Truth, Freedom and Freedom to Love

Truth, Freedom and Freedom to Love

In Gameweek 14 of the English Premier League, the teams and the football association decided to show ‘support’ for the cause of gay rights. Several clubs added rainbow filters to their logos and this expectedly created a lot of debate. One comment caught my attention. Referring to the voices calling for separation of football and ‘politics’, a fan commented; “why don’t these bigots allow everyone to have the freedom to love”.

I wrote previously about the importance of making sure there’s unity regarding the meaning of words. Following from the article, for someone to use the word freedom in such a manner indicates a legendary level of carelessness.

These patterns of thought emerge from constructs and experiences that color and shape the way in which we view the world and they can emerge in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes we simply and mindlessly repeat what we have heard or relay them in 140 character sound-bites. Some of these are, of course, a result of programming by the media.

It is at this point, perhaps where George Orwell was more accurate in his prophecy than Aldous Huxley. Orwell’s 1984 was all about control and one of the best  tools it used for this was disinformation.  The Ministry of Truth (you can’t miss the irony in the name) concerned itself with Lies and manipulating public opinion through print media, film and radio. The concept of historical truth is irrelevant: truth, and history, becomes what the Party wants it to be. The main character, Winston Smith himself takes part in this, rewriting the news: he therefore knows that the details of the past have been tampered with, and is unable to discern or discover what the truth might be.

A similar scene is in Huxley’s Brave New World where the Resident World Controller for Western Europe is lamenting the fall of truth. “Knowledge was the highest good, truth the supreme value;” he says, “all the rest was secondary and subordinate. True, ideas were beginning to change even then. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth … can’t.”

According to Google, the number of mentions of the word “truth” have been declining over the centuries (see graphic below).  On the other side of the divide, the usage of the word post-truth increased 2000% in the year 2016 alone. In this age where truth is become rarer by the day, the most important question one will ever ask then is, “What is truth?”.

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In the evening hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he is asked this exact same question though the questioner doesn’t wait for an answer. In the 2004 depiction of the Passion of Christ, the creators of the movie imagine Pilate’s conversation with his wife after he walks away from the answer of the all important question. Pilate asks, “What is truth, Claudia? Do you hear it, recognize it when it is spoken?” Claudia’s reply points to the nature of the truth of which Jesus speaks.

Not understanding Claudia’s response, he falls back to the truth he can recognize.  He says,

Do you want to know what my truth is, Claudia?
I’ve been putting down rebellions in this rotten outpost for eleven years.
If I don’t condemn this man . . .
I know Caiphas (sic) will start a rebellion.
If I do condemn him. then his followers may.
Either way, there will be bloodshed.
Caesar has warned me, Claudia. Warned me twice.
He swore that the next time the blood would be mine.
That is my truth!(2)

In their book, Film & Religion, the authors note that the truth of which Jesus—and Claudia—speak has a transcendent character; it is above all else. It is Truth with a capital “T”. Pilate replaces this Truth to which Jesus witnesses with the truth given by Caesar. It is therefore possible that we hold onto our small ‘truths’ solely because of (as Huxley puts it) the comfort and happiness – universal happiness – they afford us.

In the Christian World-view, the Truth, and true freedom are inextricably connected. Break this design, and you break life. Honor this design, and you find true freedom.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.(3)

References
(1) David Foster Wallace, “This is Water,” Commencement Address, Kenyon College Graduation, Kenyon, Ohio, 2005.
(2) Film & Religion: An Introduction (Jun 1, 2007) by Paul V.M. Flesher and Robert Torry
(3) John 8:32

On Gratitude: Thanksgiving 2016

On Gratitude: Thanksgiving 2016

The day of Thanksgiving is celebrated in America on the last Thursday of November. With origins dating back nearly 400 years ago, friends and families gather around tables to feast and give thanks. Google gives us a background of the holiday thus:

It was 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts when Mayflower colonists and the Wampanoag forged a partnership of necessity. Decimated by an epidemic and wary of the mightier Narragansett, their nearby enemies, the Wampanoag and the newcomers become allies. The pilgrims were unfamiliar with Massachusetts’ natural resources and ill-equipped for survival – but Tisquantum, an English-speaking Patuxet Wampanoag, taught them how to hunt, gather shellfish, and plant corn, beans, and squash. Following harvest in the fall of 1621, the settlers and the Wampanoag, celebrated what’s considered the “First Thanksgiving,” a three-day feast with wild duck, goose, turkey, deer, and barley ale.

In 2013, Hollywood gave us what it knows best to celebrate Thanksgiving; the animation Free Birds. It tells the tale of Reggie, a Turkey who goes on a quest, albeit involuntarily, to remove turkeys from the menu of Thanksgiving.

Reggie had always been afraid of Thanksgiving because turkeys have always been on the menu, but his attempts to warn his farm-based flock constantly fall on deaf ears and has made him an outcast. When the other turkeys finally realize what is going on, they throw Reggie outside in an attempt to save themselves. In a surprise twist of fate, he winds up being named the “pardoned turkey” by the President of the United States and is subsequently taken to Camp David. Although initially hesitant, Reggie soon eases into a routine of doing nothing but enjoying pizza delivered to him by the “Pizza Dude” and watching Mexican telenovelas, before being kidnapped by Jake – a member of the Turkey Freedom Front.

Ultimately, together with the delusional Jake, S.T.E.V.E. – a top-secret A.I. software in an egg-shaped time machine  and the Pizza Dude, Reggie convinces the settlers and the Indians that pizza is a more acceptable food than turkeys, taking them off the Thanksgiving menu entirely.

The movie received poor reviews, with most critics blaming the simplistic and cliche storyline. Aside from pure entertainment value, one wonders whether there is another message that the creators are trying to put across. Whatever the case, it is fitting to take a few moments each day to be thankful, and it is fitting to set aside a day each year to count our blessings with our friends and families.

However, one cannot help but note the absence of the thanks-receiver in this whole narrative. From the original Thanksgiving story, its portrayal by the arts and Hollywood and an increasingly consumerist culture which does not allow us to ponder the identity of He who deserves our thanks. This is because immediately after Thanksgiving Sunday is the Black Friday, a creation of a commercialized culture continuously telling us that the material possessions we have are not enough – distracting us from the big questions of life that derive from being thankful, like  the identity of  the giver.

An old Anglican hymnbook declares, “it is not only right but our duty to give him thanks and praise”. May I suggest in the same vein, even in this Thanksgiving 2016 holiday, may we be still and thank God, for only then will we recognize the greatest gift of all. Perhaps then, we will, like Isaac Watts in his classic hymn below, give the most appropriate response of all to this the greatest gift of all.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head,
For such a worm as I?
Thus might I hide my blushing face,
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay,
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away,
‘Tis all that I can do.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

On Words: Their Power and Perversion

On Words: Their Power and Perversion

In his The Language of Nature, Steve Talbott writes: “The intimate relation between the meaning of our words and the meaning we find in the world may be so obvious as to seem almost trivial, yet its implications are so profound.”(1)  Words are the bearers of reality. Yet, the meaning of words is slowly being eroded by, among others, the  (ever increasing) noise made by moral relativists.

A cute little story in D. A. Carson’s Telling the Truth illustrates this perfectly.(2)  A major network had as their first item of news a survey asking people if words meant anything specific at all. Having concluded that there were significant variances in the way people used words, they next inquired if morality was purely a personal matter, or if there were indeed absolutes. Every person interviewed on the street answered the same way: “No! There is no objective morality; we have to define it in our own terms.” First item: Were words subject to the user? Second item: Was morality a personal matter? Having settled on a confused answer that left the individual lord over reality, the newscaster went on to discuss a third item on the news—a warning to Saddam Hussein. If he did not stop playing his word games, we (USA) were going to start bombing Iraq.

One word that has definitely caused confusion is the word progressive. Google tells us its usage spiked dramatically in the nineteenth century and mentions remain high despite a small drop in the early years of the 21st century (see graph below). As this BBC article declares, “progressive is everywhere.” (3)

capturepro·gres·sive: adjective
1. happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step.
“a progressive decline in popularity”
2. (of a group, person, or idea) favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.”a relatively progressive governor”
noun
1. a person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.

According to the article, progressives tend to see themselves as people who believe in reform, in changing society for the better, as opposed to conservatives, who they believe want to keep things the same or even turn the clock back. They are some who consider themselves the socially liberal – favoring more rights for women, gay people and minorities. They believe in “modernization” and technological progress. They also believe in the redistribution of wealth. But a new breed of liberal and conservative thinkers is challenging this – much to the irritation of the traditional keepers of the progressive flame on the left. It is getting pretty heated out there, the article concludes.

In his The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis illustrates the enslaving force of corrupt(ed) words. (4)

In this particular scene, the Ape is explaining to the Narnians the new partnership he has inked with the Calormene soldiers from the south who had been such sworn enemies of Narnia and suggests that they are now friends and compatriots. A little lamb who could take the Ape’s words no longer then chose to speak up. “I can’t understand.  What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan.  They belong to Tash.  They have a god called Tash…They kill men on his alter.  I don’t believe there’s any such person as Tash.  But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?”

The Ape jumped up and spat at the Lamb. “What do you understand of such things?”, he replied, “Tash is only another name for Aslan. We know better now.  Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who.  That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them.  Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”

The resulting effect of this announcement for the gathered Narnian beasts is described by Lewis as one of sadness and defeat.  In this very statement, through the creation of an imagined deity who will later be referenced as Tashlan, the Ape turned the entire meaning of the Narnian’s history and beliefs on its head.  And to their king this effect did not go unnoticed nor would he let it stand unchallenged.

“Ape,” he cried with a great voice, “you lie.  You lie damnably.  You lie like a Calormene.  You lie like an ape.” With that single claim, that Aslan and Tash were one, Tirian was able to see past the charade and reveal the very heart of the lie.

“It seems, then,” said the Unicorn, “That there is a real Tash, after all.” He meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved.

The Greek word logos means not only “word” but “reason,” hastening the notion that there is not only meaning at the heart of all things but there is one who speaks and bestows this meaning. The Christian worldview interprets all of life and time through this medium. We live within a story of words, reason, and meaning in which there is an author telling us what it means to be human, what it means to be here.

There is a connectedness between our words and our humanity, between the Word at the beginning and what is real today. Those who stand alert in the world of words, who fight the corruption of language, and who learn to let their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no” shall see something more through the glass darkly. In fact, they may see the God who first spoke a word and brought the world into existence. (5)

In the beginning there was the Word!

References
(1) Steve Talbott, “The Language of Nature” The New Atlantis, Number 15, Winter 2007, 41-76.
(2) D. A. Carson, Telling the Truth (2012)
(3) http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-11785483
(4) Chronicles of Narnia – The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
(5) Jill Carratini (2016). Words, Language and Humanity: http://rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/words-language-and-humanity/

Moloka’i: Becoming All Things

Moloka’i: Becoming All Things

 

Untouched by development, this beautiful native Hawaiian 10-mile-wide island has over a hundred miles of shoreline, hidden waterfalls and ancient ruins. It doesn’t have a single traffic light!

This unspoiled paradise, however, has been a prison for 100 years to more than 8,000 people. In the 1800s, leprosy became more prevalent. And as there was no cure, countries around the world created specific colonies for the ill people to live in. In 1866, King Kamehameha V of Hawai’i created the Kalaupapa colony for leprosy on this island. When it was first created, there was no housing and patients were left to fend for themselves.

Enter Brother Damien

Damien became a “Picpus” Brother on 7 October 1860. His superiors thought that he was not a good candidate for the priesthood because he lacked education. However, because he learned Latin well from his brother, his superiors decided to allow him to become a priest. During his studies, Damien prayed daily to be sent on a mission. Three years later when Damien’s brother Father Pamphile could not travel to Hawai’i as a missionary because of illness, Damien was allowed to take his place.

In 1865, the Hawaiian Legislature passed the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy”. This law quarantined the lepers of Hawaii on the eastern end of the Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokaʻi.

From 1866 through 1969, a total of about 8,000 Hawaiians were sent to the Kalaupapa peninsula for medical quarantine. The place was lawless during the earlier years and it was suggested a priest be sent there.

Father Damien was the first priest to volunteer and, on 10 May 1873, he arrived at Kalaupapa, where 816 lepers then lived. Damien worked with them to build a church and establish the Parish of Saint Philomena. In addition to serving as a priest, he dressed residents’ ulcers, built a reservoir, built homes and furniture, made coffins, and dug graves. Six months after his arrival at Kalawao, he wrote to his brother:

…I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.

Under his leadership, basic laws were enforced, shacks were upgraded and improved as painted houses, working farms were organized, and schools were established. At his own request and of the lepers, Father Damien remained on Molokaʻi.

In December 1884 Damien realized he had contracted leprosy after 11 years of working in the colony. As he walked tearfully to deliver his sermon when he first realized this, no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line. He normally began every sermon with, “My fellow believers.” But this morning he began with, “My fellow lepers.”

Damien died of leprosy at 8:00 a.m. on 15 April 1889, aged 49.

In January 1936, King Leopold III of Belgium and the Belgian government, requested that Damien’s body be returned to his native land. After a protracted struggle, the lepers requested that at least Damien’s right hand be returned to Moloka’i since that was the hand that touched them. After his beatification in June 1995, the remains of St. Damien’s right hand were re-interred in his original grave on Molokaʻi.

In a greater measure Jesus came into this world knowing what it would cost him. He bore in his pure being the marks of evil, that we might be made pure. “For this I came into the world,” he said.