On Defending ‘Noah’ Poorly

I haven’t seen the new Noah movie, so this is not a review, nor does it pretend to be. Let that be said up front, lest anyone try to collar me for “speaking of that which he knoweth not.”

I’ve been following the controversy generated by the film for awhile now. Some Christians love Aronofsky’s work, others hate it, and still others have a lukewarm respect for it. The arguments from all three camps have been fun to follow. But there’s one argument from the Love It Camp which I can’t stand, and that is the “not a theologian” argument. Take, for example, Jim Daly (president of Focus on the Family) arguing thusly:

Darren Aronofsky is not a theologian, nor does he claim to be. He is a filmmaker and a storyteller.

Really now. This is such obvious nonsense that I have difficulty believing it was spoken with a straight face. (And as an aside: I’ve never heard this “logic” applied to any other director or film.) Theology, in a nutshell, is simply – or not so simply – what and how we think about God. So Aronofsky is very much a theologian. We all are. We may be good theologians, we may be bad theologians, but we cannot be non-theologians.

It will be said I’m clowning about with semantics here; that what Daly meant is that Aronofsky didn’t go to seminary or graduate with a Th.D. or something like that. My response would be threefold:

First, Daly’s wording is poor, and reinforces the widespread notion that theology is something only academics do, which is a 12oz can of Grade-A crapola.

Second, his statement implies a rift between theology and storytelling, as if the one had little or no effect on the other. More crapola. All stories are theological on some level, for the simple reason that what you think of the Storyteller will determine your approach to stories.

Third, so what? So what if Aronofsky didn’t go to seminary, or get some letters tacked on to the end of his name? This does not mean he gets a free pass on the Theology Boogaloo Express. After all, the test of a good storyteller isn’t merely whether he is compelling, but whether he is truthful. A certain snake in a certain garden once told a compelling tale. It was so compelling mankind has never recovered.

Again, I haven’t seen the movie, and until I do, I will not attempt to debate those of you who have. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to defend it, you’ll have to do better than that.

Book Review: Brave New World

410JtTsdiULFunny thing about science fiction: it seldom stays fiction for long. This is similarly true of the dystopian genre. It is difficult to study writers like Orwell and Huxley without seeing ourselves reflected in the literary mirrors they hold up to us. Did I say difficult? I meant impossible. As Dalrymple writes in his essay “The Dystopian Imagination”, both 1984 and Brave New World “retain their power to alarm because they are prophetic, almost in a biblical sense: they issue permanent calls to resist trends that, irrespective of the political regime we happen to find ourselves under, will impoverish human life.”

Cold as Orwell’s vision undoubtedly is, for me, Huxley’s remains the more chilling of the two: perhaps because I believe there’s truth in the old adage that politics is downstream from culture. Neil Postman (that ever-piquant observer of pop culture) says it best in the forward to his classic Amusing Ourselves to Death:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

The idea of pleasure being inflicted is a graphic one. It evokes something damaging, something potentially ruinous, and pleasure isn’t often considered in these terms. It’s worth remembering, in our efforts to avoid being undone by external oppression, how much easier it is to be undone from the inside out. The Entertainer can be far more tyrannous than the Tyrant. Feelies will castrate a society as effectively as any state-run torture chamber.

One facet of Huxley’s ultra-sexualized, trivia-oriented culture – one hitting painfully close to home – is the complete evaporation of the family as an institution. Great pains are taken to ensure that nobody loves anybody too much. The ties between siblings, parents, lovers: all are broken. Promiscuity is not only encouraged, but required. Mother is a smutty word, while father is not obscene but “merely gross, a scatological rather than a pornographic impropriety.”

Further, when it becomes known that one of the characters has had a son, he is greeted with outrage and scorn from his colleagues – not because the sex was extramarital, but because it resulted in a child. We already have a “mild” case of this insanity. Sleeping around is considered the norm; being devoted to one bed and raising a family is not.

On a final, if rather cynical note: it is unsettling to think that we have men and women in places of power and influence who seem determined to think of books like 1984Brave New World, and even The Hunger Games as blueprints rather than warnings.

Morality in a Bottle

“My dear young friend,” said Mustapha Mond, “civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended – there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren’t any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There’s no such thing as a divided allegiance; you’re so conditioned that you can’t help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren’t any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half of your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears – that’s what soma is.”

– Huxley, Brave New World

Flotsam & Jetsam (3/27)

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah – A balanced and thoughtful review from Greg Thornbury: “We grew up in a world that makes Noah nice. ‘Noah’ is not nice.”

Simple Obedience – “Simple obedience is what He asks for. The strength to do one thing that’s… simply hard. Only obey. And sometimes that’s the hardest thing in the world.”

Whores for Purity – Bingo.

Hey, Beautiful, There’s a Cross in Your Cleavage – “There are a whole lot of girls out there who call themselves Christians but who dress like Jezebel… I wonder what kind of father they had (or, rather, didn’t have). I find myself astounded at their puckered lips and their bums turned towards the camera, their come-and-get-me eyes, their mid-pleasure-breath-y mouths with heads cocked back so that Dracula can target their aorta, and their imaginative treatments of trees and and kitchen islands.”

Because It’s Old – An excerpt from Brave New World.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Reviewed over at CinemaBlend. I confess I haven’t been this excited for a film since 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Marvel is upping the ante.

Paul: Why Can’t Obama Unilaterally End NSA Spying? – “The interesting thing is he unilaterally instituted this program without congressional authority. Now he’s saying he has to wait for congressional authority to undo it. I think he could unilaterally stop the program if he were serious about it.”

“A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.” – Lemony Snicket