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Posts Tagged ‘Guilt’

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NOTE: This is the third in a series of commentaries on HBO’s True Detective, season one; for the other two, click here.

You may skip the first post if you wish.  I would, however, read the second (the one focused on Marty Hart), only because I am following a pattern set by the series itself: Marty (Woody Harrelson) is the initial primary focus, and next it will shift to his partner, Rustin “Rust” Cohle (Matthew McConaughey); this current post will function as a transition of sorts.

So here goes… (more…)

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Mr._Fezziwig's_BallFans of “A Christmas Carol” will remember that Scrooge is bothered by the light that the Ghost of Christmas Past brings, and asks that the spirit place the cap it carries on its head to diminish it.

“What(?)” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!” (A Christmas Carol, Stave II)

What Dickens’ specific religious persuasion was I’m not sure, but I can’t help but think he might have been influenced, at least in part, by Christ’s words in John’s Gospel:

And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. (John 3: 19-20 — bold mine)

Besides being linked to the mystery of time, the past is also a judgement.  How many of us cringe at the memory of past faults, whether serious or trivial?  How often do past embarrassments creep into our minds, causing us to blush?

The thing about the past is that it is set in stone.  It cannot be changed.  The past can be forgiven, but not erased.  A person can be redeemed and changed, but past actions cannot be turned into past non-actions.  The train of effects set in motion by a particular action can be arrested and fixed, but the action itself cannot be undone.

In Scrooge’s case, as well as in ours often enough, to confront the past is to face the forgotten, the wrong turn(s) that led to current problems.

Scrooge’s journey into his own past uncovers much that has been repressed — childhood loneliness, among other things.  Most significant, however, is a matter of guilt.  We learn that he was engaged to a woman named Belle, whom he spurned for the idol of money.

Ultimately, Scrooge’s miserly accumulation of wealth and the psychological distance he puts between himself and humanity are forms of protection against his own past — just as humanity’s wars, factions, attachments, etc. protect us against the memory of the Fall.

We can probably assume that the sequential location of the past among the three modes of time is not the only reason for the Ghost of Christmas Past having the first spot in Scrooge’s journey of redemption.  Oftentimes, it is in facing the past, acknowledging the problems that lie hidden, that we get the ball rolling on the healing process (after all, how are we going to know how to heal if we don’t even know what to heal?).

That is one of Christianity’s greatest secrets.  In Genesis, we have the revelation of both our origin — God’s all-loving creation of the world out of nothing, culminating in the creation of mankind, with whom He desires fellowship — and our root problem — mankind’s disobedience to and estrangement from his Creator and Father.

When we turn to God and acknowledge this, as well as our own individual sins, then we can begin to heal.  Not only that, but God Himself comes down to us to get everything started, before we even take our first steps.  That’s the real Christmas present.

Image from Wikipedia

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Let’s start with a quickie trailer of “Cloverfield,” the 2008 indie film shot as a handheld documentary of a monster attacking New York City:

The King Kongs, the Godzillas, and all the “Its” from beneath the sea or outer space join Dracula, Frankenstein, zombies and ghouls as fan favorites for the Halloween season.

What I love about “Cloverfield” in particular, though, is that it is shot so realistically.  Unlike most mainstream Hollywood films, it achieves the feat of actually putting people into the incredible situation it portrays.  The characters behave as people would behave if they actually were in the middle of New York City as it was being attacked by a huge monster.

I think being confronted with realism in the context of the unbelievable — or vice versa, depending on how you look at it — has a way of getting us to think about the greater meaning of the unbelievable from a gut level, rather than in a cerebral and detached fashion.

It_Came_From_Beneath_The_Sea_poster

I happen to think guilt and fear have something to do with this and other narrative preoccupations.  So what does it mean when we see giant monsters attacking big cities, exactly?

In some sense, it might be intended as a commentary on nature’s resurgence against the hubris of a hyper-technological society.  But at bottom, I wonder if there is not something deeper at work here.

Elsewhere, I have written about the fact that

(h)uman beings have sinned.  The animals, the trees, and the rest of nature have not.  But when we turned away from God, we dragged the whole of creation down the road to destruction with us (“Wolves and Whales: Man and Nature in ‘The Grey’ and ‘Big Miracle’ — Part Two”).

But there’s something else we have to keep in mind as well.  In the second century, St. Irenaeus of Lyons made a key observation when reflecting on God’s determination that mankind should not be lost in spite of Original Sin:

It was for this reason, too, that immediately after Adam had transgressed, as the Scripture relates, He pronounced no curse against Adam personally, but against the ground, in reference to his works, as a certain person among the ancients has observed: God did indeed transfer the curse to the earth, that it might not remain in man. Genesis 3:16, etc. (“Adversus Haereses,” III:xxii — bold added)

FullMetalJacketDeluxe_1I am reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket,” in which an inept private named Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio) brings the wrath of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) upon his fellow basic trainees.  A little ways into the film, Sergeant Hartman announces to everyone that from that point on, whenever Private Lawrence messes up, they — not he — will be punished.

And what do Private Lawrence’s comrades do eventually?  They gather around him as he sleeps and pelt him with rolled-up socks.

Obviously, this is an imperfect analogy in many ways.  But being in a sense the carrier of our curse, nature — whether in the form of natural disasters, animals (fictional or real), or otherwise — is not one to cry “(p)eace, peace … though there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).

But St. Irenaeus did not stop there…

But man received, as the punishment of his transgression, the toilsome task of tilling the earth, and to eat bread in the sweat of his face, and to return to the dust from whence he was taken. (Adversus Haereses, III:xxii — bold added)

Our task of stewardship over the earth was never abrogated (though it was made more difficult).  And especially now that Jesus Christ has Himself borne our curse upon the Cross…well, just as we led creation into darkness, we must now lead it into redemption.

To the extent that we are fulfilling our task, we have nothing to fear.  But the more we are leading lives dedicated to worldliness, self-indulgence, luxury and greed, the more of a “wake-up call” we need.

“It Came from Beneath the Sea” still from Wikipedia; “Full Metal Jacket” still obtained through a Google image search.

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