Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Batman v. Superman

Despite the incredible amount of negative feedback the new DC flick, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, has received, I felt it was one of the greatest Superhero movies ever. Where the Marvel Universe focuses on razzle dazzle special effects and tons of action, the DC movies focus on building solid plots with deeper messages. It might be easier to mindlessly pop a Marvel Universe movie into your Blu Ray or DVD player, but when a person switches on a DC movie it requires that you pay attention to every detail of the movie. After watching a DC movie, you just feel like you have become a better man (or woman) for having done so.

I don't feel like giving away any major plot elements, so we are going to go right into The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Dawn of Justice.

The Good
Perhaps the most pure thing of Dawn of Justice is that one of the major themes is "Love Conquers All." Lois Lane, of course, is the object of Superman's affection and there is nothing he won't do to get her out of trouble. Toward the beginning of the movie, he tracks her down thousands of miles away to save her life, and this is the least of the heroic acts he displays in protecting Lois! Certain elements of the plot also involve Superman's love for his earth mother, Martha Kent. This is also shown in Man of Steel, when Superman pummels General Zod for threatening her life. The theme of his pure intentions and love play a role in the climax of the film and erase all doubts of what type of being the man from Krypton really is.

There is a clear distinction made between good and evil throughout the movie. Although it seems that the plot is supposed to revolve around the ultimate conflict between Batman and Superman, neither of them is portrayed as the villain. Batman seeks to protect mankind from forces that go way beyond man's capability to cope with them while Superman uses his powers to do good things even though he faces legal scrutiny for doing so. Lex Luthor is, without a doubt, the villain of the movie.

Luthor is obsessed with killing Superman. It is not because he views Superman as a threat to mankind, but a threat to his own power. You might liken it unto King Herod's desire to kill Jesus in Matthew's Gospel. He could tell that Jesus was only there to do good, but he was to be King. If you are a king, you might not like that. I will spoil the fact that Luthor is responsible for ultimately pitting Superman against Batman in their final epic showdown. Much like The Dark Knight's Joker, Luthor just wants to see the most pure of human spirits forced to get their hands dirty. He is not the clever well-spoken Luthor of earlier days, though. He's more like a mad scientist. He excels at spouting off disconnected phrases that might seem like gibberish at first, but then you realize that he is so smart, so disturbed, and so consumed with hatred that he cannot contain his own madness.

The Bad
Evolution...ah yes. Evolution. Is there going to be a movie made this year that does not have evolution as a main plot element? I say that it is a main plot element because Superman is from outer space. Somewhere in the course of the movie, Neil DeGrasse Tyson appears and talks about what Superman means to the world. One of the things was that, "We discovered that we were not so special with our existence on earth. And now we have realized that we are not so special with our existence in the universe." This statement drips with secular, far-left, evolutionary ideology. The only way mankind is not special in terms of the universe would be if we evolved like every other form of life and that greater species than ours have evolved elsewhere.

Sexuality. Although it was not over the top, I felt like the sexuality was too obvious. Shoot, even the trailer for this movie showed Clark Kent hopping in the tub with a naked Lois Lane. I felt that was too far and I was hoping that it was not how it looked. Nope, it was exactly how it looked. Not that sexuality is far removed from any of the superhero movies ever made, but this pushes back my son from seeing this movie until a significantly later date. But it's not just the tub scene (which, again, was not over the top, but obvious), Batman apparently has sleep-overs with random babes and even exclaims, as he notices an attractive woman walk by, "I'm sorry. It's a weakness of mine." In another scene (the only scene like this for the Bat) Bruce Wayne answers a phone call in his bedroom. As he gets up and starts moving around, you notice that a woman was lying beside him. This scene is very obscure, but I was scratching my head, asking, "Why was that necessary?" But, again, it's the world we live in. You wish that Hollywood would realize that the most successful movies they put out do not include random acts of filth. Oh well.

The Ugly
A reminder, the ugly is not referring to anything necessarily good or bad. It is referring to points of potential controversy. In fact, I consider most of the ugly, in this case, to be good.

For instance, constant references to God. More or less, this movie puts God on trial in a very entertaining sort of way...boy do I wish I could reveal more because it's deep. Superman is the Godlike figure and, once again, Luthor wants him dead. He wants him dethroned. And he is convincing droves of other people that Superman needs to fall (similar to the way the public turns against Batman in The Dark Knight). If you, as a believer, are skeptical of the message about God in this movie at first, be patient and don't let the malice toward God throughout the movie dissuade you as I found it to be a set up for the punch line of the movie (ironic seeing how evolution also plays a role within the plot of this movie).

Politics. This movie is politically muddled. I couldn't follow exactly what the political message was meant to be, which indicates to me that it supports an establishment progressive agenda. At times it seemed as though there were conservative themes, but then you see that the people who stand against Superman are picketing with signs that tell him that illegals are not wanted and a curious sign, of which I only saw half, "You cannot be Christian and..." I wish I could have read the rest of that, but I'm not so anxious to find out what it said. Maybe one day Christians won't be portrayed as hate-filled hillbillies? But, what do you expect from Hollywood?

Defining truth is somewhat of a theme throughout the movie; probably more so than most people realize. In fact, I would contend that the conflict between Batman and Superman revolved around this dilemma. As they were fighting, Batman said to Superman something like, "I bet your parents told you that there is purpose to your existence." He followed that statement by saying that his parents basically taught him that there is none. That the world is ugly and we just have to deal with it. It sounds negative when I put it like that, but you just have to wait for the movie to play out to see where it was leading.

Final Analysis
This movie is not for kids and I think that the PG-13 label is well-stated. Children under 13 should not see it unattended (can children under 13 go to any movie unattended?). Batman has no "rule" that guides his vigilantism which makes his presence, well, pretty overwhelming (in a good way).

Thus far I have not been disappointed with any of the DC movies and I am looking forward to the follow-up to this one...wait, Green Lantern was DC? Aw man...but it wasn't that bad, right? It just didn't live up to expectations was all. Think they will cast Ryan Reynolds to reprise his role as the Lantern one day?

Anyway, go see this movie and go with an open-mind. I can't stand reading lousy reviews from people who don't bother to digest the real message of the movies they review. This one's good and it's deep, which is why it's hard to find a good review of it until you've read mine.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of The Good Dinosaur

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law relplied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." ~Luke 10:36-37

Disney's The Good Dinosaur is the story of an Apatosaurus, Arlo, who is trying to overcome his fears and do something great for his family.The story is entertaining, unique, and full of moral lessons. The plot launches from the platform that Arlo was supposed to exterminate a pest that was infiltrating Arlo's family's food silo. After capturing the pest, it is revealed that the pest is a human. Arlo cannot bring himself to kill him which leads to a series of events that changes his and his family's life. Without spoiling the plot details, let's look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of The Good Dinosaur.

The Good:
It appears that the title, Good Dinosaur, is a play on the story of the Good Samaritan, which is a story that Jesus told. The story that Jesus told was multi-tiered in purpose. He was asked the question what the greatest commandments of God were, to which the answer was, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27) Jesus confirms this response, but the one asking the question then asks, "And who is my neighbor?" The parable of the Good Samaritan was told to explain to the crowd what a neighbor was. Pop-culture defines a Good Samaritan as a well intentioned passerby who does good for strangers. The story of the Good Samaritan does not teach this.

A Good Samaritan, according to the parable, is someone who is supposed to be an enemy behaves as a friend. The parable ends up with a Samaritan, a hated enemy of the Jews, saving the life of a Jew after the Jew's own countrymen refuse him aid. The Good Dinosaur captures the spirit of this timeless parable.

Instead of killing the human that he trapped, Arlo sets him free. He later regrets his decision and seeks to do away with him, but then they both realize the value in one another and work together so that they may both return to their families. The climax of the story takes place when Arlo is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save his friend's (Spot, the human's) life.

Aside from the clear parallels between this story and the Good Samaritan, this movie also teaches courage, duty, and the value of human life. The latter of which is desperately needed in a world that has forgotten what even the lowliest of human lives are worth.

The Bad:
Evolution everywhere. The very premise of the movie is rooted in evolution. Namely, the meteor that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs missed earth allowing the dinosaurs to survive and develop an advanced cultural society. It makes for a fun movie, but is very clever in mind wiping young children into believing in the theory of evolution. This is added to with various plot elements.

Probably the most significant element influenced by evolution is Spot, the human, and his family. Evolution teaches that mankind evolved from apelike creatures that walked about on all fours. Spot does not primarily walk upright and neither does his family (until the conclusion of the movie). Spot is very primitive and behaves in many ways like a dog. Once again, this makes for an entertaining movie, but is clearly an attempt at indoctrination by the movie's creators.

Another evolutionary reference was with the "rustler" velociraptors which were covered in bird feathers. Where on earth did this notion evolve that dinosaurs had feathers? Why are raptors often victims of this ridiculous notion? Ultimately every time it is suspected that a feathered dinosaur is discovered, it is later refuted. Problem is it is never reported. It makes for wonderful fiction in movies such as this, but it is not rooted in reality (which is why Jurassic World opted to not include feathers on their dinosaurs as it reflects the most up-to-date scientific data on the subject, which is a departure from their proto-feathers in Jurassic Park III).

The Ugly:
When I say ugly, I mean unusual or controversial.

The first unusual gesture that sticks out to me in the movie was how the band of Tyrannosaurs were good guys! This was a great addition to the movie which viewers are sure to enjoy as T.Rex is one of the most popular dinosaurs. What is more, it unintentionally dispels a myth that the big bad T.Rex is all that bad.

As a person that does not buy in to the evolutionary story of origins, I believe dinosaur behavior is significantly different than what it is perceived to have been. The story of evolution teaches that there were meat-eaters and there were plant-eaters. The plant-eaters were peaceful and harmless while the meat-eaters were always on the prowl seeking to terrorize, kill, and devour every chance they got. I don't believe this is the story with dinosaurs at all. Instead, dinosaurs probably had habits very similar to animals today. In fact, I bet that plant-eaters were probably very territorial and just as dangerous as what we perceive to be the meat-eaters. Have you seen how big brachiosaurus is? That thing is dangerous even if it's not aware of your presence! Good T.Rex? Love it!

Next, snake with legs. This is not necessarily an exclusive evolutionary belief. Many creationists believe that snakes used to have legs, as well. The Bible says that after the fall snakes would be punished by being forced to crawl through the dirt. It is thought by some to mean that snakes used to have legs that would prevent them from having to lick up dust. Not everyone agrees in creationist circles, but there is a little fossil evidence to suggest this is a possibility.

One of the primary threats in the movie, a Pterosaur of some sort, was religiously obsessed with storms. His saying was, "The Storm will provide." He is portrayed as being a religious zealot who preys on the misfortune of creatures that get tied up by the aftermath of storms. I do not take this as an attack on all religious people, but for once I would like to see religious folk in movies, that even mildly resemble Christians (as I felt this pterodactyl did) portrayed in a positive light. Most other religions are portrayed positively as being humble, wise, and honorable. Christians are almost always portrayed as the bad guys: crazy, judgmental, and legalistic. The way Christians are portrayed, I wouldn't want to be one if that's what they were really like. This pterodactyl was not portrayed as a Christian, but it is easy enough to see what real life religion was being alluded to.

The Good Dinosaur is an excellent movie that conveys good morals, although carrying heavy evolutionary themes. It was entertaining but did have a somewhat strange tone (probably because the dinosaurs were more cartoony while existing in a very realistic environment). Now that I have shared the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of it, you can watch it with a mind that is ready to take on the challenges it brings forth.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Money is Not Evil

For the love of money is a root for all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. ~1 Timothy 6:10

The common teaching inside of Christianity, even in America, is that the acquisition of wealth is evil. This stance is quite understandable given passages like the one cited above. One translation even says that the love of money is the root of ALL evil (KJV). In the book of Acts, some people have even claimed that in chapter two the disciples were practicing the redistribution of wealth (Acts 2:45). Jesus himself said, "Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort" (Luke 6:24). Given this evidence, how can I possibly make the case that money is not evil?

Money is not evil, the love of it is. Money itself is not good or evil. In the world in which we live money is the means through which people do business. A long time ago people exchanged goods and services. They bartered for the things they wanted. Money is a representation of one's merit. A person with more money simply means that the value of work that person has done (or family has done) is worth the amount of money they possess.

Second Thessalonians says a mouthful about the importance of service/work in exchange for basic needs. 2 Thessalonians 3:8 says "nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it." 3:10 reads, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." And 3:12 finishes by saying, "Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat." The Bible does not encourage laziness or begging for food, although it does encourage charitable giving. These passages are pivotal for understanding the New Testament's teaching on money. Money is compensation for one's work and it is necessary in our culture in order for us to survive.

Upon a closer reading of Scripture you will notice that money plays a significant role in ministry. The acquisition of money should not be looked down upon. Deuteronomy 8 18 states, "But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today." God himself grants the ability to make money. Therefore, the acquisition of wealth is not evil, it is one of God's blessings.

If you continue reading chapter 6 of 1 Timothy, there are further instructions for those who are rich. If being having were sinful in itself, there would not be instructions like these: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life" (6:17-19).

Wealth to the wealthy is a gift from God. It is a blessing so that those who have it can be charitable and do the will of God with it. This is why Paul, in 1 Timothy, puts so much emphasis on not being absorbed with making money. It is a resource that God wants us to use for his glory.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Jedi vs. Christian

With the release of the 7th Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars mania is sweeping across the world. An iconic story line pitting good vs evil, heroes vs villains, and the underdogs vs the overwhelmingly powerful. Who wouldn't want to be a Jedi Knight fighting against the forces of evil. My only question is, are the Jedi actually good?

Before diving into the meat of this question, of course the Jedi are good if we are only considering the Star Wars universe. Compared to their dark side counterparts and the Empire they are definitely the good guys. But, as an evangelical Christian there are certain aspects of the Jedi lifestyle that don't jive well with my understanding of good

Let's start with Anakin Skywalker, who later became Darth Vader. In Episode II, Attack of the Clones, he falls in love with Princess Padme, but must keep their engagement a secret because Jedi are not supposed to have intimate relationships/get married. To make matters worse, he receives visions that the one he loves was going to die and doesn't know what to do about it. He encounters the powerful Sith lord (a Sith is the dark side counterpart to the Jedi), Darth Sidious, also known as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Sidious reveals that the dark side of the force unleashes the ability to do things that are not considered natural. One of these abilities is the power to bring people back from the dead. Anakin rejects the Jedi and joins Sidious on the promise that he will help him find a way to save Padme.

Understand that The Force is largely inspired by religions that still exist today. Like the religions that it draws inspiration from, one of the core tenants would be that there is no individuality. We are all part of the universe. Each one of us plays a part inside of the workings of the universe and the differing personalities bring balance to the universe. To value one person more than another is selfishness and this sort of selfishness will result only in trouble.

Approaching it from a Christian perspective, this is highly flawed thinking. What the Bible teaches is that every individual is created in the Image of God. Each individual has a unique and sophisticated relationship to his or her Creator. Relationships are a core value to Christianity. We are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Analyze the character of your average Jedi. Would they do the same?

My assessment of the Jedi is that their purpose is to maintain order within their universe. It does not appear like they mourn or rejoice all that much. Look at Obi-Wan Kenobi's reaction after his teacher was killed and his corpse is burning before his eyes. Not a tear was shed. Observe Jesus' reaction after his friend Lazarus passed away from an illness. He weeps. Why would the Jedi Order outlaw loving relationships?

Relationships bring a multitude of emotions. They range from joy to sorrow. These emotions can have an impact on a person's decision making abilities. If you are not emotionally attached to anyone, it is becomes much easier to stay focused on the task at hand. Let me steal an example from another movie, I, Robot.

In I, Robot the main character hates robots. The reason is kept secret until about half way through the movie where it is discovered that he has a robotic arm. He lost his arm in a car accident. His car and the car of the person with whom he collided fell into a lake and both were sinking. A robot dove in to rescue them, but had to make a choice between the main character and a little boy inside of the other vehicle. The robot chose to save the main character, all the while he was shouting at the machine to save the boy. The main character then tells another character that the robot rescued him because his odds of surviving were higher than those of the boy in the other vehicle. Thus, he began to hate and distrust the machines, knowing that they do not have the capacity to make values based judgment calls.

I would argue that the Jedi are the same way. Cold, scheming, and with no regard for individual lives.

Now, do not think for a second that I am saying Star Wars is evil. I love Star Wars! My desire, though, is that it be enjoyed for what it is and that the values of the Star Wars universe are understood to be different values from those that exist in the real world. People matter. Individuals matter. Think about it, had Anakin been allowed to openly and unashamedly marry Padme, one of the most powerful Siths ever to fall into the grasp of the dark side would not have been born. That would have saved the Jedi a lot of trouble in the long run, but would have made episodes IV-VI remarkably boring. Thank you Jedi Order, for giving us Darth Vader.