The New “True Grit” Movie

I watched the new True Grit movie last night starring Matt Daman and Jeff Bridges.  My desire to watch this movie is due to the fact that I am an ardent John Wayne fan from my youth, owning many of his movies.  So I approached this movie with some skepticism, dubious to whether there could actually be improvement made to such a classic John Wayne movie.  John Wayne seemed to personify Rooster Cogburn, which made his portrayal of his Character all the more rich.  When I first heard that the movie was being remade and that Jeff Bridges would play the part of Rooster, I commented that if anyone could inhabit this character today like John Wayne did in the past, it would be Jeff Bridges.

I am here to tell you that my first comments were right on and that my skepticism was misplaced.  I loved the new version of True Grit!  In fact I think that this version of the movie is better in many ways than its predecessor.  While it is the same story essentially, they brought an earthy resonance to it which the earlier one did not have.  It was more believable than the first.  I think Matt Daman made a more convincing and realistic Texas Ranger than did Glenn Campbell and Jeff’s job playing Rooster was excellent.  I appreciated the way that they spoke and interacted, which was different from the first in a way that I am not sure I know how to express, but my perception is that it was more authentic.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone.  If  you love western movies, you’ll love this movie.

Introduction to Evolution of God – Michael

OK, I have read the two page introduction to The Evolution of God.  If Wright’s claims in the introduction are true, then I should learn a good lesson from this book. Here are Wright’s claims, as I see them, that give me grounds for this optimism.

1. Wright is a materialist

It is easier for me to accept an argument if it is laid out by someone who thinks the same way I do. I look forward to reading a book by a materialist because the author thinks like me, but hopefully a little more deeply on this topic. If the book were written by Deepak Chopra, I would have a hard time wading through the vague ideas and subtle imagery.

2. He will discuss how the Abrahamic religions draw upon earlier paganism.

I have to admit it, I love to hear these kinds of analyses that expose the ‘bull’ behind the sacred cows of my former religion. This appeals to my lower instincts, but I do look forward to seeing this promise play out.

3. Wright will show some value, or good in religion today.

Although my lower desires are addressed in #2, this promise is the one that appeals to my better self. This is my desire to somehow come to terms with christianity after 11 years of resenting my former religion. I think I would be a happier and more pleasant person if I could come to see christianity in a more positive light. Like a a formerly married couple after a bitter divorce who are able to be in the same room with each other after time, I’d love to think christianity is ‘OK.’ I doubt I’ll ever think it more than a benign old quirk, but better a grandfather who asks you to pull his finger than a cousin who pulls your hair out.

This leads into my main concern about this book. Wright stated, rather vaguely for a materialist,

“The story of this evolution itself points to the existence of something you can meaningfully call divinity; and (2) the “illusion,” in the course of evolving, has gotten streamlined in a way that moved it closer to plausibility. In both of these senses, the illusion has gotten less and less illusory.”

If he is saying what I think he is saying, he is laying out a plan for a journey I doubt I will be able to complete with him. At some point I think we are going to have to part ways. It seems like he is saying that religion today is somehow more real, more plausible than it was in the past. I will have a hard time swallowing that. A fairy tale is a fairy tale, no matter how much realism you put into it.

I imagine a pagan priest or a witch doctor or a shaman chanting and gesticulating and appealing to gods he has made up himself. We have seen that people who follow these types of primitive religions often are influenced by a strong placebo effect that doesn’t seem to affect modern religions. These people can pierce their bodies without showing signs of pain. I don’t see how Wright is going to prove that modern religion makes their gods more real than that. But I withhold my judgement for now. Although books that present new dimensions to a viewpoint I agree with are good, books that change my viewpoint are even better. Let’s see how this unfolds.

Evolution of God: intro

This is the first of my posts regarding the book I am reading entitled The Evolution Of God by Robert Wright. I plan to attempt at least a weekly post, probably on Saturday or Sunday. There may be a friend or two who join me in this read, providing their own commentary.

If you have read my blog for any length of time or had real or honest conversations regarding faith, God and knowledge, then what follows will not surprise you. One of the biggest challenges to Christians (and probably other mono-theistic religions) is the nature of how we approach “Truth.” Western religious perspectives of the evangelical and more conservative type have a very definitive view of God and the truth they believe to have received over the centuries, especially from holy writ.

I perceive that there is a negation of  the idea that other ancient traditions theologically contributed to what they now hold as  truth regarding  God (an exception would be the obvious contributions of the Jewish faith into Christian theology). This is sort of a purest view.  For instance, creation stories and flood accounts, while there are many such views in different cultural groups in the near vicinity to where the Judeo-Christian faith originated, these are not believed to have informed or influenced the biblical narratives.  Wright cites examples where early “pagan” rituals made it into the Hebrew Scriptures, and supporting the view that the monotheistic versions of religion were built upon earlier pagan and animistic religions.  He cites Genesis 6 and the Nephalim, who were sons of God who had sex with the women of the world and the offspring were giants and heroes.  Now there are many different ways that OT scholars have explained what exactly this passage is about, however it seems that Wright’s explanation is reasonable too.  The point is that Judaism and Christianity are not unique religious expressions but are part of a continuum of religious development.

While I no longer have any definitive view or f theology of what God might be, I have held such a position in my past.  Such a posture seemed to automatically put me at odds with other religious thought, because it differed from the belief of my particular brand of Christianity. In my experience this was not helpful.  Our exploration into the sacred (both in our tradition and others),  rather than watering down our faith, can actually deepen and enrich one’s religious experience.

In the Introduction of Wright’s book, the following perspective is introduced.

“I don’t think a “materialist” account of religion’s origin, history, and future − like the one I’m giving here − precludes the validity of a religious worldview. In fact, I contend that the history of religion presented in this book, materialist though it is, actually affirms the validity of a religious worldview; not a traditionally religious worldview, but a worldview that is in some meaningful sense religious.
It sounds paradoxical. On the one hand, I think gods arose as illusions, and that the subsequent history of the idea of god is, in some sense, the evolution of an illusion. On the other hand: (1) The story of this evolution itself points to the existence of something you can meaningfully call divinity; and (2) the “illusion,” in the course of evolving, has gotten streamlined in a way that moved it closer to plausibility. In both of these senses, the illusion has gotten less and less illusory.”

This is,  for many monotheistic believers,  a characterization way outside what they are comfortable considering as in any way true, nor would  it be an idea they would consider helpful to their present understanding and belief. However, if such believers could learn to set aside, even temporarily, that perspective of which they are so certain, the result could be surprisingly helpful and deepen the faith they have. In addition such an openness to other perspectives might just provide the opportunity to work together towards a future that reflects more genuinely the world for which we all hope.

Try reading this to honestly entertain the ideas put forth, not simply to refute that with which you already know you disagree.  The benefit could be significant!

New Book Read starting

I posted previously and asked if anyone wanted to read a book with me entitled The Evolution of God by Robert Wright. Only two people responded and, having now received my copy in the mail, I will start reading and blogging. I have invited my friends Becky and Michael to join me in blogging about this and offered to give them access to this blog for the purpose of conversing about what we are reading. Because I am currently in the middle of two classes, my pace of reading will not be terribly quick but I will be posting about my thoughts as I go.

Natural selection and compassion

As a person who is convinced in the mechanism of evolution as being the process from which all that is came to be, I have often had a thought related to natural selection and survival of the fittest. When this topic is raised, the emphasis is always on the species that were the strongest and most adapted through mutations for survival. My thought is that the human ability to have compassion for others, to work with them and value them, is the one of the gained elements that have adapted us to survive in the world. Our communities and societies have provided fertile soil in which humans have developed and evolved, but in that progress we have needed to learn to cohabitate with others. I am sure this is not something new, and probably is something that most consider axiomatic to our evolution, looking back from this vantage point.

If that is at all correct, then how we proceed in these days of conflict and polarization are even more important. It means that some of our ideas about self-preservation that fit into the attitudes of the American society, might need to be moderated. We need to learn to work and live with others, fellow citizens and people of other nations. The attitude of “taking care of ourselves and to hell with everyone else” becomes detrimental to our survival. This happens with our attitude toward others in our own country, in our view of the rest of the world.  We have to find a way where we all (humanity and other species) win. Such an attitude will require us to sharply evaluate our attitudes and our social structures. It will require us to grow in our compassion for others, it will require some frugality in how we live and utilize the resources that are available and, probably most difficult, that we garner an attitude of humility, where we don’t consider ourselves more important than our collective presence and survival; we are not more important than others but partners with them.

Unfortunately, the attitude that I see in our country is one on the opposite of the values I have just expressed. If we are going to move forward, it can’t just be the few who have all the money or those to whom society has been kind. Those of us who find ourselves in that position, need to develop an attitude of compassion for those who haven’t got it so well. If we don’t, I fear that the lost benefits of our evolutionary lessons might just turn back on us and we will be no more.

Bigotry wrapped in nationalism

On my way home today, I encounter a vehicle with a bumper sticker that said “Illegal Alien Hunting Permit.” I could barely believe my eyes! I understand that there are some stupid people out there, but the idiocy of this sticker, and of the owner of the vehicle who would post something like this stunned me. As I steamed about this on my drive home, I began to think how bigoted this type of rhetoric is. Some might say it isn’t bigotry but it is. It is bigotry wrapped up in nationalism. As if US citizens could someway be justified in devaluing other human beings and so severely over inflating their perspective of themselves!?! Such people must have forgotten that we are all immigrants somewhere in our family’s history excepting the Native American tribes, who are the ones that have really got the shaft historically.

The ignorance displayed in these type of inflammatory type statements are sorry examples of what some think it means to be US citizens! This is reminiscent of Sarah Palin’s cross hair picture placed over states with Senators with whom Palin had ideological and political differences, which was also bigoted. Webster’s Dictionary defines bigotry as:

“A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices especially one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance.”

The above definition includes the views of so many people on both sides of the political spectrum towards others with different opinions. Such characterizations are not helpful and counter productive to progress and, quite frankly, our survival as a species. But when that type of malignant thinking crosses over (as the above bumper sticker does) and devalues the humanity of others, no matter what their legal status, and promotes ideas of violence and hatred, well, that is a special kind of stupid. It is wrong, it is unamerican and it is reflective of animals not humans! Keep the illegal aliens and ship those ignorant asses somewhere else!  I realize that I am coming off pretty strong here, but this type of crap really makes me angry.