Wednesday, July 25, 2012

C. S. Lewis on War and Death

From Learning in War-Time, a sermon preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, Autumn, 1939

War threatens us with death and pain. No man -- and specially no Christian who remembers Gethsemane -- need try to attain a stoic indifference about these things: but we can guard against the illusions of the imagination. We think of the streets of Warsaw and contrast the deaths there suffered with an abstraction called Life. But there is no question of death or life for any of us; only a question of this death or of that -- of a machine gun bullet now or a cancer forty years later. What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. It puts several deaths earlier; but I hardly suppose that that is what we fear. Certainly when the moment comes, it will make little difference how many years we have behind us. Does it increase our chance of a painful death? I doubt it. As far as I can find out, what we call natural death is usually preceded by suffering; and a battlefield is one of the very few places where one has a reasonable prospect of dying with no pain at all. Does it decrease our chances of dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it. If active service does not persuade a man to prepare for death, what conceivable concatenation of circumstance would? Yet war does do something to death. It forces us to remember it. The only reason why the cancer at sixty or the paralysis at seventy five do not bother us is that we forget them. War makes death real to us: and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right. All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centered in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realize it. Now the stupidest of us know. We see unmistakable the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city, satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, an not a moment too soon.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: A Jacobin's Knightmare

Christopher Nolan has given us a not-so-friendly film to the Occupy crowd. If the Occupiers are the newest version of proletarian Jacobins, then Nolan is our Edmund Burke or Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Not that Nolan compares in greatness to Burke or Solzhenitsyn, or that The Dark Knight Rises is on par with Burke's Reflections or Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, but just as these works condemned the iniquities of The French Revolution and The Bolshevik Revolution, so The Dark Knight Rises puts the ugliness of Occupy ideology in the spotlight by showing what happens after storming the Bastille.

The blockbuster hit commits to French Revolution and Marxist revolution motifs throughout. As Selina Kyle, or Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), dances with the bourgeois Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), she justifies her theft by stating "I take what I need from those who have more than enough." Then she states, "There's a storm coming Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches because when it hits you're all going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us." Two statements which summarize the bitter feelings of those who would have us institutionalize envy. She might as well have pulled out some bongo drums, camped in front of Scott Walker's house and made them into a chant. Later in the film, "the storm" comes and Wayne Manor is overrun by "the rest of us." One of Selina's friends notices she isn't drunk on the chaos or celebrating their victory over their perceived oppressors and asks, "What's wrong? Isn't this what you wanted?" She doesn't respond. The leveling effect is carnal and ugly, but she realizes too late.

The brains and muscle behind the revolution are (spoiler alert!) Bane (Tom Hardy), Miranda Tate (Marion Catillard) and Miranda's father Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), which translated from Arabic is Demon's Head. Ra's al Ghul's plan in its simplest form is to rid Gotham City of its evil by destroying it. The plan is thwarted by Batman and Ra's al Ghul dies in Batman Begins, but his daughter Miranda is set on fulfilling her father's dream. If Miss Tate were to write a memoir it may be titled something like Dreams From My Father. Bane is in cahoots with Miranda and the first step in their plan, as in any brilliant revolutionary plan like these, is to destroy the foundations of the city. Yep, sounds about right. Bane then releases the prisoners of the city, which I'm sure made Occupiers giddy since most of them were probably non-violent offenders whose only crime was smoking a little weed, man...Once the city is in disarray and the thugs are in charge, they set up a revolutionary tribunal, which Nolan portrays as almost comical in its excesses. The judge is the demented Scarecrow and he sits upon a heap of debris. The defendants are brought arbitrarily before the judge and have no legal representation. The sole penalty is death. Due process is guillotined and a reign of terror takes her place. The similarities between the The French Revolution and Marxist revolution are all over the place, and Nolan makes them all look really bad.   

Nolan stated about the film, "What we're constructing here is a very, very elemental conflict between good and evil." As Ra's al Ghul would seek to rid Gotham of its evils by destroying it, Batman seeks to rid Gotham of its evils by redeeming it. He saves the entire city through a demonstration of sacrifice. Nolan does not view evil the same as Susan Sarandan or Michael Moore. Sarandan and Moore would have us hollow out the foundations of the city in a fit of proletarian fervor or else destroy it. Nolan says this is evil. Batman seeks to redeem things that are evil, not destroy them, even though these things deserve to be destroyed. At one point, Batman refers to the people of Gotham as thousands of innocent people. Miranda Tate (or Selina Kyle, I can't remember) responds with, "innocent is such a strong word." So there's this idea of people who are messed up and yet Batman is still willing to fight for them. Nolan and the Occupiers agree that a city can be evil, but Nolan's method of correcting the problem is redemption not destruction.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sheldon Cooper, Dr. Pierce, Dexter and The Monotonous Processional of Aberrant Protagonists

Ever notice the main characters of a lot of television shows are close to insanity? I have. Not that I watch a lot of TV, but I live in a culture which insists that television be virtually inescapable. It's hard to swim in a sea of brain-rotting, decadent media without getting some of the salt water in my mouth. I do my best to spit it out, but it still leaves me with an understanding of the taste.

 My Marines love the program Dexter featuring a likeable serial killer. Today, I saw previews for the show Perception starring an eccentric neuroscientist, Dr. Pierce, who assists the FBI in their casework. My roommates watch The Big Bang Theory, featuring (along with others) Sheldon Cooper, a socially inept Spock-like scientist. What's with the aberrant protagonist fad? I think Chesterton was on to something...

"The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the center is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world." (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Ch 2 The Maniac)