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Klavan On The Culture

Monthly Archives: March 2013

Have A Wonderful Easter

March 29th, 2013 - 6:00 am

I’m posting this on Good Friday, which for the apostles of Christ was a day of the blackest despair. I imagine many of them were saying the same sorts of things that many of you have been saying since the last election, “It’s done!” “We’re finished!” “It’s over!” “There’s no hope!”

Have a wonderful Easter.

Below is a re-posting of part of my Christmas essay, “Our Culture and Christ.”

All art — all storytelling, picture-making, music — is an attempt to record and communicate the experience of being human. There are no words for this experience. Only metaphor and imagery and music will do. All peoples leave these traces of themselves. It’s their way of saying not just “We were here,” but “We were here — and this is what it was like.”

In the west, especially in that part of the west formerly known as Christendom, the project of art has taken on a special significance. That significance accounts for western art’s unparalleled greatness, for the fact that European productions between the Renaissance and World War I represent the pinnacle of human cultural achievement thus far. No other painting, literature or music has ever been more beautiful or more deep — more generally successful in doing what it is art does.

The special significance of western art — its special urgency — derives from the fact that westerners have a unique belief that the experience of being human, while by definition subjective, is nonetheless a reflection of an objective truth:  moral truth.  We believe that a human life can embody the ideas of God.

We believe this because our minds, our outlook, our culture were all formed under the pervasive influence of Christianity — the pervasive influence of Jesus Christ.

 

The oldest extant fragment of the canonical New Testament we have is a parchment the size of a cell phone that bears portions of the confrontation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. During that confrontation, the Jewish preacher tells the Roman procurator that he has come to testify to the Truth and that all who are of the Truth will hear his voice. To this, Pilate responds — derisively, one imagines — “What is Truth?”  Jesus doesn’t answer him here, but he has already given his answer earlier in the same gospel: “I am.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

This statement is the fruition of Jewish thought at the very end of the first great cycle of Jewish civilization. The God of the Jews had spoken his name to Moses: I AM THAT I AM. Which is to say that the very fact of being — existence itself — is a person. That person created man in his image. And so, in theory at least, a man might live into that image, might express the personality of his creator and become the immortal moral truth of existence in the flesh. This is who Christ is.

Europe was molded by belief in him. Christianity transformed both the customs of the continent’s German tribes and the classical modes of thought and expression they ultimately inherited. So in Christendom, art’s age-old mission of expressing human experience became also something else, something more: an attempt to paint the human shadow of the great I AM.

Or… not. As the gospel suggests, the outlook of Pilate inevitably remains embodied in the western project.  It is part of the story.  There is the voice that says, “I am the truth” — the Christly voice that says our conscience matters, that we reflect the godhead, that just as there is a starry sky above, there is a moral law within. But there is also the Pilate voice saying, “What is truth?” implying that subjective human experience is forever open to question, that there can be no ultimate morality, that everything we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

The history of western culture from Hamlet to The Sopranos is the history of minds in the toils of that Christ-Pilate dynamic. Whether it’s Nietzsche standing in for Pilate or it’s Woody Allen, whether it’s Dostoevsky batting for Christ or it’s Tolkien, the question is the same. Is there an ultimate moral reality that guides human life or is it as Hamlet said, and “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”?

Hamlet spoke those words when he was pretending to be insane. Many of today’s atheist intellectuals reiterate them while pretending to be sane. The Pilate-like moral relativism and multi-culturalism these academics espouse are aspects of a self-contradictory pose. They declare that nothing is true but that nothing is true, that nothing is real but that nothing is real. The position, as Shakespeare knew, is not only crazy, it’s make-believe crazy, because no one actually believes it.

But while the post-modernist position is absurd and untenable, it’s correct in its premise: you can’t make the argument for moral truth without God. If our conscience matters, it can only be because existence is a person and we are made in that person’s image. It can only be because our lives naturally strive toward Christ.

This underlying knowledge — this inescapable sense of Christ’s reality, toward which we move even through our constant questioning and doubt —  is what makes the stories and music and paintings of the west so uniquely great and beautiful and profound.

Game of Thrones

March 28th, 2013 - 6:01 am
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Game of Thrones — It’s very hard for me to get into the fantasy genre, but I just love this. I burned through the first two seasons and am way ready for the third to begin on HBO March 31st. A sprawling fantasy about the struggle to win the Iron Throne that rules the seven kingdoms. It’s gotten teased a lot for all the sex (see the pitch-perfect SNL skit above), so be warned. Whenever there’s an exposition scene, they try to have two naked girls making out in the background to liven things up. It’s so over-the-top, I actually found myself thinking, “Put your shirt on, sister, so I can hear the exposition.” But still, great characters, great stories — and a brilliant use of the supernatural; that’s the best thing about it. Supernatural events haunt the edges of the story and then slowly, slowly move toward the center. Somehow that makes it all completely believable. Kudos to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss who brought the massive, unfinished series of novels A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin to life. Great score by Ramin Djawadi. A wonderful cast, dominated by Peter Dinklage in a performance for the ages. But my favorite, of course, is Conan the Barbarian star Jason Momoa as the savage Khal Drogo. If I call my wife “moon of my life,” one more time, she may toss me out

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The Awakening

March 27th, 2013 - 6:00 am

The Awakening — Another film I wanted to like more than I did, but it had its moments. An old-fashioned ghost story — so you know I’m there — about a post World War I medium-debunker who’s brought to a private school to get to the bottom of a haunting. Lots of good elements: a spooky house, a slow build, one scene with a doll house that gets five ghost stars. Rebecca Hall is a slightly mannered but very appealing actress and she’s just right for the part of the neurotic heroine. And co-screenwriter Stephen Volk is the guy who did the notorious GhostWatch TV movie: a first rate British ghost piece that was so realistic it was said to have caused a suicide and therefore banned from Brit TV. But Awakening never really takes off. The usual problem of too many boo scares: they’re for kids; they’re not scary. A reveal that raises more questions than it answers. A long and unscary denouement. Still, not bad. A fun couple of hours if you like the genre as much as I do. But not great. You might be better off finding a copy of GhostWatch.

The Intouchables

March 26th, 2013 - 6:00 am

The Intouchables – Basically, this monster French hit is a Magic Negro movie:  you know, a warm/wise/passionate person of color brings warmth/wisdom/passion into the lives of stuffy old white folk. But it’s elevated above its shudder-inducing genre by a vastly charming script and two performances of such brilliance they would have elevated the phone book. Francois Cluzet is so unbelievably good as a quadriplegic millionaire, he brings the guy completely to life from the first scene using nothing but the expressions on his face. Omar Sy is delightful as the street tough who gets hired to help him out. And Audrey Fleurot — why is it only French actresses have the ability to be mind-shatteringly beautiful while still looking like real people? No wonder French guys never want to do any work! Anyway, it’s definitely worth watching all the way and the scene at the opera is classic. I like opera, and it still had me in stitches. Based on a true story. A real pleasure.

 

Taken 2

March 25th, 2013 - 4:33 pm

I’ll be traveling over Easter and don’t think I’ll have time to blog, so I’ll leave a few mini-reviews to unroll day by day for your holiday viewing pleasure — or not.

“Sweetheart, get me rewrite! I think I just killed the director.”

Taken 2 — Oh, man, I so wanted to like this. Liam Neeson killing evil Muslims to get his kidnapped wife back? It worked once, why not again? Plus the critics hated it while the public ate it up, so I was all ready to side with the public. But, really, no. The characters are terribly written, the action is poorly choreographed. Poor Neeson looks like he needs to be rescued more than his family. There’s one scene where he’s in a Mexican standoff — evil Muslims have him and his wife at gunpoint; he’s holding a gun on them — and, so help me, he pauses to make a phone call! I was hoping he was calling his agent: “Get me out of here!” No such luck. A few days after I saw this, I was on the elliptical and Taken 1 came on TV. I was struck again by its taut structure, its expert suspense. Take my advice: watch the first one twice and forget 2.

Sex and German Philosophy

March 20th, 2013 - 7:23 am

Here, via our friends at FrontPage.com, is video of my recent talk about the arts at the Wednesday Morning Club of the David Horowitz Freedom Center:

 

Getting Hollywood Not Quite Right

March 19th, 2013 - 9:24 am

From The Bible: Satan… or Obama… Like, whichever.

Daniel Wattenberg, the arts and features editor of the conservative Washington Times wrote a piece last week chiding Hollywood for being confounded by the ratings success of History channel’s mini-series The Bible. ”Blockbuster ratings for a compilation of bible stories from a reality TV producer taking his first crack at drama? Can’t be,” Wattenberg writes in the persona of a studio exec. “If there was a market for biblical epics, then Hollywood wouldn’t have long ago abandoned the genre…  Makes no sense.”

No one can blame Wattenberg for taking a poke at Hollywood’s apparent reluctance to capitalize on the huge audience of the faithful. As I myself have joked repeatedly, if Passion of the Christ had been about anything else, the Book of Acts would already be in the can.

But just for the record, no one in Hollywood is baffled by The Bible’s success. I think the Passion of the Christ blowout took them aback a little, but everyone gets it now: There’s a large audience of religious people who are tired of being mocked and put down by a small cadre of coastal sophisticates, but who will show up for solid, non-pandering faith-based entertainment. They’re not stupid; they’re not changing their minds; they’re not going away.

So why isn’t there more good work for the faithful? The problem is not Hollywood cluelessness, nor is it Hollywood evil. Conservatives tend to over-emphasize both.

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New York Times editors moving offices.

When Benedict XVI was pope, the New York Times ran a scurrilous, distortion-infested campaign intended to link the former Joseph Ratzinger with the awful abuse scandals that have so harmed the Catholic Church. These pieces were manifestly dishonest and substance-free when you read them through. But the Times editors know most people don’t read the articles — they read the headlines and the first paragraph.

So this morning, the pseudo-journalists at the Times began their campaign of lies against the new pope, Francis, under the damning (and damnable) headline: “Starting a Papacy, Amid Echoes of a ‘Dirty War:’

One Argentine priest is on trial in Tucumán Province on charges of working closely with torturers in a secret jail during the so-called Dirty War, urging prisoners to hand over information. Another priest was accused of taking a newborn from his mother…

Another clergy member offered biblical justification for the military’s death flights, according to an account by one of the pilots anguished about dumping drugged prisoners out of aircraft and into the sea.

As he starts his papacy, Francis, until this month Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, faces his own entanglement with the Dirty War, which unfolded from 1976 to 1983. As the leader of Argentina’s Jesuits for part of that time, he has repeatedly had to dispute claims that he allowed the kidnapping of two priests in his order in 1976, accusations the Vatican is calling a defamation campaign.

This is just despicable, isn’t it? Lead with examples of some priests who were wicked then segue into a paragraph about the pope to make it sound like he was one of them. Really – for shame.

Reading more deeply into the story — which I did so you don’t have to — we learn that the pope’s “entanglement,” involved hiding fugitives from the government bad guys, pleading for the release of two priests and helping one guy who looked like him escape by lending him his papers and a priest get-up. Which last is actually pretty cool. Go, Pope.

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People Who Love Papal

March 15th, 2013 - 10:09 am

This is NBC News!

There’s an old saying that goes something like, “Everyone has two businesses, his own and show business.” I think something similar could be said about the Catholic Church. Everyone who cares about Christianity — perhaps everyone who cares about western religion at all — feels he has a stake in it. A Catholic would say this is because his is the one true church, but it’s probably just because for so many centuries the history of the Catholic Church and the history of the west were fully intertwined.

In any case, when someone wants to talk about Christianity as oppressive or backward, they immediately begin a learned discussion about how the pope killed and devoured Galileo. If a screenwriter needs a character to battle the devil, he brings in a Catholic priest. (If you just want to make the devil laugh, you call an Episcopalian.) And when a new pope is chosen, everyone seems to take an interest and everyone seems to have an opinion. This remains true even if the person with an opinion doesn’t know a single thing about the Catholic Church or religion or history or anything — by which I mean, he’s an American journalist.

I was in L.A. when the announcement was made — which is to say I was stuck in my car listening to the whole thing on the radio. And the coverage by our friends in the media was genuinely hilarious — really laugh-out-loud, wipe-your-eyes funny. The going theory seemed to be that there had been some sort of tension in the conclave between choosing a new pope who would adhere to the 2,000-year-old teachings of Catholicism or choosing one who would lighten up and finally begin to accept the deeper truth of the journalist’s trendy opinions. To the media, it was clearly a disappointing surprise when church doctrine won out.

My friends at the Media Research Center caught the tenor of the coverage by linking to this NBC.Com “To Do List,” for the new pope, which included this gem:

6. Modernization. Majorities of Catholics in the United States have said in surveys that they want the pope to lead the church in a more liberal direction. A New York Times/CBS News poll of Catholics last week found that six in 10 support gay marriage, and seven in 10 want the church to allow birth control. Three-quarters supported abortion in at least some circumstances. In Argentina, then-Cardinal Bergoglio clashed with the president over a 2010 law allowing gay marriage. “It is a move by the father of lies to confuse and deceive the children of God,” he said.

Here’s my “To Do List,” for NBC.com:

1. Get a Clue.  Guess whose job it isn’t to bring the church in line with public opinion? If you answered, “The Pope,” you are correct. Knuckleheads.

Much more on the next page.

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Ask A Jew

March 14th, 2013 - 10:16 am
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“The Catholic Church is a force for moral absolutes in this world. That annoys the New York Times and for that alone I give it blessing.”

That’s radio good guy Dennis Prager talking to radio likewise good guy Hugh Hewitt about the church and other religious matters. Lots of fascinating stuff packed into eight minutes — but if you want to hear more and you want to hear it live and also see it if you’re a visual sort of person with eyes, you can go to the Mariners Church in Irvine, California, this Sunday, March 17, from 4-6pm and watch these two charming and large-brained humanoids discuss religious and political matters before your very ears. Tickets are either 25 or 75 bucks.