Watchmen

Watchmen

Full disclosure: I have never read the graphic novel by Alan Moore upon which this film was based. Furthermore, this post will contain spoilers, if you have never watched this (7 year old) movie and still mean to do so.

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Upon viewing Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009) for the first time, I find myself somewhat conflicted. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but after it was over I did like it. But my understanding is that a great many people who saw it did not like it at all. So I’m left wondering, was it actually any good? Does its value as a satire on superheroes and their methods and motives outweigh its failures as a film? Was it in fact such a failure at all? When you watch a superhero movie, you expect an appropriately heroic ending: the good guy beats the bad guy, saves the city, gets the girl, etc. If that’s what you’re after, put on Superman, ’cause Watchmen isn’t going to do it for you. But the case could be made, though, that this film does not fall into the superhero genre at all. A running theme in the film, reiterated by several characters, is that “it’s all a big joke,” which could be perceived as the film being somewhat self-aware. When Ozymandias, perhaps the world’s most famous superhero in continuity, sacrifices millions of lives to avert nuclear war and save the entire planet, it is simply an illustration of “he who fights monsters” taken to its natural conclusion: “beware lest he become himself a monster.” There are no truly sympathetic characters in this film: Dan and Laura are forgettable, apparently existing only to fulfill the obligatory romantic subplot; the Comedian is an Ax-Crazy rake; Dr. Manhattan is distant and inaccessible, his god-like characteristics obscuring his motivations; and Ozymandias, though his motives were understandable, became the technical villain by his methods. Only Rorschach even comes close, but it’s hard to consider him heroic. While he is uncompromising in his beliefs and his commitment to justice, he is judge, jury, and executioner to the criminals he fights, exacting his version of justice with a brutality and a body count of which many supervillains would be jealous. Most superhero films ask the question “What would the world be like if…” If men could be more than men. If a perverted justice system could be circumvented by an untouchable, incorruptible force. If the good guys always won. Watchmen answers the question, but not in the way you would expect of a traditional superhero genre film. If Batman gazed for too long into the abyss, Rorschach is what he would become.

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Capital Punishment and Christianity: The Problem of Grace

One thing that has been on my mind a lot lately is the death penalty. Specifically, what I believe about it, what other people believe about it, and how those beliefs line up with my worldview as a whole. Something that I have noticed is that when I ask people my age what they believe about the death penalty, they typically have not formed an opinion of their own. If pressed for an answer, most of the people that I talked to responded that they guessed they were for it, “Because my parents are.” Their parents are Southern Baptist-Republican-Conservative-Pro-gun rights-Pro-life-Pro-death penalty, and so are they. I’m not sure I can think of anything more troubling than believing in something just because somebody told you to. We talk all the time about “owning our faith,” how we can’t get by just riding on our parent’s beliefs. But when it comes to civic or political beliefs, we are content to let our parents affiliations define us?
The main problem that I can’t seem to get around is the morality of the thing. “Thou shalt not kill,” seems pretty straightforward to me. But if it isn’t, consider this:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine,” says the LORD, “I will repay.” (Romans 12:19)
There is only one lawgiver and judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12)
The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in their midst, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dust. As they continued to ask him, he said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” And once more he bent down and wrote in the dust. But when they heard this, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” She answered, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go now and sin no more.” (John 8:3-11)
What I am getting at here is that I do not think that any human being is qualified to pass judgment on the sins of another and condemn him to death for them. I am not saying that crimes should not have consequences; but if you cannot give life, you should not be able to take it. The relationship that I’m looking at, between punishment and judgment and vengeance and grace is a complex one, and it’s not hard to see why it is such a controversial subject.
Capital punishment is provided for under Old Testament law. In fact, it is allowed for under a rather wide variety of circumstances: from murder and adultery to disrespecting your parents and working on the Sabbath. Hazard a guess at how many of those are still considered capital offenses in the US? Hear me on this: the Law was not flawed or wrong; God made it. But it wasn’t finished yet. It was fulfilled by grace, through Jesus Christ. He said “I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.” And then he took everything we knew about the law and redefined it, completed it, fleshed it out from action to attitude. Let me be blunt. Without grace, you and that murderer are going to the same hell. Do you deserve grace more than he does? No. Do you think God’s forgiveness can cover lying and cheating and adultery, but he draws the line at rape? No. Remember David? Man after God’s own heart? Liar, adulterer, murderer. God forgave David. The death penalty says “This person is beyond forgiveness, beyond grace. Not even God can save him. Moreover, he does not deserve the chance to be forgiven. He deserves to die, and we are better than him and therefore are qualified to cast that stone.” To an extent, I get the argument, the sentiment behind that. Punishment in kind: an eye for an eye, a life for a life. But the Bible also says that if you look at someone with anger in your heart, you’ve as good as murdered him (Matthew 5:22).
I’m not interested in the guilt or innocence of the people on death row. That’s not the issue at the moment. What I really want to know is how qualified are we to decide that someone deserves to die? I can’t tell you that I can look at someone like Osama bin Laden or the Sandy Hook shooter and feel forgiveness toward them. If I am honest, I feel like they deserved to die for what they did. The lives they destroyed; children, civilians, non-combatants. It makes me sick; and I can’t forgive that because I am just not that good a person. But that is exactly the point I’ve been trying to make: I am not good enough to condemn them either. I cannot get behind the death penalty for this reason: If I have been shown grace, who am I to deny it to another?

On the Term “Millennial,” and Generational Generalizations

A disclaimer: I write to you once again from the fiery depths of my insomnia. So if the following insults you, know that it is not directed at any one person in particular, but rather at an attitude that I find both objectionable and endemic. Also know that your being insulted in no way changes my opinions on this matter, so feel free to keep any vitriol to yourself. And so, onward.

I take issue with your perception of my generation. You sling around the term “millennial” like a slur. Entitled. Self-absorbed. Non-committal. Slacktivist. These are the adjectives you apply to an entire generation; a generation that you have saddled with the responsibility of crawling out from under your mistakes, in addition to building something new with our dreams and ambitions. Make no mistake, we have ambitions. It is in human nature to dream of leaving a mark on this world, to strive to be remembered. Look back with me for a moment at the end of World War II. The men and women known today as the “Greatest Generation.” A generation of heroes, grown into mythic stature with the passage of time. With their success in the war came success in the economy. And on the wings of their successes, the following generation built. Fast forward. Failures transcend generations too. And we’re not just talking about economic failure, although that is a major part of it. Your generation failed to govern the government long before my generation was old enough to vote. You let them chip away at your liberty little by little. A little infringement on civil liberty here in the name of social welfare, a little reinterpretation of the Constitution there, and so on. In the name of the greater good, in the name of the economy, in the name of keeping the peace, in the name of security. When they finally struck a nerve and you woke up and saw what you had lost, you accused us of being apathetic.

I beg to differ. We may be discouraged by what we stand to inherit, and why shouldn’t we be? A government too internally polarized to function, national debt in the trillions (I can’t even fathom that number, seriously), a healthcare system that spends more and does less than that of any other developed nation, an education system that barely deserves the title, war in the Middle East (still, or is it again?), global tensions mounting, dire predictions about the state of the environment, $4.00 gasoline, and on the list goes. But if you think we aren’t interested, or that we aren’t doing something about it, you haven’t been paying attention. We are acutely aware that we are the ones who are going to have to deal with these issues. Changing the world takes time. Go do a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, and then tell me how much longer it takes to put it together than it does to break it down to go back in the box. It takes a lot more time and effort to rebuild something than it did to destroy it in the first place. We did not create the system, but in order to change it, we have to operate within it. And the system moves slowly (and requires a college education). So the next time you feel the urge to call someone “apathetic” just becausebecause they fit a certain age bracket, remember what it is we have to work with. And remember that once upon a time, you were just like us, ready to change the world.

Do you still believe in all the things that you stood by before?

Are you out there on the front lines, or at home keeping score?

Do you care to be the layer of the bricks that seal your fate?

Would you rather be the architect of what we might create?

— “Architects,” Rise Against

The American Constitution vs. the American Government

I wasn’t going to get into this. I really wasn’t. The discussion is way too polarized, and the information presented in the media has been decidedly too one-sided for my taste. I realize that this is controversial. I realize that people are going to disagree with what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it anyway.

Let me tell you what I think about Edward Snowden.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” (Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. Emphasis mine.)

Edward Snowden is a patriot.

Our government has lied to us, broken its own rules, redefined the Constitution to suit its own purposes, and even flat-out ignored the Constitution at times.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” That’s the 4th Amendment, in case you were wondering, the one that keeps law enforcement agencies from just busting down your door and rifling through your stuff and dragging you down to the station whenever they feel like it without having a good reason and a legal warrant. The ultimate goal of the Constitution was to ensure civil liberties. You know, those things the NSA violated with its warrantless wiretapping and reading your emails? Forget the Constitution. It’s outdated. It doesn’t address the kinds of threats we face now. It wasn’t meant to last this long anyway. It’s worth it if we catch the bad guys before they can commit crimes. It’s for your own protection. It’s for national security.  Are “we the people” really willing to sacrifice civil liberty on the altar of security?

What Snowden did was expose an unconstitutional abuse of power being carried out against American citizens by our own government on our own soil. He knew what it would cost him, but he believed that we deserved to know. It would have been easier to do the “legal” thing, to let the lie continue. Snowden didn’t do the easy thing. He did the right thing. He defended the Constitution and protected the people of the United States, rather than protecting the secrets and shadows of a government with zero accountability. If that does not make him a patriot, what does?

“Coexist,” Subjectivism, and That Thing Called Tolerance

I have a bone to pick with modern culture. Several, actually, but for the moment I want to talk about the odd concept we’re calling “tolerance.” It’s strange to me that “tolerance” has been elevated to this almost sacred position in our culture today. We (especially Christians) will brook nearly any insult in the name of tolerance, for the sake of peaceful coexistence, for the sake of distancing ourselves from those Westboro people. I hesitate even to call them a church, because I don’t know this God of theirs who hates fallen soldiers and slain children. Just what exactly is this policy of tolerance? The case could be made that it does not mean what you think it means. We seem to have the idea that tolerance and respect are interchangeable terms, which is just patently untrue. Tolerance is letting someone continue in choices, whether they be physical or spiritual, that you believe will cause them harm because it’s their life or their body or their truth. Respect is loving another human being well enough to see them walking blindly up to the edge of cliff and reach out to stop them. I’m not saying you can stop another person from making a choice, or that you can change their mind. You can’t. But when a lifeguard sees someone drowning, he is responsible to try to save them. You always try, even if they don’t want your help.

Tolerance means allowing that truth can be subjective. You believe what you want to believe, I believe what I want to believe, and they don’t have to be the same thing, but they can both be true. Let me take you for a ride down that slippery slope; it’s one of my favorites. I believe Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. He said so himself. I believe all the other things he said, and if he lied about this one thing the whole boat sinks. Now, say you believe heaven is sort of metaphorical and really it doesn’t matter what religion you ascribe to as long as on the balance you’re a pretty good person. Well, not only do I think you’re wrong, but we’re basically in direct opposition on the whole heaven thing. But, there’s really no way to see who’s right, so I can’t convince you and you just say you’ll tolerate me. Now, let’s say Bob the Pagan, who’s totally into this whole tolerance thing, is also totally into child sacrifice. Well, the State vs. Bob the Pagan says that is murder and murder is morally objectionable. Bob the Pagan says “I was just expressing my freedom of religion and it’s not wrong for me, and it’s basically the same as abortion anyway.” So that got totally out of hand.

What I hear when I hear the word “tolerance” is not an attempt at harmony or coexistence. It’s a particularly insidious sort of evil, masquerading as something good, rooting itself in our way of thinking. One of those things that you have to pay attention to, or it just goes on growing and establishing itself until by the time you realize it’s there, it’s too big to fix.

A thought, perhaps.

I’ve been thinking. Dangerous, I know. I think a lot faster when I don’t sleep, when my mental processes aren’t clouded by ambien. On the other hand, sleep and the ambien that allows me to get it constitute vital bricks in the wall between my imagination and my perception of reality, so I sacrifice a few RPMs to keep them from bleeding together. But I digress, and you won’t take me seriously if I sound like a mental patient. Mainly I have been thinking about ideas: the viral progression of an idea once it’s been born, how it starts to grow and spread. Have you ever noticed, even if your conscious mind disagrees with that little seed of an idea, it sticks in your mind like a weed and you’ll always remember it when related topics come up? Have you ever caught yourself spreading that idea? Maybe I just read to much science fiction and dystopian lit, but I think ideas are most dangerous when you stop thinking about them. When you accept them at face value and swallow them whole. What happens when you just take an idea as is and don’t think about it; just let it take root in your mind, growing and spreading until it overtakes your own thoughts like a cancer. Can an idea manipulate you? Can a thought destroy you? Ideas are the weapons with which wars are won. After all, it’s for an idea that a man will pick up a gun and leave his family to serve his country. What if it’s the wrong idea? Hence, the idea that has settled in my mind: take a man’s freedom, and he’ll fight back, to the death if necessary. But, if he gives it up, he’ll blindly follow you into hell in the name of security.

Do you believe in fate? I don’t. I believe in people. I believe in human nature and choices and fragile emotions. When you say fate, I hear excuse. Humans like the idea of fate because it gives them a way out. If you can blame your circumstances on some intangible all-pervading construct, why not? Rather that than take responsibility for your own choices. But isn’t the beauty of humanity all wrapped up in our ability to choose? The only created being that acts outside of mere instinct. Fate? We like the idea of fate because we are afraid. We fear consequences, judgement, responsibility. We like fate because it absolves us of any responsibility for the consequences of our actions. “If it’s meant to be, it will happen.” “I don’t have to study for this test. If I’m meant to pass it, I will.”