world is at your command.

He's as blind as he can be,
Just sees what he wants to see,
Nowhere man can you see me at all?
Doesn't have a point of view,
Knows not where he's going to,
Isn't he a bit like you and me?

Nowhere man, don't worry,
Take your time, don't hurry,
Leave it all till somebody else
Lend you a hand.

He's a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his nowhere land,
Making all his nowhere plans
For nobody.

Barack Obama is an authentic nowhere man — a citizen of an ancient Utopia, yet with a rhetorical tone of postmodernism (see one analysis below). He has identified the spirit of the age and has become its voice.

"(T)here is a moment in the life of every generation, if it is to make its mark on history, when its spirit has to come through, when it must choose the future over the past, when it must make its own change from the bottom up," he recently told an adoring audience in Virginia.

The spirit of the age channeled by Obama is a sentimental version of utopian socialism. Yet his followers, more religious devotees than electoral supporters, are not so concerned with the content of his world view as with the vibrancy of his essence.

We haven't seen its equal since John and Jackie Kennedy's Camelot, but well grounded citizens must remember that Camelot is almost as mythical as Utopia. We can only hope (pardon the expression) that by November 2008 enough voters will be sufficiently mature to look beyond childish fairy tales and the imaginings of John Lennon dreamers and elect a president who understands the real world with all its practical challenges and jagged terrors.

It is the existence of these challenges and terrors that makes the prospect of an imagination-driven postmodern Obama presidency so frightening.

This issue becomes clear when considering the political implications of this world view. Dr. Mary Klages, associate professor of English at University of Colorado, Boulder, says, in Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed (Continuum Press, January 2007):

"There are lots of questions to be asked about postmodernism, and one of the most important is about the politics involved — or, more simply, is this movement toward fragmentation, provisionality, performance, and instability something good or something bad?"

Dr. Klages says that one of the consequences of postmodernism seems to be the rise of Muslim fundamentalism, "as a form of resistance to [postmodernism's] questioning of the 'grand narratives' of religious truth."

"This association between the rejection of postmodernism and ... fundamentalism may explain in part why the postmodern avowal of fragmentation and multiplicity tends to attract liberals and radicals. This is why, in part, feminist theorists have found postmodernism so attractive...," she says.

"On another level, however, postmodernism seems to offer some alternatives to joining the global culture of consumption, where commodities and forms of knowledge are offered by forces far beyond any individual's control. These alternatives focus on thinking of any and all action (or social struggle) as necessarily local, limited, and partial — but nonetheless effective. By discarding 'grand narratives' (like the liberation of the entire working class) and focusing on specific local goals (such as improved day care centers for working mothers in your own community), postmodernist politics offers a way to theorize local situations as fluid and unpredictable, though influenced by global trends. Hence the motto for postmodern politics might well be 'think globally, act locally' — and don't worry about any grand scheme or master plan."

Here is why a nation with Obama as president will be in such mortal danger. It is because we currently face determined enemies which have a well-honed grand scheme / master plan and are highly motivated to carry it out. Dreamers imagining us "living for today" in a "brotherhood of man" are no match for enemies such as these, who have no interest whatsoever in brotherhood with those who imagine no heaven, no hell and no religion. (They decapitate and vaporize those who imagine such things, even if only in cartoons.) Lennon- and Obama-inspired dreamers are "blind as they can be" nowhere men, seeing only what they want to see.

* * * * *

Audaciously Hopeful Postscript: Imagine there's no John Lennon; it's easy if you try. He's in hell below us. What a sorry guy!"