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Klavan On The Culture

Me & Jesse Lee

April 23rd, 2014 - 6:05 am

The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson may be the single most fearless person I’ve ever met — morally fearless, I mean; willing to say whatever he believes to be the truth. Plus he has a deadpan sense of humor that cracks me up.

Here I am on one of his recent radio shows, talking about how Conservatives can get their game back. After you listen, check out my City Journal profile of Jesse Lee, A Man Alone.

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And you can listen to the Jesse Lee Peterson show here.

 

Does the Triumph of Faith Films Matter?

April 21st, 2014 - 12:29 pm
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“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” So wrote the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.

By the same token, I can’t imagine God’s glory is increased any when we make movies about him, and so I don’t suppose the Lord is much interested in the latest box office news out of Hollywood. Nonetheless, that news is good for faith-based films. Not long after the indie film God’s Not Dead was a “surprise hit,” (i.e., a hit anyone outside of New York or L.A. could’ve seen coming a mile off), Heaven Is for Real earned more than twice its $12 million production budget on its opening Easter weekend and left the big budget Johnny Depp vehicle Transcendence in the dust. And there were two other recent Hollywood victories for Bible believers as well. 1) The opening weekend success of Noah followed by 2) the film’s huge drop into near oblivion when filmgoers realized the story was not told along biblical lines.

My feelings about this are not complicated. I like it. I’m glad there are movies being made about faith and I’m glad people like them and go to see them. Since a huge majority of us have some kind of belief in something, I don’t see why that part of the human experience should be edited out of the arts simply because it threatens the teeny-tiny-minded worldview of certain coastal reviewers. (The unsupported insinuation that concludes the New York Times review of Heaven is simply despicable.)

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Happy Easter

April 18th, 2014 - 10:25 am
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I’m writing this on Good Friday, the day that marks Christ’s crucifixion: a good day to remember just how hopeless things can seem without really being hopeless at all.

I know a lot of PJM readers are feeling pretty bad about the current political situation. And I don’t mean to happy-face anything. Our country’s in trouble. I’ve never seen a government this lawless, this unconstitutional, this unAmerican and, which in a way is worse, never saw the news media so supine, so frozen in the headlights of their own ill-considered philosophy.

But I did go through the awful Jimmy Carter years — and then there was Reagan and an amazing American quarter century followed. I lived in New York City when you couldn’t run down to the store for a pack of smokes without taking your life in your hands — and then there was Rudy Giuliani and the place was utterly transformed. And all the while those political heroes were working their magic, the media screamed like the Exorcist girl with the demon inside her.

I’m not saying that’ll happen again. Maybe there’s no one around with the Reagan-Giuliani brains and courage. But to those of you who leave comments here and write to me and say there’s no hope, ask yourself what you would have said on the first Good Friday.

And have a happy Easter.

Another Great Season of Justified

April 16th, 2014 - 6:05 am
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I’ve entered one of those periods when I’m so busy, I can only watch one TV show at a time. Pitiful, I know. Fortunately, for the last thirteen weeks, there’s been no difficulty deciding which show it would be. Graham Yost’s Justified remains one of the best crime shows ever, even in this era of unbelievably great crime shows like The Wire and The Shield.

I think the last two seasons have been the two best. As always, it’s the characters, dialogue and tough Elmore Leonardian attitudes that make the thing pop the way it does. But I do like a good story, and the plotting has grown better over the seasons and in these last two seasons, the stories were really superlative.

The actors are all great. Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Walton Goggins, Joelle Carter, the whole cast. The fact that none of them has won an Emmy for this show is a miscarriage of Emmy justice but (watch the funny Conan interview with Olyphant above) they seem to be surviving. Olyphant, I think, gets underrated because he’s a good-looking hero type who’s paid his dues in some second rate films, but you can tell he constructs his performances from the ground up. He even moves differently in different roles. I still haven’t forgotten Goggins’ performance in the last season of The Shield — the best acting I ever saw on a TV screen — and he continues excellent here. And this season, Joelle Carter finally got a really interesting storyline all to herself and pulled off a major character shift so subtle that the final jolt seemed unexpected and completely natural at the same time.

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Black Lives, Democrat Lies

April 13th, 2014 - 3:16 pm

A fascinating article by Francis Wilkinson appeared in Bloomberg View last week (h/t Instapundit). Wilkinson detailed the fact that income inequality between whites and blacks is worse in leftist cities:

Minneapolis-St. Paul. San Francisco. Chicago. Even Madison, Wisconsin. If you are politically liberal and value relatively high levels of income equality, you might live in one of these quintessentially liberal U.S. cities. Yet all four lurk in the bottom half of the 2014 National Urban League’s State of Black America report on income inequality between blacks and whites. Among the many places where black-white income is less skewed are Phoenix, Arizona, Nashville, Tennessee and Columbia, South Carolina.

Nationally, blacks and Hispanics earn less than whites and generally have higher rates of unemployment. But there are significant regional variations. And looking at the Urban League rankings, I couldn’t help noticing how many northern liberal cities fared poorly on the racial equality index.

Now to someone like me — a former liberal who became a conservative, in part, because I saw the devastation wrought on poor black neighborhoods by leftist policies — this is no surprise, not even all that interesting. What I did find riveting though were the desperate attempts by presumably left-leaning social scientists to explain the discrepancy away.

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I’ve got a new series of bi-weekly satire videos coming out from our friends at Truth Revolt. It’s called The Revolting Truth. The first one launches today, entitled “ObamaCare – Lies? Or Crap?”  You decide!

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Phoenix Island: A Tough, Riveting YA Novel

April 9th, 2014 - 11:29 am

I haven’t seen the CBS-TV Show Intelligence — though Tripp Vinson, who produced the terrific Exorcism of Emily Rosehas a credit on it — but I just read the novel on which it’s based, John Dixon’s Phoenix Islandand it’s startling — startlingly tough, startlingly good. Young adult fiction is too often geared strictly to girls. Not a conspiracy, but more girls read and more women work as editors in the field. But this is the kind of hard, gritty man’s man story I really like. It’s uncompromising, exciting, well-written and smart.

By way of full disclosure, let me say that I only agreed to read it because I’ve met John and liked him…  and before I finished it, he sent me a blurb for my new YA series, MindWar. But my policy is: no matter who your friends are, the readers come first, and I don’t tell people to buy stuff unless I think it’s really worth the money.

This is. It’s very cool. John is a former Golden Gloves boxer (had I known this when we met, I would’ve been much nicer to him!) and his hero, Carl Freeman, is a boxer likewise. Carl has a bad habit of standing up for the little guy against bullies and so he keeps getting in trouble with the Zero Tolerance crowd, who coddle the evil doers and punish the heroes who fight back against them. After enough run-ins with the law, Carl gets sent to the youth facility on Phoenix Island: it’s outside U.S. waters so the military-style Drill Instructors can do anything they please. And it’s brutal.

That’s just the beginning though, and one of the things I liked best about this book is that John takes his time telling the story, building the characters, letting the situations play out to some very surprising twists. It reminded me of some of the classic adventure tales I love, and delivered some of the same kind of uplift and thrills.

Great action, strong characters, a hardboiled attitude and lots of excitement. Not the usual thing in YA Fiction. Good stuff. Buy it for your tough guy or girl here.

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The Great Debates We’re Not Having

April 7th, 2014 - 7:45 am

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One of the ways leftists turn themselves from idealistic naifs into fascistic McCarthyite thugs is by convincing themselves there is only one side to every argument. There is their opinion and everything else is “Hate.” The bullying brownshirts who engineered the ouster of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich were probably perfectly decent people when they were three- or four-years-old. They became the jackbooted blacklisters they are today when they taught themselves to believe in their own impeccable virtue and the evil of the opposition.

For the instruction of these aspiring tyrants then and as an aid to our own memories, let’s remind ourselves for a moment of what we’re actually arguing about when we argue about social issues.

1. Abortion. The debate over abortion has nothing to do with women’s rights. There is no constituency in America (except maybe in parts of the Muslim community) that has any interest in limiting women’s rights. Think of a politician running on the platform “Less rights for women.” The number of votes he’d get would be vanishingly small. The debate over abortion is over one thing only: whether a fetus should be given protections as if it were a human life. If it should, a woman has no more “right” to kill it than she does anyone else. A debate on the complexities of this issue would be educational. Screaming about women’s rights, wars on women or pregnancies by rape and incest (about one percent of abortions) are simply means of deceiving oneself and others.

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My Great Idea for Radical Gay Hell

April 4th, 2014 - 11:04 am

My approach to gay rights is strictly libertarian: do what you want; don’t scare the horses. Gay people are among the nicest, most civilized and broad-minded folks I know. Plus, like Jews, being hated has sharpened their senses of humor. They make me laugh — which is what I’m here for.

Most of them, like any civilized person gay or straight, would be disgusted and horrified by the witch-burning of Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich. The bullies and thugs who engineered his loss of a job over his donation to a traditional marriage cause — and I don’t give a rat’s whether he donated ten years ago or yesterday — should be forced to take How-To-Be-An-American re-education classes.

Or here’s an even better idea! You remember the Jean-Paul Sartre play No Exit? It’s an existential vision of hell:  three people stuck in a room together, perfectly chosen to get on each other’s nerves, attacking, blaming and seducing one another for all eternity. “Hell is other people.”

Well since Fred Phelps recently died…  and since he was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church…  and since they’re the clowns who go around disrupting the funerals of U.S. soldiers because they feel America is too nice to gay people (“God hates fags!” their signs declare.)…  how about they make a room in hell where Fred and the people who got Eich fired can, you know, hang out together? Forever. And also ever.

No wait, maybe that wouldn’t work. After they got past the whole gay thing, they’d probably find out they have way too much in common.

The Whole Idea of Noah is Wrong

April 1st, 2014 - 11:49 am

I’ve been on the road and haven’t had a chance to see Noah, the 130-million dollar Darren Aronofsky biblical blockbuster that opened well, but not brilliantly, at the box office last weekend. But while I can have nothing to say about the content of the movie, I’ve been interested to see three of my friends from three different faiths wrestle with the film — a film whose atheist director declared it would be “the least biblical film ever made.”

Ben Shapiro is a devout Jew, and I’ve heard him speak with real and revealing insight into Torah — something that’s not all that common. In a genuinely sharp essay at Truth Revolt, he took the film apart as a “perversely pagan mess” that replaced God with Gaia to deliver a muddled environmentalist message. You can read the whole excellent thing here, but one point struck me particularly:

It is one thing for a movie adaptation to stray from the source material. Adding characters or scenes, crafting details that vary from the strict text – all of it is in bounds when it comes to adaptations. Critics of Noah who have focused on the extra-Biblical magic of Methuselah or the lack of textual support for instantaneously-growing forests are off-base.

The far deeper problem is when an adaptation perverts the message of the source material. If the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird had turned Tom Robinson into a villain and Mr. Ewell into a hero, that would rightly have been seen as an undermining of the original work. The same is true of the Biblical story of Noah and the movie version of that same story. It isn’t merely that Aronofsky gets the story wrong. That would be forgiveable. It’s that Aronofsky deliberately destroys the foundational principles undergirding the Bible, and uses Biblically-inspired story to do it.

The mighty John Nolte of Breitbart’s Big Hollywood, a Catholic, was much kinder to the movie itself — and in fact, feared that the film’s high quality as an entertainment made it an excellent vehicle for selling a wholly dishonest view of the Bible story:

My concern is that with “Noah,” Hollywood has cracked the code on how to undermine the Judeo/Christian faith while making a profit with the help of some duped Christian “thought leaders”: Use the awesome propaganda power of the motion picture to lead people away from God by telling them the Judeo-Christian faith is something it is not.

In the case of “Noah,” [because of strong box office] Satan is a happy camper… : Over the last ten days, throughout the world, millions have been told the dark lie that Christianity, or any religion based on the Old Testament, has a foundation seeped in environmental extremism and has nothing to do with leading a moral and charitable life as defined by the Ten Commandments and Christ’s 11th Commandment.

Finally, up-and-coming culture critic R.J. Moeller, an evangelical, took a man-of-reason approach over at Acculturated. Writing an open letter to Aronofsky, he expressed admiration for the filmmaker’s work both here and elsewhere.

What I’d like to say to you in closing is this: thank you for making this movie. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I was encouraged to see your interpretation of the story of Noah and the existential themes and questions that emanate from it. Even if we disagree on the lessons we’re supposed to learn from Noah’s life and God’s actions, I appreciate your willingness to enter the “How can a good God allow bad things to happen?” debate.

Your film is going to facilitate important conversations among friends, family members and co-workers around the nation. I hope Hollywood takes note of the box office enthusiasm surrounding this movie. I also hope that those Christians who did not care for Noah are incentivized to be a part of the long-term solution (as far as the production of God-honoring, high-quality projects are concerned).

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