You have likely heard that that movie Noah is controversial among many Christians–is it biblical or not? Well, I have read many reviews of Noah, but this one has surpassed them all. FilmFisher.com is not your typical review site, and this review of Noah proves it. The analysis is deep, reflective and borne of a love for truth, artistry, the magic of film and Noah himself. It is critical, it is charitable. It is understands the director Aronofsky, it knows his films, his way. The review also knows the Genesis narrative and the Christian tradition, which it apparently loves. It is a dialogue between two reviewers, a conversation. It is remarkable. Click the image below to read the review…
I just posted an article about C. S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man—which you can see on this blog. Then I watched the video interview of Edward Snowden, the whistle blower of the controversial Prism surveillance program run by the NSA.
I won’t summarize all of the arguments of Lewis’s book, but he does set forward the thesis that new technologies that enable “man’s power over nature” turn out to be not to be the power of “man” generally, but rather the power of a few men over many other men.
The technologies that Lewis had in mind in 1947 were such things as the airplane, the wireless (radio) and contraceptives. Today, no doubt he would mention computers, smart phones…and the internet. These technologies do in fact bequeath power—power that most of us enjoy, like the power of emailing a friend, or listening to The Brother’s Karamazov, or checking our bank account–all while riding a bus, train or taxi (and even on some airplanes).
The power of these technologies are increasing rapidly, and while they may bless the man on the street, they also bolster the man at the bureau. We trust that our governmental agencies like the FBI, CIA and NSA use these great powers well, for our welfare and safety. If we ever suspect that they are using these powers to control, contain and condition the man on the street…well we become a bit nervous and edgy. The same technology that enables the NSA to track a potential terrorist, enables it to track me… a potential dissident. But our government wants (even encourages?) dissidence, or political free speech even of those critical of government policy. Right?
Lewis notes that when a culture has jettisoned objective value (what he also calls the Tao)—real, knowable truth and goodness—then gradually the way it wields power shifts from serving people to conditioning them to act the way the power-holders think best. And what a power-holder thinks best is not determined by an objective standard of what is right and good, precisely because such standards have been rejected. How then to do the power-holders make their decisions? They do what they please—that is to say they follow whatever impulses come to them as the strongest. These power-holders themselves may become what Lewis calls “Conditioners” and “man-moulders:”
They are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all. They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean. ‘Good’ and ‘bad,’ applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforward to be derived.
Could it be that immense power in the hands of few, in a culture without objective value will lead to man-moulding policies that seek to shape citizens into conformity with the prevailing ideals of those exercising this power? Is controlling and conditioning citizens not a great temptation to those possessing power—but no traditional morality? Lewis thinks that these amoral men are not bad men, because they have ceased to be men at all:
It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artifacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.
Yes, but can’t we take solace in knowing that these power-holders are going to treat us fairly and well (certainly not as artifacts)? Surely, the great majority of people in these agencies will act for our good, or at least the common good. Lewis, I think, would qualify his answer. To those who hold to objective value (the Tao), we may expect some reasonable degree of benevolent treatment. But what should we expect from those who have rejected objective value?
I am very doubtful whether history show us one example of a man, who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently. I am inclined to think that the Conditioners will hate the conditioned.
In Orwell’s 1984, the protagonist Winston Smith (after a great deal of conditioning) learns to love Big Brother, with tears in his eyes. But Lewis suggests that Big Brother never loves the little brother, the man on the street. Neither does Orwell. The man-moulders want to control, shape and produce a new humanity, what Lewis calls a post-humanity.
This is a pessimistic note to be sure. Chesterton says somewhere that he may enjoy a lively dinner conversation with a houseguest who is a moral relativist; but he will still hide the silver at night. Can we trust the good people at the FBI, CIA and NSA? Are they good people? Are they even people?
Finally, do we regard even Edward Snowden as good? If so, by what standard? Watch as most commentators call him either good or bad, but without appealing to any clear standard of objective truth or goodness. The testimony of Snowden himself doubles the irony, as even he does not appeal to any clear standards either. His view of the human good life seems to be the common “live and let live” as every man sees fit. Freedom to many American is now freedom to do as we please and create our own “morality.” Why can’t the folks at the NSA do the same? We all live by…impulse.
I have no way of proving this thesis, but I think that roughly half of all American have rejected objective value, and we are the midst of living out the consequences of this rejection in a thousand ways. Could it be that half of the people working in the FBI, CIA and NSA are themselves without a polished moral compass? We may call for investigations and committee hearings and protest loudly, but until we return to the Tao, we will have no basis to criticize or demand reform. Instead we will pit the impulses of the man on the street against the impulses of the man with the power, with no doubt as to who will win.
I will be posting a series of video clips of an interview on classical education I helped facilitate with author and philosopher James K. A. Smith (Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom). The audio of this interview was posted over a year ago on this blog–now we can post the video too. Dr. Smith is compelling, personal and pithy…. so enjoy.
Sequestration–The Latin Word De Jour
For the last few months we have been hearing a good bit about the threat of a looming sequestration that both political parties formerly approved but presently fear. President Obama has just referred to sequestration as a meat cleaver, that no one should wield. What is this dreaded sequestration? And more importantly for readers of this blog—what is its Latin roots?
Let’s start with the Latin. The Latin word sequestrum means a deposit, and the word sequester (a noun) means either a depositary or the person (a trustee) who holds a deposit between two parties in dispute, until the dispute is settled. Finally there is a late Latin verb sequestare, which means to put in the hands of a trustee or into a depositary.
So that’s the Latin. Now we can see how our English words came about… Our word sequester is a verb, though it is spelled exactly like the Latin noun. Our English verb sequester has a few connotations:
- To “deposit” yourself or another to a place of peace and solitude. Monks, for example, lead a sequestered life.
- To simply withdraw or separate as in the sentence, He sequestered himself from the rest of the party and went downstairs to the basement alone.
- In legal matters, it can mean that we “withdraw” or “separate” someone’s property or money for a period of time, often until legal claims are satisfied.
In our current political and economic debate, we are using the words sequester and sequestration in sense 3, above. Congress previously passed a bill that specified that huge sums of money (that normally would be spent) would be sequestered (held in “deposit”or “cut”) and not be spent. ABC news describes it this way: “The dreaded “sequester” amounts to across-the-board budget cuts that will strike in March barring an agreement on deficit reduction.” This form of sequestration is practically speaking a spending freeze – a freeze that is binding until congress passes a budget. Once congress passes a budget, the legal issue will be satisfied and the sequestration (spending freeze) will be lifted—the sequestration will be sequestered.
My prediction: a budget will be passed (even if after a short period in which sequestration kicks in). Neither party wants sequestration, but both will play the issue to their best advantage during another stretch of political theater. While this lamentable, we do get to play with words and learn some Latin.
This summer we are launching a new enterprise–a website called FilmFisher.com
which will offer thoughtful film reviews by high school and college students for high school and college students. We are presently recruiting interested and talented writers who might want to play a role with FilmFisher.com If you or any others you know would like to try your hand at helping start and lead in this new endeavor, please let post and let me know of your interest. Of course I think students at classical high schools should be well-prepared for this kind of writing! As the site grows and earns revenue we hope to actually pay writers. At this stage, however it is start-up, volunteer effort…
We will also feature some experienced adult writers who will serve as mentors to younger writers and editors on the site. The reviews will be oriented to the truth, goodness and beauty found in film, or lack thereof.
All the content on the site at this point is preliminary, “place holder” content so don’t take it too seriously…
Here is a link to the site which is currently under the radar (not indexed with Google): http://filmfisher.com/
Your feedback and ideas for improvement are welcomed–
I received word today that Grove City College now offers students a minor in Classical Christian Education as well as a minor in Classical Studies. This is great news.
A student taking the Classical Studies minor must take 21 credit hours of courses (from several departments) from the following offerings: Classical and Christian Education, Foundations of Cultural Anthropology, History and Appreciation of Art, Old Testament Literature and History, New Testament Literature and History, Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education, Introduction to New Testament Greek (I and II), Readings in New Testament Greek (I and II), The Ancient World, Medieval Europe, The Rise of Christianity, Byzantium and Islam, Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic World, Elementary Latin (I and II), Intermediate Latin (I and II), Reading Latin, Classical Literature in Translation, Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Classical Political Thought, Theories of Communication, Rhetorical Theory and Criticism. Ready to go back to college?
A student taking the Classical Christian Education minor will do all the work of the Classical Studies minor plus do a two credit internship at a classical Christian school. Students can do the internship during the month of January (J-term) or during the month of May. Already five GCC students are fanning out to CC schools this January for their internships.
This development should warm the hearts of classical school advocates. Another important college has recognized the growing importance (and size) of the classical Christian school renewal and is now helping prepare students to teach at classical Christian schools or homeschools. Naturally CC administrators and educators should take a close look at Grove City and these two new minors.
There is another reason this news warms my heart–that takes the form of a disclaimer: My oldest daughter is a junior English major at Grove City and by all accounts is receiving a superb education, and will likely become a teacher at CC school. I have also had the chance to meet and consult with some of the faculty leading these new minors–and have every reason to believe they will serve exceedingly well. Here is a link to Grove City College where you can explore and learn more about the college: Grove City College Website