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Archive for July, 2013

I hope John Milton will forgive me for titling my post with a variation on the name of his magnum opus.

What I mean by the phrase is this: When we try to build something lasting and perfect in this world, we are building on what are either the ruins of a toppled paradise or the pieces of an incomplete project (in which case, our construction is premature), with dust and darkness — the “shadows” of part two, if you want — in the in-between spaces.

So it’s obvious why we can’t be successful: We are making our home in a destructive atmosphere with insufficient defenses.

Adam_Eve

Unfortunately, we have been doing it on and off ever since our First Parents.  They thought they could have their freedom and happiness apart from God, which is intrinsically impossible.

Things are as they are because as a species, we tried to build on the wrong foundation to begin with.  Ever subsequent attempt to build the perfect society by our own powers — starting with the Tower of Babel and going all the way up to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century — ends in disaster.

Such attempts not only echo the Original Sin, they build on an even worse foundation, since death entered into human existence and the world over which we were meant to be stewards became subject to futility and decay.

A.I.Still from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (DreamWorks/Warner Brothers, 2001)

The dystopian future as a science fiction sub-genre warns us about our technological dream, our temptation to build a perfect world through technology.  Any “Babel” project will divide, not unite; confuse, not uplift; dehumanize, not perfect humanity.

As much as we may (indeed, should) appreciate the healing, innovation, and other gains afforded by technological progress, we all have a sense that it has to be approached with humility, not hubris.  Otherwise, what happens?

I look forward to finding out in August, when the movie “Elysium” comes out.

Top image from Wikipedia; “A.I.” image obtained through a Google image search.

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SkyIt never occurred to me before that the colors of a lightly clouded daytime sky resemble the traditionally depicted garments of the Virgin Mary…

St. MaryI wonder if whenever we look up to enjoy a blue sky, we should be reminded that Mother Mary is always lovingly watching over us.  She has, after all, been made Queen of Heaven and Earth.  Precisely because she of all creatures surrendered herself to God most totally, she has been exalted to the position of the highest creature in God’s universe — not so that she may enjoy this status for her own sake, but so that her children may obtain many graces through her intercession.

Something else occurred to me in reflecting on the sky and the Blessed Virgin.  Where does the sky get it’s light and splendor?

The sun.

Likewise, from whence does Mary get her glory and splendor?

The Son.

Indeed, as the Catechism says, Mary “is the burning bush* of the definitive theophany” (CCC 724).

And because of that, because the Son of God became flesh through her, she is reverenced even by the angels.  And because of her unique closeness to the Most High, her protection may be most perfectly trusted.

* A reference to the burning bush from which God speaks to Moses in Exodus 3:2-4:17

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Taking a break from the sci-fi posts to share a brief video featuring popular writer and speaker Christopher West.  If you ever wonder what the true Christian vision of sexuality is (and it may surprise you!), you will find this video well worth your time.

If you don’t watch the whole thing, I would recommend at least watching the first 3 minutes and 44 seconds.

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Alien_(1979)_-_The_AlienMyths and fairy tales are two separate, though deeply related, genres; but the concerns of both tie in with the concerns of science fiction. For our purposes, these concerns pertain to suffering.

In his book “Making Sense Out of Suffering” (if you haven’t read it, do so — it’s a real gem), Peter Kreeft designates myths as dealing with suffering in terms of “paradise lost” and fairy tales as dealing with the need for shadows against the light to make for an engaging story.

Sci-fi has both of these elements.  In some ways, they feed off of each other.

And by the way, by “shadow” we mean monsters, witches, dragons…and yes, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” creature.  And in dystopic stories like the upcoming film “Elysium,” it comes in the form of totalitarian oppression.

The why of shadows is obvious: Without danger and conflict, the story gets boring.  But we can’t forget that science fiction is the lore of a technological age, the summum bonum of which is the pursuit of convenience, pleasure, ease, and the cure of all ills.

While this might sound good in everyday life, no narrative can sustain itself along such lines.  And so we have “shadows” that are specific to premises based on dreams of technological and scientific progress.

But I don’t think storytelling is the only issue here.  Storytelling, after all, comes from a deep, basic, and primordial understanding of reality.  As much as we might wish for a perfect society in which science and technology solve all of life’s problems and end all its evils, I think somewhere in our souls we get the sense that it can never be quite that simple — not, at any rate, on this plane of existence.

BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

Even utopian societies such as the one portrayed in Alduous Huxley’s “Brave New World” show us the dark side of our technological dreams.  In the future Huxley envisions, everyone is perfectly content, because they are genetically engineered to like and fit into whatever roles the governing body wants them to fill.

The problem, however, is that mankind has lost one of its chiefest and most valuable treasures: Freedom.  All people are pawns in a great machine that conditions them as it wishes, so that they cannot think, reason, wonder, want, pursue, or hope for themselves.

So there are dark shadows even in utopia.  And in all of its varieties, science fiction is at its most compelling when it pits darkness and light against one another.  And it most speaks to the soul when it acknowledges the ultimate victory of the latter.

That’s the shadows side.  We’ll get to the “paradise lost” side next time.

Images from Wikipedia

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Elysium_PosterThe slew of recent, current, and upcoming science fiction films and TV shows intrigue me; and of course, they inspired this post.

But I don’t think I’m so much dealing with a current trend as with a deep fascination that won’t go away.  Science fiction, many have said, is the mythology of the modern world.

The word “mythology” has at best an academic connotation, and at worst the air of the naivete of pre-modern man.

But as famed Middle-Earth creator J.R.R. Tolkien said, a myth is in fact “the very opposite of a lie.”*  Myths tell us, in a sense, who we are — not as societies, or as cultures, or as people of this or that time or place, but as human beings.

Our most primal longings, desires, and fears are expressed not in words or on paper, but in the images and motifs of the myth.

TechnologyBut the meaning of “myth” in a technological society is a little ambiguous.

To be sure, our technology and scientific progress have been remarkable assets to us.  They even express the creative aspect of our being made in the Divine image.

But slowly, surely, and to some extent unconsciously, we have hereby come to see the world and even ourselves as objects for use rather than for reverence and awe, as problems (in the mathematical sense) to be solved rather than as mysteries to be known (in the existential, rather than experimental, sense).

We have made objective reality a matter of cold, impersonal measurements, having nothing to do with values, meaning, or purpose — all of which are now considered “subjective.”

If sci-fi tells us anything, I think it’s that the technological boom cannot and will not dispose of our deeper humanity…our sense of wonder, the searching of our hearts.  The “dream” of science fiction is that even a technological society is not immune to the wonders and dangers of a universe like ours.

* Quoted from a dramatization, which can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzBT39gx-TE&feature=player_embedded

Photos from Wikipedia

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Youtuber Brett Fawcett offers some inspiring thoughts on the George Zimmerman trial and verdict.

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As you can see up top, there is now a fourth tab on “Into the Dance.”  Click on this, and you will find a complete index of all movie reviews I have done on this site, organized chronologically and with links to individual posts in every multi-part series.

I intend to create other indexes for “Into the Dance” contents in the near future.  I figure this should make the site a bit more user-friendly.

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In the past couple weeks, two very momentous happenings took place.

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013First, Pope Francis released his first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”).  This was an encyclical begun by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to which he added some of his own personal touches.  For those who are interested in reading, a link to the full text will be provided at the bottom.

Zimmerman,_George_-_Seminole_County_MugSecond, America got the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, who was arrested in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year.  Much to the dismay of many, he was found not guilty.

I can’t, of course, say for sure if it is providential that the release of “Lumen Fidei” and the Zimmerman verdict coincided.  But I do have some thoughts.

First of all, as far as the verdict is concerned, we must remember something crucially important about the justice system: Guilt must be established beyond all reasonable doubt.

Such guilt was not established in the case of George Zimmerman.  There was simply not sufficient evidence that he racially profiled Trayvon Martin or that what happened was cold-blooded murder as opposed to self-defense.

But we may ask, what if Zimmerman actually is guilty?  What if, in spite of all the evidence we have available, what happened was murder, and Zimmerman got away with it?

This, I think, is one of the many areas where being a person of faith provides great assurance.  If human institutions of justice fail, those without faith are left with little or no hope; but those of us who believe can afford to take heart:

Is not [recompense] preserved in my treasury, sealed up in my storehouse, against the day of vengeance and requital, against the time they lose their footing? (Deut. 32: 34-35)

God is a God of justice.  No crime is ever left unpunished.  Even if a person is ultimately redeemed in Christ, restitution for all wrongs must still be made.

Here, we can bring “Lumen Fidei” into the discussion.  In this great document, we are given a proper understanding of what faith is.  Contrary to what some would say, faith is neither the rejection of thought or reason in favor of blind adherence to an unproven principle nor indifference to the realities of the world and present circumstances on the grounds that “God will make it all better.”

Faith, says Pope Francis, is about learning to look at life, the world, and oneself from a whole new perspective.  Being drawn into a personal relationship with a personal, omnipotent, all-knowing and all-loving God, history and everyday life take on a whole new light.  The horizons of existence expand beyond what we could possibly have imagined.

More specifically, we come to share in the perspective of God Himself in the “shared knowledge which is the knowledge proper to love” (quoted from the encyclical).

Trayvon_Martin_shooting_protest_2012_Shankbone_11It is just this sort of faith perspective that allows for hope and tranquility even in tragic and troubled situations.

We have, I think, seen something of this Christian perspective in Trayvon Martin’s parents, who have urged their supporters not to give into violence regardless of the verdict.  Moreover, Trayvon’s mother publicly made it clear that though the verdict was disappointing to her, her faith in God has not been shaken.

I think perhaps the Pope and the Martins would have a lot to talk about at lunch sometime.

Lumen Fidei Full Text:
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei_en.html

Photos from Wikipedia

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St. Josemaria Escrivá, 20th-century saint and founder of Opus Dei, addresses a question asked by the mother of a disabled child.  Quite heartwarming — something people of all faiths and none can appreciate.

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Just some pictures from my daily travels:

SkyAn interesting cloud formation (center)…

Water…and the surface of a small lake.

The generative powers of both air and water (not to mention their respective beauties) have been known to mankind for ages.  And in John 3:5, Jesus describes Baptism in terms of being “born of water and Spirit” (air, or breath, has often been used as a symbol for the Spirit).

Who ever said nature wasn’t “evangelical”?

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