God is Hate

On January 29th, 2010, the followers of Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, descended on Gunn High School, Palo Alto CA, to spread their message of hate. They sported signs that said, “God Hates You”, “God Hates America”, “Your Doom Is Coming”, “God Hates Obama” and “Bloody Obama”. They picked on Gunn High School because of a number of recent suicides in front of trains of kids who were associated with the school, events that have traumatized students at the school.

The Westboro extremists were there to rub it in. “You’ll be in front of the train next! God laughs at your calamity!” Phelps’s daughter shouted. “Sodomites,” they sang, “your kids are killed by trains.” The Sodom reference is key, for these hate-mongers have a homophobic fixation and believe that the acceptance of homosexuality is the root of all evil.

Fortunately, the Gunn students and teachers rallied, and with support from the community and many students from other nearby schools, they met the messages of hate and evil spite with signs proclaiming love, with songs and with support of each other, so much so that their unity was an uplifting, inspiring experience. As one student said, “It really helped to pull us together.”

The Westboro group then took its hate to sinful Stanford University, only to be met by a large crowd of students, the school mascot, the outrageous Stanford band and a lone piper playing “Amazing Grace”. It was a message of love mixed with humor to counter those poisoned with hate from Kansas. A student posed with the extremists, holding a sign that said, “Gays for Fred Phelps.”

How can a “Christian” group like this be so filled with hate when the Christian message is so full of love? Only once did Jesus show a flash of hate, and that was when the Greek woman kept bugging him to cast the demon out of her daughter (Mark 7:26-29). Because she was a gentile, not a Jew, he called her a dog: “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to the dogs”. But he quickly relented when she replied, “Yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” Jesus also showed anger at the desecration of the temple by profiteers, but this was not hate.

Phelps obviously has his own thing going (which is definitely not Christian), and his irrational paranoia about homosexuality says a lot about his own demons.

Abortion Terrorist found Guilty

The Kansas Christian, Scott Roeder, who shot and killed the abortionist Dr. George Tiller, was convicted of first-degree murder. His defense all along was that it was the only way he could halt the “death of babies.” The position on abortion is not relevant here. What is wrong is his justification.

The key question is who or what gives him the right to murder another in cold blood. He took the coward’s way and shot him from behind in a church and threatened others as he left. To do it in God’s sanctuary shows what little respect he had for sanctity. He and his supporters who are probably much like him feel that the courts should sanction his action and set him free. Worse still, he and the supporters identify themselves as Christian; yet he acted like the terrorists that we condemn. Should we let the 9/11 conspirators go free because they felt justified in their actions since America in their eyes is the force of evil in the world? Of course not!

The question remains then: Who gave you the right? It is written in the Bible, “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, said the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Vengeance was not yours to take, you moron!

Let us pray that in his long, long time in prison, Roeder will realise that by giving in to his wrath, he played into Satan’s hand. If not, he’ll probably work that out in the hereafter.

Misplaced Reverence

The Reverend Pat Robertson showed his true colors again by saying in effect that the Haitians deserved the devastating earthquake of January 12. In the same vein, three days after the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001, he “totally concur[red]’ with the Reverend Jerry Falwell that   “pagans… abolitionists… gays… lesbians… the ACLU” were to be blamed for those acts—God’s vengeance. Falwell has meanwhile gone to his ultimate reward, whatever that might be. (It may not have been the one he expected.) We are still left with Robertson and his extreme views.

It has been suggested that Robertson, like other televangelists, is motivated by money, not by religious altruism. I would not dispute that, since I have grown up believing that the sincere ministers do not seek publicity or vast audiences, or solicit large donations; instead, they work for the spiritual welfare of those who seek them out. Robertson, however, is after more than money, for there would otherwise be no need for the Haiti or 9/11 statements, or his suggestion that someone ought to take out Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

I think Robertson suffers from what a lot of clerics suffer from: an exaggerated sense of self-importance. They end up confusing the importance of their ministry with self-importance, in other words, pride (Satan’s sin). They believe that their pronouncements must be true because of what they are — something like the Pope’s infallibility, a person with whom clerics like Robertson would not wish to be identified.

Associated with the conviction of importance of self is a quest for power.  And Robertson did seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1987, an occasion when he apparently lied about his combat experience and also claimed he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa (not so), but then Christian conservatives are OK with lying. (See Christian Implants and Other Wonders, November 18th, 2009, below.) Lack of support forced him to quit, leaving him his media outlet to give him a platform of influence.

Except for the people who keep sending him money, we know that he is an extremist who shoots his satanic mouth off every now and then, and for that reason, we can ignore him except to contain his extreme statements. What is fortunate is that he is one of ours. If he were persuaded by another religion, or lived in another system, he would probably be another Osama Bin Laden.

On the Movie “Avatar”

(Warning: This post contains spoilers.)

After some conservatives, now the Vatican has come out against the movie “Avatar”. They are criticizing the movie because they say it suggests that the worship of nature is a replacement for religion. They also described the movie as simplistic and sappy, despite its “awe-inspiring special effects.”

Yes, the movie is simplistic, and yes, I suppose it can be described as “sappy”, but both of these shortcomings are lost in the grandeur of its presentation. On the basic concept level, the movie is little more than a screen rendition of a comic book story. What attracts in a comic book is the graphical presentation, and here “Avatar” has outdone the imaginable. The movie is more than two and a half hours long, but you are so drawn into the visual experience that you do not notice the passage of time. I have sat through ninety-minute movies that have seemed twice as long as this one.

The Vatican says that “Avatar…gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature,” and “nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship” (L’Osservatore and Vatican Radio). I would dispute the “bogged down” part, but certainly the Na’vi  (the blue deer people) are very closely attuned to and part of the nature of their world. But when we watch the movie, we know that these are the Na’vi, not human beings; we can’t even breathe their air; they are blue and ten feet tall; their world Pandora is an alien world, not earth (though in a metaphorical ecological argument, you might want to make that comparison); this is science fiction, a fantasy, not a sermon. Nor is it “Dances with Wolves”, despite the similar response to a pure native culture by a battered or in this case crippled military man. If these fictional native people “worship” Ewya, this is clearly their “religion”, not ours. Besides, Ewya is less a deity than the essence of Pandora, and “worship” and “religion” are not appropriate words for the Na’vi behavior. In our religions, we worship; in the Na’vi way, they commune.

The Vatican, therefore, has nothing to fear from “Avatar”, just as the conservatives, who are worried about possible “liberal” views, have nothing to fear. Even if you support the exploitation of nature, few conservatives are as ruthless as the Colonel Quaritch or even the company man Selfridge. The presentation of Quaritch is so comic book two-dimensional that he represents a concept rather than a real character. Selfridge, who is less of an extreme, towards the end seems to show some doubt over where everything is heading.

Some will see this movie as an allegory of American exploitation, but it is jingoistic to make it “American”. “Human” would be more accurate. There are elements that have allegorical overtones, say, in the names. Pandora reminds one of Pandora’s box (almost but not opened in this movie). The mineral sought by the humans is Unobtainium. Na’vi is a corruption of “native”, Selfridge of “selfish”; Quaritch seems to be derived from “quarrel” and “son-of-a-bitch”, while the sympathetic research scientist is called “Grace Augustine”. The plot can also be reduced to a formula: The bad guys want to strip mine the planet; the good guys beat them off. This is not a new theme. It is also not what draws a viewer into this movie, or what holds the viewer’s interest. The final battle is pure comic book style entertainment, leading to resolution rather than making a point. Besides, the strength of the movie lies in its presentation, not in its story.

The Na’vi are depicted as ten feet tall. One might rationalize this as being due to the “pure” way they live, but that is a minor point. What is  visually striking is that humans appear small and insignificant next to them, and, in the final scene, they seem almost like vermin, a reflection of their failed mission of destruction. Size is significant, as Jonathan Swift realized in “Gulliver’s Travels”, where in the first two books, the ones who are satirized are the little guys. In this movie also, we come to look down on the smaller figures. But our hero, the last good guy, has grown spiritually. He becomes his avatar and we have our closure.